What is a carbon footprint, how can it be measured and what can be done to reduce your carbon footprint?
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"Carbon footprint" is one of those terms that has gradually moved its way into the mainstream as more people reconsider their lifestyle in terms of its impact on future generations. Find out how to measure your carbon footprint, how to reduce it and why it matters.
What is ‘carbon’?
While carbon is an element, any discussion around carbon footprint refers to one particular compound: carbon dioxide, or CO2. Carbon dioxide is released when fossil fuels are burnt, like the petrol in your car, or the gas in your oven, for instance.
The problem is that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas — as it builds up in the Earth’s atmosphere it traps sunlight being reflected back out into space, heating up the planet. This is what people refer to when they say ‘global warming’, and the potentially harmful effects of a hotter planet.
That’s why the UK, along with countries across the world, has agreed targets to reduce carbon emissions and slow the rate of global warming. The current targets are to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 80% lower than they were in 1990 by 2050.
What is a carbon footprint?
Your carbon footprint is your individual total carbon emissions, or how much extra carbon you put into the atmosphere through your actions, choices and lifestyle.
Many factors contribute to your carbon footprint, from the transport you use to the food you eat, so quantifying it can be difficult at best, impossible at worst.
But while there are no hard and fast rules agreed upon, there are some common factors and measurements that you can use to determine your carbon footprint.
This is important because, once you measure your carbon footprint, you can use it to compare and hopefully reduce your carbon output. According to the Energy Saving Trust, domestic properties account for 30% of the CO2 produced each year, so less CO2 from households will make a big difference to our overall carbon footprint.
How can I measure my carbon footprint?
Luckily it has never been easier to measure your carbon footprint thanks to online calculators. Simply search for "carbon footprint calculator" to find one that can assess your output and provide your personal footprint.
You'll need to know how much energy you use in your home, average number of miles you travel either driving or by bus or train, how many flights you took and more lifestyle questions such as your diet of choice (livestock farming has a fairly large carbon footprint).
How can I reduce my carbon footprint?
There are some common tips and tricks that can help you make a quick and lasting dent:
In the home
The home is often where you can make the largest impact on your carbon footprint.
Step one is to ensure you're not wasting energy unnecessarily by taking simple steps to insulate your home.
You should also consider looking at our guide for energy saving tools and gadgets for heating your home.
Have you ever considered switching to a 'renewable energy plan'? Although not always the cheapest deals on the market, they do guarantee a certain amount of your energy is produced using sustainable methods.
Cheap renewable energy plans from uSwitch
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Your kitchen will be the main carbon culprit, so rack up the small changes by only boiling the amount of water you need in the kettle, being mindful of running the dishwasher and opting to hang out your clothes over the dryer.
Replacing some inefficient big appliances — like the boiler — can be expensive but you’ll make a bigger saving overall on your energy bills. When it comes to reducing your carbon footprint it often pays to think of long-term impact, rather than short-term cost.
The kitchen will also be where you can consider making slight adjustments to your food choices to lower your carbon footprint. Popular campaigns such as Meat Free Monday encourage households to eat only plant-based meals for one day each week, as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates livestock farming is a top contributor to global carbon emissions.
Travel and transport
The biggest carbon culprit with travel is flying, so traveling closer to home is a simple way to cut your carbon footprint. However, on a day-to-day basis, using public transport, or better yet, walking and cycling, can go a long way to reducing your carbon output.
If you're considering an electric car to reduce your emissions, check out our guide to electric cars and your energy bills to get an idea of how charging can impact your costs and energy consumption at home.
And, when you check your energy for the year why not run a comparison? We recommend checking whether you're getting the best deal for your gas and electricity once or twice a year. Just use an annual energy statement and run a comparison on our main page using your annual consumption details in kWh. This will give you the most accurate quote. Once you find a cheaper deal it takes just five minutes to process your switch.