13 ways to reduce your carbon footprint and save money
Rob Flynn
Staff Writer

You don’t have to be a climate scientist to reduce your carbon footprint. Every little change, however great or small, can make a welcome impact.

It’s very easy to delay making changes to your lifestyle because of the ‘small impact’ it may or may not have in the grand scheme of things. What’s true now more than ever though is that changes, however big or small, will be instrumental in fighting climate change.

What's more, not only will these changes positively impact our efforts to deal with climate change, many will help save you money too!

We’ve compiled a list of some great ways to help you reduce your carbon footprint. Starting small is great, but starting at all is even better.

But before we bring you our tips, what does it actually mean to reduce your carbon footprint?

What does decarbonisation mean?

Climate change is rapidly progressing due to an increasing amount of greenhouse gases present in our atmosphere. These include gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which trap in heat, and thus, abnormally impact our Little Blue Marble.

Decarbonisation is the reduction and limitation of these gases (created by a myriad of economic and social activities) which are proving detrimental to our environment, all in order to prevent global warming.

You can learn more about what climate change means for Ireland here.

1. Switch to a green electricity supplier

Possibly the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint is by switching to a supplier of green renewable electricity. Using green electricity helps to reduce your home’s carbon dioxide emissions, while also helping to contribute towards Ireland’s renewable energy targets for 2030.

Green energy is energy which comes from renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydro-electric, and geothermal among others. This energy enters the national power grid and is then supplied to your home.

If you’d like to go green, you can compare all green energy deals across a range of suppliers easily on bonkers.ie.

2. Lower your thermostat

Lowering your thermostat is a simple way of conserving the energy used to heat your home, while also keeping costs and emissions down at the same time - handy!

The average temperature a thermostat is set to for most living rooms is somewhere between 20 and 22 degrees Celsius. The bill payers reading this will know that every degree ratcheted up (or down, for that matter) conspicuously appears on the heating bill every two months. 

Simply lowering your thermostat to around 18 or 19 degrees Celsius can do a whole lot for energy savings, while still maintaining that snug homely feel.

According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), you can reduce your heating bill by a considerable 10% by lowering your room temperature by only one degree. So families could potentially save anything up to 40%, which is pretty eye-opening.

We are all too aware of the War of the Thermostat perpetually ongoing, especially in office spaces and how divisive the issue can be, but it remains a tried and tested approach to energy conservation, that is if you’re warm-blooded!

3. Purchase an electric vehicle

If you’re shopping for a new car then consider purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle (EV)

Buying an EV has plenty of benefits, not just for the environment, and when researching EVs you’ll soon find the pros far outweigh the cons, some of which are:

  • You can save up to 70% on fuel costs vs a similar-sized petrol or diesel car
  • You can avail of the lowest rate of motor tax at €120 per annum
  • You can avail of a grant up to €5,000 for the purchase
  • You can avail of a grant of up to €600 to assist with the cost of installing a home charger
  • Reduced road tolls, potentially up to 50%
  • Reduced servicing costs
  • VRT relief up to €5,000

You can learn about all the grants and incentives available here.

4. Fly less

Flying less is a sure-fire way to reduce your carbon footprint and the adverse effects it has on the environment. Put it this way, one person's carbon emissions for a return economy flight from Cork to London accounts for an estimated 0.33 tonnes of carbon dioxide. That’s almost a whole month of driving a car.

As an alternative, why not explore potential holiday destinations on the island of Ireland this summer? Ireland is rich in heritage, culture, and scenery, not to mention the copious amounts of beautiful wild flora and fauna on offer.

If you do choose to fly this year, make sure to choose non-stop flights to your destination to avoid any unnecessary emissions. You can also contribute an extra euro or two to help offset those emissions if the option is made available when booking. Alternatively, you can always donate to voluntary organisations like Crann or the Tree Council of Ireland.

5. Unplug devices not in use

    Another simple one, and easy to implement around the house. Unplugging devices when we’re finished with them is probably one of the easiest ways to cut down on our electricity bills, energy use, and in turn our carbon emissions. 

