Brands and large corporations (looking at you, fossil fuel executives) have an especially crucial role to play in hitting climate targets, but that doesn’t mean individuals can’t help move the dial.
Household consumption for things like electricity, food and transportation is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. While the average global carbon emissions per person per year are around four tonnes, in wealthier countries, like the US, Australia and Canada, that number can increase by up to five times. So individual actions can make a huge difference for the environment.
Sustainability expert Celeste Tesoriero says: “Putting aside what companies are doing and looking at our own impact, in order to reach 2030 climate targets, we really need to change our habits to reduce our carbon emissions.”
As a practical first step, Celeste recommends using an online ecological footprint calculator to find out exactly where your emissions are highest. “Because you can’t aim to reduce your impact if you don’t really know what your impact is. Once we know that information, then we can implement these little switches that make a really big difference.”
We’re familiar with popular tips (ride your bike, take the bus, don’t forget your keep cup), but what we really want to know are the simple switches that have a big impact on our carbon emissions. The changes that are so effortless, they can be done without even leaving the house. Here’s what Celeste recommends.
In the US, residential energy use accounts for roughly 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. No matter where you live, Celeste says one of the easiest things individuals can do to lower their carbon emissions is change their energy provider. “You can literally make this switch online in a couple of minutes; it’s really simple to do,” she says. If you live in Australia, Celeste suggests Diamond Energy, one of the greenest energy providers in Australia and the only retailer to score five stars in the Green Electricity Guide. Or Cooperative Power, a newly formed non-profit cooperative helping people buy clean and affordable energy.
“The best thing about making these quick, sustainable switches is it not only reduces your carbon emissions, but it also saves money,” she adds. This has been proven by another RIISE favourite, Amber Electric. This service gives customers access to wholesale electricity prices, and it allows them to benefit from using power when cheaper renewables are generating on the grid. As an added bonus, by using Amber, customers are also building demand for more renewable energy projects to be built.
Did you know energy consumed by devices in standby mode accounts for five to ten per cent of residential energy use? “Many of us think having our electronics on standby is not taking any energy, but it is using energy the whole time it is switched on at the wall. Having electronics on standby (depending on the electronic) can use the same amount of energy as it would when it’s in use,” Celeste explains. By turning our appliances off at the wall, we have the opportunity to reduce our carbon emissions and our energy bill. “It doesn’t sound like much, but that could be a saving of upwards of $100 a year for the average household.”
For the forgetful environmentalist, Celeste recommends buying timers for household appliances: “I bought timers for my power points that automatically switch the appliances off, so I don’t have to worry about the plug. I’ve set them for things like my TV and internet so, from 11.30pm to 7.00am, they’re switched off.”
“Food accounts for 10 to 30 per cent of a household’s carbon emissions,” Celeste says. “Shifting to even one vegetarian meal one day a week could save the equivalent emissions of driving 1,867 kilometres per year.” If you’re new to the plant-based scene or struggling to conjure up a dish without meat, head to Meat Free Monday for inspiration and recipes, or give @avantgardevegan, @hotforfood, @maxlamanna and @bosh.tv a follow on Instagram.
While the carbon footprint of a vegetarian is about half that of a meat eater, Celeste says there are other ways for the carnivore or flexitarian among us to reduce their impact. “Switching to less carbon intensive meats has a major impact on emissions. For example, beef’s GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions per kilogram is 7.2 times greater than chicken.”
The temperature of your laundry cycle has a higher impact on emissions than you might think. “By switching to a cold water wash once per week, a household can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by over 32 kilograms annually, which is a big saving,” Celeste says.
The founders of contemporary towelling brand BAINA offered similar advice when they spoke to RIISE: “[we] prefer to set our washing machines to a short, cold cycle. During our R and D process, we learnt about how western cultures tend to wash their clothes and home laundry for far longer than required. A quick cycle will still clean your towels and use less water consumption”. Though, 90 per cent of the energy used in a washing machine cycle is for heating the water, so a cold, long wash is still less energy intensive than a warm or hot cycle.
Ok, so this does technically involve leaving the house but it was too good not to share. “We want to maximise fuel efficiency when we drive because that’s more economic and emits less CO2,” Celeste says. “A simple way we can improve our fuel economy from between 7 and 14 per cent is by following the speed limit when driving over 80 kms per hour.” Yes, even speeding a little can increase your emissions.
“The other thing we can do is make sure our car tyres are properly inflated. Fuel efficiency decreases by 0.2 per cent for every one PSI (pounds per square inch) decrease. So basically by looking after our cars, we can actually reduce our CO2 emissions.” Or for a completely fossil fuel–free alternative, stick with the popular advice to ditch the car whenever possible and get on your bike.
Look, we know leaving your TV plugged on at the wall and washing your clothes on a hot cycle isn’t the key contributor to the climate crisis (that title actually belongs to these guys). But reasons for reducing your carbon footprint extend beyond wanting to do more for the environment: “The most prevalent thing with reducing the resources you use is that you’re also saving money,” Celeste says. “It’s lighter on the planet and lighter on your wallet.”
Editor’s note: This piece was updated on 22 December 2021 following the sale of Powershop. An earlier version of this article listed them as a suggested energy provider. That recommendation has been changed to Diamond Energy and Cooperative Power.