Do You Know What Your Carbon Footprint Is?

If everyone on the planet lived your lifestyle how many worlds would we need?

So many companies are using “green” as an advertising strategy that really useful eco tools and terms are being drowned in the green-wash. One such tool (and term) is your Carbon Footprint. We hear about it daily, but how many people really know their carbon shoe size or even what a carbon footprint is?

DID YOU KNOW…? Australians currently emit more than 550 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. About a fifth of this is generated through every day activities. – 1degree

What is a carbon footprint?

Individuals, countries, products and industries all have carbon footprints. In fact, every single thing that involves human activity has a carbon footprint. Human activities demand natural resources and produce waste and the measure of these impacts on the environment is known as an ‘ecological footprint’ (or carbon footprint). The impact that these activities have on the environment has, in recent times anyway, been measured in terms of climate change.

Here is a really clever and simple way of looking at how little things can have large and environmentally damaging footprints…

Thanks to WWF for providing that amazing little video – doesn’t it put things in perspective?

Something to also consider is that we also have two different types of footprints;

 Primary Footprint:

A measure of our direct emissions of CO2 from burning of fossil fuels such as domestic energy consumption (our household gas, electricity etc) and transport (car, plane, whatever you use to get from A to B)

Secondary Footprint:

A measure of our indirect emissions of CO2 looking at the entire lifecycle of products from their manufacture to their breakdown. It is a simple equation… the more new things buy, the more emissions you cause.

Here is a fantastic graph thanks to Carbon Footprint which breaks down all our basic needs and modern luxuries and codes whether they Primary (Green) or Secondary (Yellow).

Green = Primary Footprint ; Yellow = Secondary Footprint

So what is your Carbon Footprint?

So are you ready to know? There are a million calculators around and they go from being extremely comprehensive (wanting to know how many kWh you use, litres of heating oil) to just getting an approximate summary of your habits and uses (travel distances, modes of transport, dietary choices). Below I have put a link to my favourite calculators – one basic, one thorough, a kiddies calculator and my fave of all.

The end result (represent by worlds) will show you how many planet earths we would need if everyone (all 7 billion of us) lived the lifestyle that you live. A lot of them also give you a detailed synopsis of what you use and where your problem areas are (i.e. travel, home energy, food) like the picture below;

An example of a typical synopsis after calculating your carbon footprint (from WWF ‘Fun Calculator’ link below)

To use these calculators you need to have some idea on the systems that your home uses and general energy consumption – to a varying degree depending on which calculator you use. It takes about ten minutes and will also ask about your diet, household and travel. If you don’t feel confident doing it by yourself then sit down with your partner or family to do it – it also has the added benefit of starting a conversation about sustainability. It is very interesting and really shows the areas that you need to make changes to (and areas that you can pat yourself on the back!).

Tip from Blonde Olive – Having your bills at the ready can make this easier but you can guesstimate without as well.

Basic Calculator

Advanced Calculator

My Favourite Calculator (This calculator is fantastic as it gives you options on whether your answer is detailed or vague. You also get a cute little avatar that walks around a little street which eventually – through your answers – builds itself into a virtual representation of your eco-habits – check out the picture below)

My little olive avatar roaming around Emville!

And there is even a calculator for school kiddies! (It is American so you may need to pick a random school but it is recommended on a load of Australian sites, including state governments)

Reduce your footprint…

If you are not happy with how many earths you are eating up with your habits then commit to making a difference. When I first calculated mine a couple of years ago it came as quite a shock. I was eco conscious but it was very clear that even with my good habits the world was going to fly way beyond its carrying capacity. The great thing was I could see exactly where I was going wrong and change it. For example, my husband and I were not using enough public transport and we lived too far away from work, uni, friends and family. Solution? We moved closer and we carpool to work everyday (halfway at least and then I walk the rest). As well as some other lifestyle tweaks we have more than halved our households footprint!

If you are stuck for ideas check out my list of Eco Resolutions or my post about how to save water around the house. You could even reduce the impact that your diet has on the planet. Carbon Footprint also made a really helpful list of quick tips.

Personally my favorite way to cut emissions is one of the most logical too – cut out pointless single-use items such as plastic bags, bottles or cutlery. Actually, get rid of plastics altogether. If you want my 5 Steps to Cut Out Plastic then click here.

My favourite of their suggested solutions are listed below;

Tackle your Primary Footprint

  • Turn it off when not in use (lights, television, DVD player, Hi Fi, computer etc) Click here to find out which electrical items in your household are contribute the most to your Carbon Footprint
  • Turn down the water heating setting (just 2 degrees will make a significant saving)
  • Fill your dish washer and washing machine with a full load – this will save you water, electricity, and washing powder
  • Fill the kettle with only as much water as you need
  • Do your weekly shopping in a single trip
  • Hang out the washing to dry rather than tumble drying it
  • Use energy saving light bulbs
  • Use the bus or a train rather than your car
  • For short journeys either walk or cycle
  • Try to reduce the number of flights you take

Reduce your Secondary Footprint

(this is the easiest one because it all depends on your buying habits, your choices!)

