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, however, is that changes to habitual practice, 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 us save you money.
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.
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. Electric Ireland is the latest supplier in Ireland now offering a green energy price plan.
If you’d like to switch 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.
By simply lowering your thermostat to around 18 or 19 degrees it can do a whole lot for energy savings, while still maintaining that snug homely feel.
According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, 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 EV’s 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
- A grant up to €5,000 to purchase a new EV
- Reduced road tolls, potentially up to 50%
- Subsidised home charging system
- Reduced servicing costs
- VRT relief up to €5,000
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 device 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 Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (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.
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
An oldie but a goldie, and something most people are doing these days.
According to a study by Starbucks, each paper cup manufactured is responsible for 0.24 pounds of CO2 emissions in the United States.
The best thing to do is to stop using disposable cups altogether and buy a reusable coffee cup (à la KeepCup fame) for your morning java; that is provided you buy one, and only one!
Unfortunately, the launch of more and more branded and ‘designer’ cups has lead to a false economy of sorts, as people end up continually buying new reusable cups for their aesthetic value rather than for their intended long-term use.
And while it's better to drink from a reusable cup, some compostable ones are manufactured green, using 72% less carbon to produce than normal plastic ones. That being said, most compostable cups are actually incinerated or go to landfill because they generally need to be industrially composted. In short, making sure a cup is at the very least compostable is a step in the right direction to help ensure you're keeping your carbon footprint down.
9. Eat less meat
The enormous emissions produced from Irish agriculture are largely due to the significant role it plays in the Irish economy, hardly surprising in a country that exports the most amount of beef in the EU. The share of greenhouse gas emissions arising from agricultural activities in Ireland in 2018 stood at 34%, or 20.6 Mt, rising from 29% in 2005. It doesn't take a climate scientist to realise that said figure should be going down. It's quite apparent that solutions are needed if Ireland wants to lead by example on the agricultural front.
Furthermore, the adverse impact that the meat and agricultural industries are having on the progression of climate change worldwide is indisputable. Also worth noting is the fact that vegan diets, or even vegetarian ones, are not only better for the environment but also healthier.
While we’re not suggesting you eradicate meat completely from your diet, phasing it out or eating less is definitely the way forward. Why not try and actively do one vegetarian shop every two or three weeks and work some meat-free dishes into your diet? The less meat you buy, the better off the environment is.
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.
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 lead 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.
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!