Did you know the average household releases more than twice as much CO2, or greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions, as the average car per year? In 2018, American households accounted for 21.4% of total U.S.
While the pandemic may have helped us reduce our carbon footprints (with fewer cars on the road, for example), that may be offset by increased energy consumption at home. Consider the following ways to minimize your household’s carbon footprint.
A carbon footprint is the measure of GHG caused by human activity. The footprint tracks the life of a product
or activity — like eating meat, driving your car, heating your home — and the amount of pollution that is
created at each stage.
For example, your car consumes gas or electricity when you drive it, but the carbon footprint of that vehicle also takes into account the production of the car’s parts, their transportation to a plant, the power running the plant, the transport truck that took it to the dealership, and so on. As you can see, there’s a lot of information that goes into calculating your carbon footprint!
A high carbon footprint leads to environmental impacts like climate change; acid rain; air, water, and land pollution; smog; and destruction of critical habitats.
The Environmental Protection Agency has a free, online calculator you can use to figure out your own household’s footprint and look for ways to mitigate your impact on the environment.
Less red meat, particularly. One serving of beef produces more GHG emissions than 20 servings of vegetables! If for one year you replaced all beef with chicken, you’d reduce your annual carbon footprint by nearly 900 pounds. More importantly, try to “eat low down the food chain,” choosing more plant-based meals, which require less land, water, and energy to produce than animal-based products.
Another food-related way to reduce your carbon footprint is to shop and eat local. Transporting food over a long distance uses energy and resources that contribute to GHG. Local farmers travel shorter distances, emitting less GHG into the atmosphere.
Heating and cooling accounts for about 41% of total home energy consumption, so keep temps at 78°F during warm summer months and use ceiling fans to help keep your house cool. Avoid using your oven, which will force your A/C to work harder. How about a backyard barbecue instead? Also, turn your water heater temperature down to 120°F to lessen the risk of scalding and to save energy. Be sure your hot water tank is adequately insulated.
These “clean” energy sources are intended to replace energy that comes from fossil fuels. Solar, wind, and water power are examples of renewable energy. While some solutions may be a ways off in the future, there are a few alternative energy sources that you can start planning for or implementing now.
You can reduce the energy you use doing household chores. Here are a few quick tips:
Some of us stress eat, some of us stress shop. Skip the “fast fashion”: low-priced, cheaply made, super-trendy clothes that are so inexpensive you don’t think twice about throwing them away. Check this out:
Fast fashion uses toxic dyes, pesticides, and unsustainable manufacturing practices. Think carefully before buying the hottest new trend, look for “organic” labels, and instead of throwing out old clothes, be willing to mend them.
Deforestation is a massive contributor to greenhouse gases. We need the rainforests — actually, we need every forest — to create more oxygen and help us reduce our CO2 emissions.
 University of Michigan, Center for Sustainable Systems, U.S. Energy System Factsheet.
 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”
 United Nations University, Our World: “New Research Says Plant-based Diet Best for Planet and People.”
 University of Michigan, Center for Sustainable Systems, Carbon Footprint Factsheet.
 UCLA Sustainability, “The Case for Plant Based.”
 Energy.gov, “Spring and Summer Energy-Saving Tips.”
 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, vWhy Read Labels?”
 Natural Resources Defense Council, “9 Tricks That Save Tons of Water.”
 The World Bank, “How Much Do Our Wardrobes Cost to the Environment?”
 United Nations News.