You may have already read a ton of how-to go green tips, but have you ever wondered which ones will have the biggest impact? You could swap your gas car with an electric car, eat less red meat, or be a more conscious consumer. But how do you know what to focus on? Here I'll show you how to use a carbon calculator to first measure your current carbon footprint, and from there I'll give you more specific ways to go green for maximum impact and minimal effort.
Use a carbon calculator
Let's start by plugging your information into a carbon calculator like the one on Wren.co*. This will show you how many tons of carbon dioxide your lifestyle produces each year. I've run their carbon calculator several times and made adjustments accordingly.
For example, we recently traded in our gas-powered minivan for an electric car, so that reduced my transportation footprint. Plus, due to the pandemic, I haven't flown in over a year, which brought my transportation footprint down even further. But as you can see below, I still probably shop too much. I do buy mostly refillable, reusable, and used products but that's not included in the equation.
How to go green when you're shopping
As you can see in the chart above, the goods and services I purchase are a large chunk of my personal carbon footprint. Here's what I try to do as I green the three categories under goods, services, and home (I'm lumping them all together just to keep things simple here.)
If you want to go green, the easiest way to start is by getting a sturdy refillable water bottle and coffee cup that you can bring with you wherever you go. Other refillable products like Beautycounter's clean deodorant* not only reduce plastic waste, but also the emissions associated with the product. So whether you're trying to reduce your plastic waste footprint or carbon footprint, using refillable containers is a great way to go green.
"Refillables cut our water, fossil fuel, and greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 47%," according to Beautycounter. To get that number, they used a Life Cycle Assessment tool that includes impacts from sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, and the end of life stages of each package according to the company.
Buy used - The EPA estimates that about 5.8% of all municipal solid waste came from thrown away textiles in 2018. Buying second-hand clothes used to be considered taboo, but now second-hand shopping has gone mainstream with services like thredUP and Poshmark. Now, the idea of paying full price for most designer brands seems like a huge waste of money.
Go green on the road
When shopping for a car, go electric. Electric cars are more readily available than they've ever been and there are so many advantages to electric cars. So if you want to go green on the road, opt for an electric car when it's time for a new one. They're fast, fun and they make it easy to lower your environmental footprint on the road.
Fly less - The biggest impact I had on my carbon footprint from transportation was the fact that I haven't flown in over a year. That's mostly because of the pandemic, but in general, I try to limit air travel to necessary trips.
Telecommute when possible - One of the silver linings from the past year of lockdowns has been that working from home has become more mainstream. The less time you spend traveling to and from work, the more you lower your carbon footprint as well.
How to go green if you're a homeowner
This is one category where my family and I are actively trying to change the way we consume energy in order to lower our carbon footprint.
To help reduce our energy consumption at home, we use a service called OhmConnect.* OhmConnect notifies us when there's going to be a demand for energy, and we reduce our energy consumption during that time by turning off the lights and thermostat, and waiting to run the dishwasher and washing machine during those times. In return, OhmConnect rewards us with the opportunity to earn cash and prizes. You can see our chart below.
Learn more about how to conserve energy with OhmConnect.
Another easy way to save money and use less dirty energy is to get a roof solar system installed. If you're thinking of going solar but you're not sure where to begin, read The ultimate solar home guide.
Finally, see if your utility offers the option to get 100% renewable energy at home. Where I live in San Jose I'm able to get 100% of my energy from San Jose's Clean Energy program for a small monthly fee. Although this is not available in every community, more and more programs like this are becoming available through local utilities.
Go green when you eat
Reduce food waste - "The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions," according to Drawdown.org.
That's a lot. We can all do better at reducing food waste simply by only buying what we need. But I'm also a fan of systemic change, and a few companies like Misfits Market* are reducing food waste by selling food that otherwise may be thrown away. Think ugly produce and oddly shaped pretzels.
Plant-rich diets - "Plant-rich diets reduce emissions and also tend to be healthier, leading to lower rates of chronic disease," according to Drawdown.org. There are lots of plant-based alternatives available these days. But that doesn't mean you have to give up meat altogether. You can start slow by embracing Meatless Monday or simply eating more veggies and reducing the quantity of meat you eat.
Compost what you don't eat - If you can't eat it, compost it. I know that composting can seem gross, and I won't argue that it's not. However, the more I'm learning how to actually keep plants alive in my garden, the more value I see in composting. Not only is it better to keep food scraps out of the landfills where they turn into methane, but when you compost them instead you also end up with healthier soil and plants. That's a win-win.
Offset your carbon footprint
Finally, when you've taken the most efficient steps toward going green and you're just not sure what else to do you can offset your carbon footprint with a service like Wren.co.* For a small monthly fee (on average about $20) you can offset your carbon footprint by supporting various carbon offsetting projects around the world. I personally contribute to a project that uses old phones and drones to monitor and protect endangered forests. But there are several other projects to support, and you'll receive information each month about how the money was used to offset your carbon footprint.
I know this may seem like a lot to take in if you're just starting your journey into going green. But don't worry. Just take it one step at a time and keep returning to your carbon footprint calculator to calculate your progress. After a few months, you might be surprised at home much progress you made!