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Minimizing Your Carbon Footprint..Sustainable Living

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

What Is A Carbon Footprint?

Do you have big feet?

Quite simply a carbon footprint is a term used to describe a person's, family's, or company's impact on the environment around them. It takes in the measurement of the carbon dioxide that you personally release into the atmosphere on a daily basis just through your everyday activities. Carbon dioxide is, what scientists consider to be, the major gas contributing to the greenhouse effect. By being aware of your "carbon footprint" you can make informed decisions that lessen your impact on the environment. By being aware of how you impact the environment you can take steps to control the things you can control so that the things you can't control are not so devastating. By learning to measure your own impact, you can choose daily to create positive change.

Step One- Calculate Your Shoe Size

In order to have a point of reference you must calculate your impact on the environment. There are many web based calculators and I have linked to the one I like best in the links below.

When you get to the site you will be asked several questions. As you answer the questions the tool will calculate your footprint. The average American family of 2 generates about 41,500 lbs of emissions per year. Not only can you see what you are doing and how you are doing compared to others, you will be given suggestions for bringing down those totals. Now you are ready to make educated choices about the changes you can make in your lifestyle to make your carbon footprint smaller.

Step Two- Conserving Energy

Energy use seems to be one of the easiest changes you can make. Seventy percent of energy in the United States is created by use of burning fossil fuels. Making small changes in your energy efficiency can equal big changes for the environment, and energy efficiency is one of the least expensive changes that you can make. Small things like moving your thermostat down 2 degrees in winter and up 2 degrees in summer can save as much as 2,000 lbs of carbon emissions and add up to nearly $100.00 a year in savings. Just two degrees! Think what the savings could be if you let your body adjust to life without air conditioning and cooler temperatures in the winter time. Programmable thermostats can reduce energy use by dropping the heat to a low temperature when everyone is snuggled in warm beds and then warming to a more comfortable temperature just before it is time to get up. Consider changing your thermostat to one of these.

Using energy efficient florescent light bulbs will save the average american household over $50.00 a year and keep over one trillion pounds of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere if everyone did it. Replacing bulbs can drop your electric bill 10% or more.

Identify phantom load, or energy vampires in your house and eliminate them. These are things that draw minuscule amounts of energy all the time, even when not in use. Cell phone chargers, VCR/Dvd players, Televisions sets, microwaves and ovens are all capable of drawing energy 24/7 and can add to your overall energy usage very quickly. Anything with a digital timer or clock will fall into this category as well. Unplug them when not in use. One of the simplest ways to do this is to get a multi outlet power cord with a single switch and just switch it off.

Home improvements can be effective. Insulation guards against heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. Check your insulation to see if it needs to be updated. One year, after a snow, I noticed that several houses in my area had clear roofs and some had a thick blanket of snow. The difference was the amount of insulation in the attic. The houses with the most insulation had a thick layer of snow on the roof because the heat was not escaping.

Double pane windows are helpful in guarding against heat loss. The can be very expensive to install so this is not an option for everyone..however many cities have tax breaks and rebates for doing this so check with your town.

Alternative energy, of course, reduces your carbon footprint immensely. Using solar panels to create energy in your home can save you well over $5,000.00 per year. A really good system can even put money in your pocket by selling your excess energy to the power company.

Step Three- Transportation

Gas is expensive these days. There doesn't seem to be any way around it and we are a country that likes to drive. Walking to the local shop to purchase the ingredients for dinner as the Europeans do is not often practiced in the United States. We are much more likely to hope in the car and head for a fast food place. It is not just what you drive but the way you drive it that makes the difference. Carpooling, utilizing public transportation, and planning ahead to run all your errands at once are all ways that cost little and yet make a difference in your footprint. Choose to be a pioneer and drive a hybrid car or SUV and reduce it further. Driving a hybrid can reduce the CO2 you release into the atmosphere by 16,000 lbs per year. Air travel is expensive in terms of both financial and environmental so try to keep it at a minimum.

Step Four- Shop Locally

In our global community sometimes food is shipped many thousands of miles before it hits the shelves in our local grocer. That transportation increased the cost of the food in dollars but also in effect on the environment. The long delay between farm and market means a huge loss in taste and vitamin content. By learning to shop locally and preserve your own vegetables in the growing season you will have a huge savings in total carbon dioxide output. Our grandmothers knew how to do it and it is an easy skill to learn. There is something very satisfying about seeing jars full of fresh produce and jelly lined up on the pantry shelves and knowing that you did it yourself. If you live in a big city and shop at a farmer's market beware. I have seen "farmers" stopping at the local produce wholesaler and picking up produce that has been shipped in from other areas and selling it as their own farm fresh produce. Inspect carefully and use your head. If it is January and the farmer has fresh apples they are probably not local.