    Many devices when left plugged in use electricity, with culprit devices such as mobile phone chargers being dubbed 'energy vampires'. 

    If you think of all the times you leave your phone charger plugged in and idle, as well as all the other appliances that you don’t even consider plugging out overnight, there really are some quick and easy wins. Think of items like mobile phone chargers, stereo, and home entertainment systems, as well as more modern items such as heated towel racks.

    We know how tedious the cycle of unplugging devices each night can be, so why not try using smart power strips? A smart power strip is essentially an extension socket that can detect when a device is on standby mode and can cut power to save energy. If you have a lot of devices plugged in, as more and more homes do nowadays, investing in a rather inexpensive solution can really cut down on money, time, and emissions.

    6. Improve the energy efficiency of your home

    If you’re looking to take the next step by upgrading your home’s energy efficiency and its building energy rating (BER), then exploring the types of grants available is the first port of call.

    Everything from a deep retrofit to smaller targeted upgrades are available and the good news is that the SEAI provides a whole range of grants, which include:

    • Insulation grant
    • Heat pump system grant
    • Heating controls grant
    • Solar water heating grant
    • Solar electricity grant

    A deep retrofit involves carrying out upgrades that will significantly help to reduce energy use and improve the overall energy efficiency of your home. It can be as simple as installing wall and attic insulation or something more complex such as installing renewable energy systems such as solar panels or a heat pump.

    One of the most effective bursaries available is the grant for a heat pump system, which is an extremely efficient alternative to fossil fuel heating systems and a great way for consumers to save on their energy bills as well as reduce their carbon footprint. The heat pump works by converting energy from the air outside of your home into useful heat energy, in the same way a fridge extracts heat from its inside. The better insulated the house, the more economical a pump is to run.

    See here for more information on the full range of grants available from the SEAI or review all of your finance options for retrofitting here.

    7. Install energy-efficient lighting

    Using an LED light bulb is a good first step to help reduce your carbon emissions. An LED uses up to 90% less energy than a halogen light bulb and has the capacity to last over a decade. This is compared to only two years for a standard light bulb.

    In essence, this means that replacing one light bulb will save you in and around €6 of electricity a year. So, replacing all light bulbs in your house could easily save you up to €100, depending on how many lights you have. 

    Switching to LED really is a no-brainer as it’s a tried and tested approach with guaranteed results.

    8. Buy a reusable coffee cup

    There’s no denying that most people have jumped on the bandwagon and invested in a reusable coffee cup these days. Shockingly, despite this, nearly half a million disposable coffee cups are still being sent to a landfill or incineration centre every day in Ireland. This amounts to 200 million cups a year! 

    Seeing that a study from Starbucks found that each paper cup manufactured is responsible for 0.24 pounds of CO2 emissions in the United States, you can only imagine how quickly the emissions from the production and discarding of disposable cups add up. 

    Although it is possible to find compostable coffee cups that use 72% less carbon to produce than normal plastic ones, buying a reusable coffee cup is the way to go. In a few years, it will be your only option, as the Irish Government recently committed to making Ireland one of the first countries in the world to eliminate the use of disposable coffee cups as part of its Circular Economy Act. 

    So get on board with this initiative and opt for a more eco-friendly and sustainable way to drink your coffee, but remember one reusable coffee cup is enough to meet your needs. 

    Purchasing a vast array of reusable cups for their aesthetic purposes undermines their intended long-term use. 

    9. Eat less meat 

    Did you know that Irish people consume twice the global average of meat? 

    Although it may seem harmless to have a preference for a beef burger, about 25% of the average Irish person’s carbon emissions comes from their diet, and the processes involved in supplying it. 

    If you look at Ireland’s agricultural industry, it currently produces 37.5% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, rising from 29% in 2005. A large proportion of these are born from Ireland’s thriving dairy and beef industry, which has seen our small nation become Europe’s biggest exporter of beef. 

