Ways to reduce your carbon footprint, by level of pain

World Today

Carbon footprintCreative commons image by flickr user David Bleasdale.

Let’s face it, some ways to go green are easier than others. Here’s eight ways to do it, by their relative pain level.

Your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide emissions created by your everyday actions. This includes whether you drive or walk, how often you eat meat, whether you recycle, how insulated your home is, and whether you take a bath or shower. 

You can get an idea of your own carbon footprint here.


The following are all suggestions from government organizations and prominent environmental groups. We used a general, three-level system for going green ranging from “Pretty Painless” to “Moderate” to “Painful.” We considered effort level, cost, and ease of use or availability, in making the rankings, but of course the true pain (or not!) level is entirely subjective and depends on your own circumstances.

Looking for more ideas on how to lower your carbon footprint? Check out the U.N.’s Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World

Boil water in the microwave, not on the stove

Use your microwave for what it’s really good at: Bringing up the temperature of liquids. One tester found that boiling water in the microwave was about four times faster than using the stove, saving both time and energy.



Don’t fly (or fly less)

Air travel is high on the pollution scale. Taking a train, if available, can be a better option. Flying less, or combining trips when possible, can also help, as can closer-to-home vacation spots you can drive (your hybrid, of course) to. 

TerraPass and ClimateCare, offer ways to calculate your carbon emissions from air travel, and then pay to offset them.



Be a better driver

Almost a third of reduced miles per gallon comes from how we drive, according to the Carbon Fund. The following can help you up your MPG and save CO2 emissions all at the same time:

  • Lay off the gas. Besides being a hazard to other drivers, aggressive driving makes you a gas-guzzler: you can lose 33 percent of your MPG at highways speeds this way.
  • Keep your tires properly inflated. If you’ve ever ridden a bike with a flat tire, you can understand how under inflated tires will make your vehicle work harder and require more energy.  
  • Don’t speed. The U.S. Department of Energy found that gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds over 50 mph, and that each 5 mph increase past that equates to paying an additional $0.15 per gallon of gas. Cruise control can help with this.   


Carpool or take public transit

Depending on where you live and work, public transit (or carpooling, biking, or walking) are great alternatives to driving and save literally tons of CO2. 


Replace your lightbulbs

Swapping in compact fluorescent bulbs can save more than 66 percent of the energy of incandescent ones. Even just one will be 1,300 pounds less of carbon dioxide pollution in its lifetime. Recycle your old ones. Also, turning them off while you’re not using them will save energy.  


Ditch paper

Ask your bank to send e-statements rather than paper ones vial the mail. Pay your bills online, and consider whether you need to print out the latest email from your boss or company meeting.

dramatically reduce the junk mail in your mailbox.


Buy a hybrid or electric car

We rated this “painful” because of the expense, limited options, and geographic availability. Plus, not everyone has (or needs) a car. In the U.S., only certain places offer plug-in options for electric cars, for example, making long trips more difficult to plan. However, the savings in pollution reduction can be quite significant: the EPA estimates U.S. consumers have saved over 53 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions since 2011. 


Be food-conscious

Livestock raised for us to eat accounts for an estimated 15 percent of global emissions. The Guardian reported that a whopping 15,000 litres of water is needed to produce 1 kg of beef, while also contributing 30 kg of emissions. 

Some 13 percent of U.S. emissions come from the production and transportation of food.
Eating less meat and dairy, more plants, less processed food, and more locally-sourced foods can all lower your carbon footprint.