Refining Your Footprint

Now that you have made big changes you an look at the small details that make a difference.

1. Use canvas bags for grocery shopping


3.Reuse- buy second hand and donate your unwanted things so that others can use them

4.Have your HVAC system checked yearly and keep it in top running condition

5. Conserve water. Turn the faucet off when brushing your teeth. Use low flow shower heads. Fix leaky toilets and faucets. Consider a composting or waterless toilet system.

6 Buy appliances with an Energy Star label. ENERGY STAR is a government program that offers energy-efficient solutions. Appliances and goods marked witht he Energy Star label have passed stringent government regulations and met the energy saving standards and guidelines.

7. Use environmentally responsible cleaning products.

8.Avoid using paper plates and plastics in the kitchen

9. When grabbing a coffee " to go" bring your own cup rather than using a disposable one.

10. Buy things with minimal packaging. Fresh green beans have less of an impact on the environment than commercially canned.

11. Brainstorm with your family on ways you can cut down on your carbon footprint. Get everyone involved. We had our kids become light deputies and promised a family outing if the electric bill was down. They scrambled to turn off lights and do other things besides watch t.v.

12 Get regular tuneups on your car and keep up with the maintenance so that the car runs at optimum performance

13 Walk or ride a bike. It is good for the environment and most of us need the increased exercise

14 Adjust the temperature on your hot water heater or better yet, go with a tankless system.

15 Wash clothes in cold water and hang to dry. You have to love that fresh smell!

16 Plant trees to shade your home. For every native tree you plant you save 2268 kg of CO2 per year. Make sure the tree is native to your area so that it can survive in your environment without special waterings.

17 Remove your address form junk mail lists. Cutting down on clutter for you and waste for the environment.

18 Try a push lawnmower. No gasoline to pollute the atmosphere and great exercise. They are simple, well built machines that last forever.

19. Caulk around windows and doors in your home

20 Consider cutting down on animal products in your diet


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    • rap profile image

      Ruth Perkins 4 years ago from New England

      Thanks for writing this very informative hub. You've alerted me to even more steps I can take to become more sustainable & earth friendly. People power is the answer to our helpless feeling of out-of-control global warming & climate change.

    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 6 years ago from Arkansas

      Wonderful hub. Thanks for the great tips!

    • KEckerle profile image

      KEckerle 8 years ago from Currently near Surprise, AZ

      Wonderful post. I'm finding a smaller footprint is a rather natural side-effect of living full-time in an RV as a location independent professional. It also raises other issues which need to be addressed. Although well insulated it heats up quickly when the sun hits the windows and cools down quickly once the sun goes down in the winter. I'm finding there are many ways to combat this, once one is aware of it.

      I have always supported re-purposing rather than disposing. I think the recent economic downturn has encouraged many to pursue a "greener" lifestyle.

    • Guardian1 profile image

      Guardian1 8 years ago

      Great ideas. I'll defintely be using some of these ideas in my home. I'm working on a project with the kids right now to use recycled material to build furniture for the cat. Some people build doll houses... ;-)

    • profile image

      Dindin Daliva 8 years ago

      Thank you for posting this. I circulated this to my family and friends.

    • midnightbliss profile image

      Haydee Anderson 9 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      this is a great hub with lots of useful information and easy, simple tips on how to be environmetally responsible with our actions.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 9 years ago from Wisconsin

      This is a great hub!!! We have started a couple of them, but I want to add to that after reading some of your ideas.

      You talked about a push mower. If you have a small enough yard, you can actually get rid of mowing entirely if you plant ground cover. We are going to be doing that in the next year.

    • profile image

      whitty 9 years ago

      this website is all i needed for my assignment :0

    • profile image

      sody 10 years ago

      we can minimize our carbon foot print by carpooling, planting trees, use vehicles that are manually powered like bycicles, using more global warming friendly materials.... thank you for listening to me and if you have any more ideas put them on the back of your shoe and i will find them

    • profile image

      samson 10 years ago

      very useful information .. thanks :)

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      I have become especially interested in recycling building materials... to me this is the ultimate in recycling. :)

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 10 years ago from North Carolina

      Great Hub, I bookmarked this, has a lot of useful tips, I also use CFL in my home, and try to recycle almost everything.