    By reducing your meat intake or by switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet, you will lower your carbon footprint substantially. As well as this, having a more plant-based diet is also healthier, and cheaper, as meat and animal products are usually more expensive than vegetables. 

    10. Stop using the tumble dryer

    Reducing your tumble dryer use can help significantly when trying to reduce your carbon footprint.

    The average Irish house emits around 200kg of carbon dioxide a year from tumble drying alone, while drying one load of washing uses almost five times as much electricity than a simple wash.

    Drying your clothes out on the line or even on a clothes horse inside your home can help save you up to 5kWh of electricity (c. €1) per load if you own a C-rated 8kg tumble dryer. And that’s not to mention the excessive damage a tumble dryer inflicts on the longevity of your clothes.

    If you feel you absolutely can't do without a tumble dryer then at least consider upgrading to a more energy-efficient appliance. Most modern appliances are much more efficient and cheaper to run than older models, but the rating will help you choose the most efficient model. The ratings, which are compulsory, range from A to G, with A being the most efficient.

    You can learn all about which appliances use the most energy here, and discover how to read energy efficiency labels on appliances here.

    11. Re-use your reusable bags

    Since the plastic bag levy was first introduced in 2002 the number of carrier bags in use in Ireland has plummeted, which has led to people buying long-life and cotton carrier bags instead.

    However, it's estimated that you need to use your plastic bag-for-life at least eight times before its carbon footprint is lower than an ordinary carrier bag, while an organic cotton tote must be used a staggering 149 times. 

    So try and be better about bringing your reusable bag with you when going shopping as this will help considerably in aiding to reduce your carbon footprint.

    12. Use public transport

    With urban and inner-city areas becoming more and more congested, especially in the capital and within cities like Galway and Cork, there is an urgent need for fewer cars on our roads.

    While the crux of the issue lies with the government to solve, we as individuals can make small changes today in order to reduce our own emissions, and one of those is to drive less. Burning one litre of fuel emits, on average, 2.5kg of carbon, while the average medium-sized family car will emit around 24 tonnes of CO2 during its lifecycle.

    Although some may like the convenience of driving, it should be remembered that during peak times in Dublin city centre, traffic crawls along at approximately 6 km/h, which is just one kilometre faster than how quickly most people walk!

    Using public transport will not only help to ease congestion in our cities, but it will also help to reduce air pollution as well as your carbon footprint; a real win-win.

    And even more good news is that if you get on board with a tax saver ticket you could save up to 50% on the cost of a monthly or annual ticket

    13. Purchase secondhand or refurbished items

    When the time comes for us to buy new clothes or a new device, we’re all guilty of flocking to retailer websites or heading out to brick-and-mortar shops. However, you could save a pretty penny and help the environment by purchasing items secondhand.

    In recent years, thanks to the vintage clothing revival and people looking to spend less, reselling websites and apps, such as Depop, DoneDeal, and Adverts, have surged in popularity. So, if you’re looking for a new outfit or a piece of furniture on a budget, don’t forget to check these out.

    Although relatively new on the scene, having only launched in Ireland in 2021, the refurbished technology marketplace, Refurbed, has stirred things up too. Refurbed sells refurbished mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and more. 

    These refurbished tech products are up to 40% cheaper than buying new electronics, and the process produces 70% less CO2 emissions compared to the creation of a new device. 

    As well, Refurbed also plants a tree for every product sold to offset CO2 emissions. 

    The company is going from strength and has recently teamed up with 48 to offer the mobile network’s customers more sustainable, cheaper smartphones. We spoke to Refurbed about their business model and the benefits of buying secondhand in our bonkers.ie podcast, which you can listen to here.

    More ways to save

    Becoming more energy-conscious can help the environment as well as your pocket. To discover other ways you can become more energy efficient, check out our other informative articles below.

    You can view all of our helpful articles over on our blog and guide pages.

    Your thoughts

    So there you have it, a number of ways to significantly cut down your carbon footprint. Of course, we'd love to hear what you've been doing to help out, too!

    Get the conversation started in the comments below, or send us a message over on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.