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Reducing your carbon footprint

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 out into space, heating 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 target is to achieve "net zero" carbon emissions by 2050. This means any emissions should be offset by carbon reduction schemes such as planting trees or using carbon capture and storage.

What is a carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint is your 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, and impossible at worst.

But while there are no hard and fast rules, there are some common factors and measurements that you can use to determine your carbon footprint, including our carbon footprint calculator at the bottom of this guide.

This is important because, once you measure your carbon footprint, you can use it to compare and hopefully reduce your carbon output. According to government data, residential properties accounted for 17% of the CO2 produced in 2022, so lower CO2 production from households will make a big difference to our overall 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.

You should ensure you're not wasting energy unnecessarily by taking simple steps to insulate your home, and 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 they're not always the cheapest deals on the market, they do guarantee a certain amount of your energy is produced using sustainable methods.

Your kitchen could be the main carbon culprit in the home, 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.

Uswitch Net Zero tool

Uswitch Net Zero 2050 tool
How to reduce your CO2 emissions

Use Uswitch's Net Zero tool to find out how you can make a difference in your everyday life to help the UK reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Travel and transport

The biggest carbon culprit with travel is flying, so travelling 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 compare energy deals too? We recommend checking whether you're getting the best deal for your gas and electricity once or twice a year. It takes just a few minutes to search for a cheaper energy deal and we'll do the rest for you if you find a deal to switch to.

How can I measure my carbon footprint?

Luckily it has never been easier to measure your carbon footprint thanks to online calculators like the one below.

Answer some quick lifestyle questions to see where you could cut down, and what difference you could make with some simple changes - even to your diet.

Carbon calculator

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