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Guide to reducing your carbon footprint

A green householdThere are two reasons for cutting your carbon footprint. Firstly, it means you will spend less money on the likes of energy bills and travel. And secondly, you will be reducing your contribution to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which are thought by many scientists to be a major factor in global climate change.

What is a carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of carbon which needs to be used up to sustain your daily activities. For example, if you boil a kettle to make a cup of tea, you use electricity. The electricity may be generated by burning coal – so the amount of coal needed to boil water for your cuppa is part of your footprint.

Similarly, the amount of fuel you use in your commute to and from work adds to the carbon emissions you are responsible for: if you drive, for example, your footprint is likely to be larger than if you take the bus or cycle.

A carbon footprint is made up of the primary and the secondary footprint

  • The primary footprint consists of the carbon you use more or less directly, such as gas or electricity at home, and fuel in your car or on a holiday flight.
  • The secondary footprint is based on the carbon that is used in making the goods and services you consume. So the fuel used in transporting the food you buy forms part of your secondary footprint (although this will be shared among many other shoppers).

You would also add the energy used in producing your car and other household items.

How do I work out my carbon footprint?

A number of websites can help you calculate your carbon footprint, but you’ll need to be armed with a bit of information about your energy and fuel use.

Here are some of the main factors used in working out your footprint:

  • How you heat your home - whether it’s from a gas-fired boiler, electric heaters, or renewable energy.
  • The size of your energy bills.
  • Any energy-efficiency measures you’ve introduced at home, such as cavity-wall insulation.
  • The energy rating of your domestic appliances.
  • The amount of electrical equipment you have, and how often it is used / left plugged in.
  • How you do most of your travel, for example to work and when going on holiday.

How do I reduce my carbon footprint?

Based on the factors listed above, you can see which areas of your daily activity provide the most scope for reducing your carbon footprint. But some changes will be more expensive than others.

Changes to your domestic energy supply and usage can have a significant impact on your footprint. For example, installing an efficient condensing boiler to replace an older model with separate water tank is likely to cut energy use drastically - but at a cost. Improving your home’s insulation will also contribute.

The more of your energy you get from renewable sources (such as solar or wind power) the smaller your carbon footprint. If you don’t fancy installing your own wind turbine and micro-generator, consider switching to a green energy tariff, which will mean more of your electricity comes from renewable sources.

Using an energy monitor can also help you cut usage - these are available from suppliers such as E.ON and British Gas, and show you in real time how much electricity is being used in your home. This means you can see which appliances cause the biggest spike in energy use, and take steps to limit their use.

Another way you can cut your emissions is by reducing the number of long-haul flights you take.
Even when shared among all passengers, the amount of fuel needed to take a plane from one continent to the next makes other forms of personal energy use pale by comparison.

Studies indicate that a return flight to Thailand from the UK would increase an individual’s typical annual carbon footprint by 50 per cent. Think about the impact of air travel on other products you consume, especially food. If you eat meat or vegetables out of season, they may need to be air-freighted or shipped by sea - for example green beans from Kenya, or New Zealand lamb. Eating locally-produced food in season will also help keep your carbon footprint to a minimum.

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