02 June 2020
REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT: Baby steps towards saving the earth

Finding it a hassle trying to reduce, reuse and recycle? Here are some other easier ways to reduce your carbon footprint and care for the planet.

If you typically work in an office, or have a desk-bound job, you might have become acutely aware of something in the last couple of work-from-home months: how hot the day can get when you’re not in a constantly air-conditioned environment. Showering more frequently, turning the AC on for longer periods of time, adding ice into every beverage, or drastic measures like sleeping next to an open fridge (please don’t) might have helped us cope so far.

Personally, dealing with the constant heat rash is no fun either. But as much as I would love to be in a cooler environment 24/7, my utilities bill is not up for that kind of challenge. And, lest we forget, global warming and climate change are big, real problems that sadly do not have easy solutions. However, small efforts will go a long way in this struggle to right climate change. By taking these baby steps, here are some of the ways you can lower your carbon footprint, reduce the effects of global warming, and help save the earth.

But first, what is a carbon footprint?

Many activities we undertake release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that trap heat and contribute greatly to global warming. A carbon footprint is a broad way to measure the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by a human activity.

To keep it simple, any activity that consumes electricity and energy adds to the carbon footprint.

Don’t worry if you don’t know where to begin, or if you’re not ready for (yet another) lifestyle change. Awareness is always a good starting point in my book.

1. Be aware of your carbon footprint 

Thankfully, you don’t need complicated formulae or extensive spreadsheets to calculate your carbon footprint. This nifty online calculator will help, and also shows how your carbon footprint compares with national and global averages. The calculator also lets you key in travel distance and other secondary activities if you want a more accurate measurement.

For now, all you will need is your latest utilities bill to roughly calculate your carbon footprint.

I calculated my household’s carbon footprint for April (a record high in the last six months, yikes), and our stay-home activities have produced 0.24 tonnes (240kg) of greenhouse gases. This ball-park figure alone is astonishing. While we don’t fare too badly against the world average, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Once you’ve worked out what your carbon footprint is, next is to consider the ways you can reduce it (after you’ve wallowed in guilt for a bit). Your wallet will thank you in the long run too.

2. Turn off and unplug your devices when not in use

Our devices and appliances such as TVs, computers and chargers continue to draw energy when they are plugged in, even if they are not in use. Unplugging unused devices from power will reduce not just electricity consumption but also your carbon footprint.

Make it a habit by unplugging the non-essential appliances and devices before you sleep, and plug them back in in the morning to avoid disrupting your daily routine. At the very least, you will save 7 to 8 hours worth of electricity consumption.

3. Adjust the temperature and set a timer for your air conditioner

How often have we sighed in relief after escaping the heat by entering a cool, air-conditioned mall? As many of us continue to spend more time at home than out, the increase in our electricity consumption is, to some extent, inevitable. However, there are ways to beat the heat and keep your environment cool without turning on the AC for an entire day.

Every single degree of cooling consumes more energy and adds to your carbon footprint. As a guide, setting the temperature to about 24 degrees should suffice. Otherwise, try not to set the temperature to anything less than 8 degrees below the outdoor temperature. For example, if it’s a sweltering 33 degrees outside, your AC should ideally be set to 25 degrees.

At the same time, set a timer so that the air conditioner turns off automatically after 2 to 3 hours. To maintain the relative coolness in your room, keep your door closed, and turn on a fan and let it oscillate if possible. Drawing your curtains to reduce the amount of sunlight and heat coming into your room helps too. This works equally well if you are accustomed to sleeping with the AC on, and your room will remain cool throughout the night.

4. Take a cold shower

A hot shower can be a great comfort, especially when a long day at your desk gives you all sorts of neck and back aches. However, turning on the water heater also results in greenhouse gas emission and uses more energy.

In addition to not leaving the water running, why not take a cold shower instead and cool off at the same time? I see this as an absolute win. (Bonus points if you know the quote.)

5. Consume less red meat/dairy

Livestock and dairy production are actually one of the major causes of global warming. Gases from feed production and methane from cows and sheep belching contribute to almost 15 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing our consumption of red meat and dairy will lower the demand and supply for these goods, and overall reduce gas emissions.

For every day that you forgo red meat and dairy, you reduce your daily carbon footprint by 3.6kg. That’s 1,316kg (1.3 tonnes) off your carbon footprint in a year! Now, that’s a very lofty ideal, so let’s come back to earth for a bit and start small.

Instead of suddenly changing your diet to a meatless/dairy-less one overnight, try doing it once a week instead. Plant-based products like tofu, tempeh and beans are good high-protein substitutes. Meatless Monday is a global initiative that encourages people to reduce their meat intake for both health and environmental reasons. They offer plenty of resources, including recipes and meat alternatives, as well as useful information on the health benefits. 

To cut down dairy, try switching to plant-based milks instead, such as soy, coconut or almond milk. These can be purchased at supermarkets, or, if you are up to it, can be made fresh at home.

These simple changes will barely affect your day-to-day life, and may not have immediate, noticeable or tangible changes on the environment, though you may see less expenditure on utilities. If we all do our part and make an effort, we definitely can make a difference together!

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