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What is Your Carbon Footprint?

What is Your Carbon Footprint?

By Megan Faletra, MS, MPH, RDN

Now, more than ever, people are thinking about our planet and the positive, or not-so-positive, ways that we impact it on a daily basis. For decades, the term “carbon footprint” has been used to describe the way in which we as individuals, households, businesses, and nations impact our planet and the “footprint” we leave behind.

But what is your carbon footprint anyway? And how can we as individuals become more aware of our own personal or household carbon footprints so that we can work toward actually improving them year after year?

What is Your Carbon Footprint?

Your carbon footprint is defined as the total carbon emissions that are a direct result of the actions of a person or organization. To calculate your carbon footprint, the United Nations has a carbon footprint calculator that you can use to estimate your total carbon footprint and the areas where you could use the most improvement.

What Makes Up Your Carbon Footprint?

Now that you know what your carbon footprint is measuring, let’s discuss the main areas that make up your total carbon footprint.

Home

With everyone at home more these days, your home is undoubtedly the biggest category that contributes to your total carbon footprint. Everything from the size of the home you live in – to the amount of water and energy you use – all contributes to your total household’s carbon footprint.

If you want to reduce your home-related carbon emissions, here are a few things you can consider doing:

  • Use Renewable and Eco-Friendly Materials: Renovating a part of your home? Opt for renewable and eco-friendly materials that create less waste and are good for the planet.
  • Switch to Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs: Simply switching the lightbulbs in your home to energy-efficient lightbulbs can save a ton of energy and a lot of money on your electricity bill.
  • Use Less Water: Water is one of our most precious natural resources and is also severely wasted. So, skip the bath for shorter showers, turn off the water when washing dishes, and consider upgrading your toilets to water-efficient options.
  • Reduce Your Paper/Plastic Use: This is one of the easiest swaps you can make in your home that can have a big impact. Simply switching to reusable cloth towels and napkins can save you a ton of money on paper towels and is great for protecting our native forests.
  • Turn Off Lights: This one is simple and often forgotten. Every time you leave a room, make sure to turn off the lights, which alone can save a ton on your household energy use and carbon footprint.

Food

The food we eat is one of the main factors affecting our carbon footprint and is one area where we can make simple changes that can have a big impact. Because carbon is sequestered into the soil by plants, supporting regenerative organic and plant-forward dietary lifestyles is a great way to reduce your total carbon footprint.

If you want to reduce your food-related carbon emissions, here are a few things to try:

  • Consume More Plants: Eating more plants is good for both you and the planet. So, if you are looking to make one dietary change, focus on eating more plants – your body and the planet will thank you.
  • Choose Organic as Often as Possible: Organic food is grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other artificial agents. It generally results in better soil health, which improves carbon sequestration and also helps to protect pollinators who are negatively impacted by many common pesticides used in commercial agriculture.
  • Advocate for Regenerative Meat: If you do eat meat, then advocating for better regenerative/grass-fed meat is incredibly important. Regenerative and grass-fed meat can be positive for our grasslands and soil health if grown responsibly, which is why advocating for and purchasing regeneratively grown meat is one of the best things that meat-eaters can do to improve their carbon footprint
  • Reduce Your Food Waste: With more than 40% of food grown globally going to waste, reducing your food waste is another way that you can improve your personal carbon footprint. To do this, consider starting to compost at home or create a meal plan so that you use all the food you purchase and throw out less.
  • Eat Local: The less your food has to travel to get to you, the less the carbon footprint of your food. So, if you want to reduce the energy involved in the making and transporting of your food, start by eating local as much as possible.

Travel

Finally, while most of us are not traveling at this time, soon enough, brick-and-mortar businesses will begin to open doors, borders restrictions will be loosened, and travel will once again be on the minds of avid summer vacationers. So, if you start thinking now about how you can reduce your carbon footprint when you begin to move about, you can make smarter choices when you engage in any form of transportation that gets you from one place to another. If you want to reduce your travel-related carbon emissions, here are a few things you can think about doing:

  • Carpool: By choosing to carpool to work or for your daily activities, you can reduce the number of cars on the road, which reduces the carbon emissions of everyone carpooling.
  • Take Public Transportation: Public transportation is the ultimate form of carpooling and is a great way to reduce your carbon emissions associated with travel.
  • Bike/Walk: Try to bike or walk as much as possible. These forms of transportation create zero carbon emissions and are great for your health!
  • Reduce Your Commute Time: With a greater need to practice physical distancing, ask your boss if you can work from home more frequently. Reducing your commute even by one or two days a week is a great way to reduce your carbon emissions.
  • Reduce the Amount You Fly: Flying produces by far the most carbon emissions of any form of transportation, so consider reducing the amount you fly as much as possible.

What Else Can You Do to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?

Advocate

Making changes in your own life is great to reduce your carbon footprint, but take it further by also advocating for changes that will improve the carbon footprint of your local community and country. Take the time to vote in favor of climate-positive policies, reach out to your representatives, and volunteer on carbon-reduction initiatives in your local community.

Waves of change do not happen in silos, so as you learn about your climate impact, share what you have learned with friends and family.

Offset Your Carbon Emissions

Offset your total carbon emissions by investing in carbon offset programs that have been third-party validated. This is a great way to, at the end of the year, offset any carbon emissions you or your family produced. These offsets are also always tax-deductible and generally very affordable, which is just another reason to get in the habit of offsetting your emissions each and every year. 

By having a better understanding of your carbon footprint and the ways in which you can reduce it, you are much more likely to stay motivated to continue taking small actions every day that are in favor of our planet.