  • Don’t buy bottled water refill from the tap. If you are concerned about the quality – buy a water filter. Why not give Plastic Free July a go (see the information here).
  • Buy local fruit and vegetables, or even try growing your own
  • Buy foods that are in season locally
  • Reduce your consumption of meat
  • Buy organic produce
  • Don’t buy over packaged products
  • Recycle as much as possible
  • For the full list please click here.

Good luck and let me know how you go!

Green Up Your Diet

Given that food is one of the four basic human needs it is safe to say that what we all eat has a huge impact on the planet. Take a good look at what you eat. Not just what you eat – how it is produced, where it is produced, is it heavily packaged, were any humans or creatures harmed or wronged to produce it. Our food choices are not flippant decisions that should be governed by our taste buds. There are not only ethical implications here but also a hell of a lot of potential emmissions. So as your New Years resolution why not try green up your diet. Here are some ways to go about it.

Go Vego

His name is Winston

Switching to a vegan diet saves 6.5 tonnes of CO2 per person every year. As renowned journalist and food writer Michael Pollan famously said;

“A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius”

If veganism sounds a bit too scary at first, try vegetarianism or Freeganism (conciously making predominantly vegan choices as much as possible). Not only will you feel better for it and dramatically reduce your carbon footprint in the process but you will also save the lives of hundreds of animals every year. That’s reason enough for me.

Stop shopping at the supermarket

Ditch your supermarket for small local businesses or farmers markets. These large corporations are creating a scary monopoly in Australia and forcing prices down which is driving small businesses completely out of the market and backing producers into a corner. Farmers are forced to lower their costs (to ensure they get a slice of the Woolworths pie) but these rates are barely enough to cover the cost of production anyway. It leads to unsustainable practices (growing chemically is cheaper) and cruelty to the animals (quick processing or lack of basic care). And after all that what are we left with? Farmers, small businesses, consumers and our communities are unhappy or out of business and the end result is of poor nutritional quality anyway. Support local businesses and your own community.Here are some places you can start!

Buy Local

Now that you are avoiding supermarkets you will get to explore all the amazing local producers! There is nothing that I like more than going down to a farmers market and chatting with the producers or comparing notes with your fellow browsers. Some have live music, you can taste to fruit and it some places even let you take your dog. Not only is the experience nicer but buying local produce cuts down any emissions related to long travel times or produce that is grown out of season. Get to know your community while you shop – it is a really rewarding experience. I have listed a few of my favourite farmers markets here.

Speak with the growers!

Eat Seasonally

A big part of buying local is eating seasonal produce. I used to have a standard menu that I would eat rain, hail or shine and it never crossed my mind that it was being shipped from interstate or even internationally! Not only will you reduce energy usage (travel, refridgeration, petrol) but you will also save money as seasonal produce is cheaper due to availability. If you need to know what is in season in your area see this handy guide.

Go organic

Eating organically is better for you and the planet. It just makes sense. Eating up to 40 pesticides, fungicides and herbicides every apple just doens’t make sense. Spraying our land with chemicals that kills whatever unfortunate being it lands on is not good. Organic farmers work with the land to get the best from it and while it is a little more expensive you do get what you pay for in nutritional value and taste. I wrote an article about how you can make the transition to organic eating a bit easier, even on a budget. Healthy you, healthy planet.

Avoid Palm Oil

Palm Oil is in a lot of pre-packed foods and products and when it is not sustainably produced it is bad news.

I wrote this article explaining the ins and outs of palm oil (what it is, why it’s bad) and wrote a follow up guide to avoiding unsustainable palm in your products.

Make sure your not killing orangutans with your biscuits!

Buy Fair Trade

World Fair Trade Day

Make sure you look for the Fair Trade logo when buying food – especially when buying chocolate, coffee and tea. This excerpt from the FTA organisation website explains exactly why you should buy fair trade –

“Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices, Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives”.

Look for this logo!

Cook wholefoods, avoid packaging

These days we have tablets for everything, artificial flavours, frozen meals and the other day I even saw ‘Chicken In A Can’ – please hold my hair back for a moment while I barf. The bizarre thing is that all these magic pills we are ramming down our throats are derived from plants – why not just eat the plant? If you have a diet full of organic fruit and vegetables you will get all the vitamins you need all the while avoiding wasteful packaging. Frozen meals are labelled as ‘convenient’ but what on earth is convenient about paying ten bucks for a small tasteless meal in a non-recyclable container? Even for a week try and make all your food from scratch. You will end up feeling better and you will reduce your household waste.

Avoid GM Foods

Image courtesy of Tribal Energies

Genetically modified foods come from crops or food sources that have had their DNA modified by gene technology. In simple terms, scientists are trying to produce ‘Super Crops’ that have new characteristics making them cheaper, quicker and/or easier to grow. An example – scientists can take a gene from a deep water fish that lives in very cold ocean and fuse it into a strawberry DNA so it can survive in frosts. It is a contentious subject with some hailing it the solution to global hunger but others (including me) fearful of potential impact. No one knows what effects GM technology will have on our health and the environments. I will leave you with a principle that was first introduced at the Earth Summit of 1992 –

The Precautionary Principle

“Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation”

Principle #15 of the Rio Declaration, Rio Conference (or Earth Summit), 1992