Earth Day: what is a carbon footprint and how can I reduce it?

You may have noticed that 22nd April is Earth Day, when people across the world come together to raise awareness of the impact we are having on our planet and how we can reduce it. Originally begun in 1970 to highlight pollution as the result of an oil spill off the coast of California, in recent years global warming has taken centre stage.

Of course there is a lot to be concerned about in the world at the moment, from international tragedy to personal finances, so it's understandable that taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint is quite low on the priority list. But this Earth Day, we would like to highlight some ways in which you can both save the planet and save some money. 

What is Earth Day? 

Every year on 22nd April, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. It was started by Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, who was inspired by the anti-war movement in the USA at the time. He gathered people together to protest against the destruction of the environment after seeing the affects of an oil spill off the California coast. After the first Earth Day, the United States Environmental Protection Agency was created to make industry accountable for the damage that is done to the environment. Since then, Earth Day has evolved to encompass the largest single threat to the planet; global warming. 

How many people get involved? 

Despite beginning in the USA, Earth Day went global in 1990 and today, a billion people from over 190 countries take part. 

Earth Day website

What is a carbon footprint? 

In technical terms, it's how much carbon dioxide an individual or organisation releases due to their activity. For an individual this includes how you travel, what you eat and the energy you use in your home. Simply put, the more energy you use each day, the more carbon dioxide you produce and the higher your carbon footprint.

How can I figure out my own carbon footprint? 

There are a number of websites that allow you to calculate your carbon footprint online, however each one takes certain assumptions. This means you might get slight variation in your carbon footprint from different calculators.

Some examples are below, but there are many others:

WWF carbon calculator

Climate Hero carbon calculator

Carbon Footprint calculator

MyCarbon calculator

How can I reduce my carbon footprint and save money? 

There are a number of different ways in which you can reduce your carbon footprint whilst at the same time, save money. 

1. Check vampire electrical appliances​ 

There are some electrical appliances in the home that use energy even when they are not being actively used. This means they are constantly drawing energy that you need to pay for.  With prices for electricity already high and set to get higher, making sure these appliances are switched off properly could save you quite a bit of money each month. In fact, British Gas estimates that up to 23% of your electric bill could be from these vampire appliances! 

Examples of vampire appliances:

Phone chargers - if you leave a phone charger plugged in it still draws energy constantly, even when not charging a phone! This is because there is a  transformer inside that constantly uses electricity. 

Printers - if you leave them on standby (with one LED on) rather than switched off at the wall, it will use around £10 of electricity per year.

Televisions - again, if you leave them on standby, they will use around £10 of electricity per year. If you have multiple TVs, it soon adds up.

Sky / Virgin / Freeview boxes - all of these will use energy constantly if you don't switch them off at the wall when not in use.

Laptop / tablet chargers - the same goes for leaving tablets and laptop chargers plugged in. If you're not actively charging your device, take the plug out of   the wall or switch it off from the wall. They will all be using electricity at all times.

For more information on vampire appliances click here.

2. Make the switch to energy efficient lightbulbs

Although they are slightly more expensive upfront, energy efficient bulbs can last up to 25 times longer than traditional bulbs. They also use 80% less power to provide the same light, meaning overall, you save money.

3. Control your heating via an app

Your home heating can now be controlled by the touch of a button through an app on your phone. While this may sound like a gimmick, it is a great way to  monitor your energy usage and adapt to a more environmentally friendly way of living. Why power and heat rooms that are empty? Heating just the rooms you are using will save you a lot of money in energy bills.

4. Eat foods that are 'in season'

All food you buy has a carbon footprint attached to it, so if the food you eat is not currently 'in season' where you live, it might need to be imported or worse, grown in a climate controlled greenhouse. Both transport of the product and climate control are large emitters of carbon dioxide. If you are happy to eat 'in season', not only does it reduce your carbon footprint, but it supports local farmers and is cheaper to buy.

5. Have 'Meat-Free Monday'

You are probably already aware that eating less meat will help to reduce your carbon footprint, but it doesn't mean you need to cut out meat altogether. Even a  reduction in the amount of meat you eat will have an impact. The price of meat is also currently increasing, so a vegetarian day might also be better for your wallet too.

6. Buy second-hand clothing

Charity and up-cycling shops, as well as second hand clothing websites like Vinted, mean you can buy (and sell!) second-hand clothes at a fraction of the price they would have cost new. Not only that, but that means you're buying less new stock, which would have released carbon dioxide in the manufacturing process. 

Are there other ways I can offset the carbon I need to use? 

If you're in a position to, there are other ways to reduce your carbon footprint further if you are willing to spend a little more a month.

1. Change to a green energy tariff

You do need to do a bit of homework on this one. Green energy tariffs can be called 'green' if some of their energy is at least off-set, whilst others guarantee 100% of your energy will come from sustainable sources. All of them will cost a little more than a standard tariff so this won't be for everyone, but it will reduce your carbon footprint considerably.

2. Off-set your own carbon

There are some companies that you can sign up to where you can pay to plant trees and/or contribute to projects to off-set the carbon you do need to produce. There are a number of different ones, so it's worth checking each one out properly before you hand over your cash.

Ecologi

Carbon Footprint

Bulb

Climate Positive    

So, this Earth Day, why not see if there are any ways you can help protect our planet whilst at the same time, perhaps save a little money too.

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