This article originally appeared in November 2020 on The Guardian Labs
Some of the most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint can also be the easiest. Here are nine simple lifestyle adjustments that will help you do right by the planet.
Tackling climate change requires action from governments, corporations and individuals. There are no overnight solutions in the fight for climate preservation, but the good news is there are lots of easy lifestyle tweaks we can all make to lower our carbon footprints.
You probably know that a couple of big ways to make a difference are cutting back on air travel and avoiding car trips to work – two things most of us are doing a lot less of in 2020. But what other adjustments can we make to do our part?
Here are nine pain-free ideas.
Join the slow flower movement
Most flowers, including roses, are grown overseas and shipped to Australia. That means they have a far bigger carbon footprint than locally grown blooms. But that’s not the only problem. To prevent pests and diseases, imported flowers are treated with methyl bromide fumigation, which is known to damage the ozone layer. So to reduce your flower miles by switching your go-to gift to natives such as wattles, bottlebrushes and lilly-pillies. Or consider sending a living plant instead, which can do double duty as a long-term air purifier.
Commit to cold
Did you know that up to 90% of the power used by our washing machines goes towards heating the water? By switching to a cold wash, you’ll cut back on your power use. It’s better for your clothes, too: hot-water washes fade colours faster, cause many fabrics to shrink and can set stains from blood and sweat into your sheets or T-shirts. Cold water is just as effective for your weekly wash and is far better for delicate fabrics such as lace and silk. So help the planet – and your clothes – last longer by committing to cold.
Give veg a go
Red meats such as beef and lamb are known to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than alternative protein sources. So next time you’re heading out to a barbecue, pick up chicken snags at the supermarket instead. Or, better still, give vegetarian options a go. Vegie sausages, haloumi or meaty-textured vegetables such as mushrooms all go great on the barbie and do right by the planet. Our dietary choices really make a big difference: compared with producing beans, producing beef uses 20 times the land and emits 20 times the emissions per gram of protein.
Shop like a snob
Fashion is one of the world’s largest industrial polluters. The biggest problem is what’s known as fast fashion: cheap clothes manufactured in factories in developing nations. To build a more planet-friendly wardrobe, channel your inner Miranda Priestly and get ultra-selective with what you buy. Choose locally made clothes, invest in quality items that will last and shop vintage where possible. Or just simply buy less. By being a snobbier shopper you’ll reduce your carbon footprint (and avoid regrettable impulse buys too).
You might not be using your KeepCup much right now, but there’s another easy way to reduce the waste that comes with your morning flat white. To skip that unnecessary bit of single-use plastic, ask your barista not to put a lid on your coffee. It’s an effort-free way to avoid adding to landfill.
Step away from the shampoo
We all get one big chance to reduce our carbon footprint every morning. It’s as simple as spending less time in the shower: halving your shower from eight minutes to four can save up to 350kg of CO2 a year. If you struggle to get in and out quickly, simplify your beauty routine and speed things up by leaving more time between shampoos. Only washing once or twice a week is actually better for your hair, as frequent washing can dry it out, causing split ends and frizz.
Take the one-degree challenge
Using less heating and cooling can greatly reduce our carbon footprint. But you don’t have to switch the air-con or heater off completely – just turn them up or down a degree. The average Australian home could save more than 200kg of CO2 a year simply by adjusting the AC up by one degree in summer and down by one degree in winter. You won’t notice the difference, but the planet will.
Even when they appear to be switched off, appliances that are plugged into the wall can zap up “phantom energy” and needlessly increase your power use. Standby power could well be costing you $100 a year. For a low-effort fix, try leaving the appliances that you don’t use every day unplugged and only reach for the cord when you’re actually using them. The TV can stay plugged in all the time, but that blender you only bust out once a week can probably live in the cupboard.
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