Climate change is no longer a distant future threat; we are feeling its effects here and now. Scientists from NASA have confirmed that global temperatures have reached their peak in the past millennium. Although there has been discussion about the role of industries and governments in reducing carbon emissions, there has been very little focus on home sustainability.
One of the targets set in the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) was to “work together to deliver”. To achieve this target, we need collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society.
So, as members of civil society, how can we reduce emissions and contribute to home sustainability?
What is global warming?
Global warming is the rise in average global temperatures caused by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouses gases, such as Carbon Dioxide and Methane, trap heat in the atmosphere. This phenomenon is the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a natural process that keeps the earth warm. However, human activities have caused the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to increase. These activities include fossil fuel consumption, deforestation and livestock farming.
Solutions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions include reducing fossil fuel consumption, using renewable energy and changing land use.
Since 1997, there has been a 20-fold increase in the number of countries with climate change laws to regulate industrial emissions of carbon dioxide. Furthermore, under contracts such as the Paris Agreement, countries have set goals to reduce carbon emissions within certain timeframes.
Big companies use two key strategies to reduce their carbon footprint. Firstly, there have been efforts to reduce energy consumption. Secondly, many companies are providing green products and services.
Sustainability via Reducing Emissions
All forms of electricity generation have environmental impacts. In the United States, 40% of the total energy consumed is used to generate electricity. Producing and using energy-efficient products can reduce the combustion of fuel for electricity. This reduces the quantity of greenhouse gases released. Using renewable energy sources is a common way for companies to reduce energy consumption. Big companies are installing geothermal heat pumps, having on-site wind power projects and, using biomass energy systems. Other strategies adopted to increase energy efficiency include installing solar panels, insulating buildings and using controlled heating.
Secondly, investments in green products/services also assist in carbon footprint reduction. A green product is any product that has minimal environmental impacts during its whole lifecycle. For example, Tesla creates electric cars to discourage mass reliance upon fossil fuels. The manufacturing processes for cars are also sustainable. Similarly, Domino’s has been experimenting with autonomous robots for pizza delivery. The use of these robots can impact the chain’s carbon footprint by reducing fossil fuel emissions associated with motor-vehicle use. However, it is important to consider and manage some negative impacts of this technology while it is being developed: loss of job opportunities for unskilled workers, high investment costs and a high risk of operational defects.
Sustainability via Offsetting Emissions
Lastly, certain companies and industries are offsetting the environmental impacts of their operations. Offsetting involves the reduction of greenhouse emissions or storage of carbon to compensate for other emissions. Purchasing carbon credits is a common strategy for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCU) are financial shares that are awarded to companies for contributing to projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One ACCU is awarded for the removal of one tonne of carbon dioxide.
Although a carbon credits system encourages reduced emissions through incentives, it does not make a significant difference. This is because the scheme is voluntary. Furthermore, offsetting does not prevent emissions. Hence, it would be better to have a system that provides financial awards for meeting certain carbon reduction targets. Furthermore, putting taxes on carbon emissions may work.
How Can I Make My Home Sustainable?
Our homes are sources of emissions too. Household activities can have significant impacts on a person’s carbon footprint. An analysis of data from 1995 to 2004 revealed that 20% of all U.S. emissions are directly attributable to household consumption.
To reduce our carbon footprint at home, we need to follow the three R’s in all our actions: Reduce, Re-use and Recycle.
Here are some actions that allow home sustainability:
– Change from incandescent light bulbs to light-emitting diodes (LEDs): Incandescent light bulbs convert 90% of their energy into heat. LEDs use only about a quarter of the energy.
–Switch lights off and unplugs your electrical devices when they are not in use: Switching off lights and unplugging electrical devices can reduce emissions caused by electricity generation.
–Install a low-flow showerhead: Heat energy is used to clean, filter and, pump water. Low-flow showerheads provide showers at a reduced flow rate. Hence, they consume lesser energy.
–Insulate your home and install double-glazed windows with curtains: Heating our properties amounts to a third of wasted energy. Thus, insulating our homes can reduce our carbon footprint.
–Install solar panels and other energy-efficient appliances at home: Clean energy sources contribute to reduced fossil fuel usage.
– Reduce your consumption of meat and dairy: The production and processing of meat and dairy products, along with the release of methane by livestock, is responsible for 14.5% of manmade global emissions. A person’s carbon footprint for a day reduces by 8 pounds when they forgo meat.
–Buy local foods: The transportation of food via truck, ship, rail or plane leads to the use of fossil fuels for fuel and cooling purposes. Buying locally produced foods can reduce the demand for food transported over long distances.
–Plan your meals ahead of time: Planning your meals ahead of time can help reduce food waste. You only buy the ingredients you need. The disposal of food in landfills can lead to greenhouse gas emissions. The rotting of food in landfills can further cause methane production.
–Compost your food waste: Compost refers to decayed organic matter that is used as a fertilizer. Composting food waste can prevent landfill disposals and can feed your own vegetable garden reducing your carbon footprint even further.
–Bring a reusable shopping bag to the stores: Two of the most common reusable shopping bags are polypropylene bags and polyethylene terephthalate. The use of these bags has the lowest impact on global warming. Contrastingly, single-use plastic bags, commonly provided in stores, negatively impact our carbon footprint. Plastics originate as fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases, from cradle to grave.
–Buy second-hand clothes if possible: The fashion industry contributes to 10% of global human-emitted greenhouse gases. This is due to spread out supply lines and emissions from garment production. Hence, buying second-hand clothing can reduce the demand for new clothes.
–Repair damaged clothing and items at home: Repairing damaged clothing and items at home can discourage the purchase of new clothes.
– Drive less: Walking, taking public transport, carpooling, or ridesharing can reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with increased petroleum usage.
–Avoid unnecessary braking and acceleration: Studies have shown that aggressive driving can result in 40 percent more fuel consumption than calm driving.
–Take care of your car: Keeping tires properly inflated can increase fuel efficiency by 3 percent. Ensuring that it is properly maintained can also increase it by 4 percent.
-Avoid flying if possible: The aviation sector is responsible for 12% of transport emissions. Furthermore, the total carbon impact of a flight trip is equivalent to that of using a car for one year. For example, a flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh releases over 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to the amount released by 336 cars driven between the two places.
–Fly non-stop: More landings and take-offs can lead to the use of more fuel. Hence, carbon emissions in the atmosphere increase.
What About Household Offsets?
Households and individuals can offset their emissions by earning carbon credits and donating to climate change organisations.
In Australia, an individual who runs a Climate Solutions Fund Project can earn carbon credit units. The two types of projects that earn credits are emissions avoidance and carbon dioxide storage projects. Emission avoidance projects can earn credits for up to 7 years. On the other hand, projects that store carbon dioxide in vegetation or soil can earn credits for up to 25 years. Around 64 carbon compliance markets like this operate in the world.
Donating to climate change organisations is another effective way of supporting ongoing projects. High-impact, cost-effective and, evidence-based organisations include Clean Air Task Force, Evergreen Collaborative and, Climate Emergency Fund. Credits can also be sold to Government and businesses.
What’s Happening at Work?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about changes in working life. These changes have also contributed to carbon footprint reductions. Lockdowns and border closures have reduced the use of transportation by creating remote work. Secondly, industrial activities have also been reduced.
These changes have paved the way for cleaner air. However, extra residential energy consumption while being at home can increase emissions in the long-run. Furthermore, there might be little progress in meeting long-term carbon reduction goals when reduced travel and remote work cease after lockdowns are lifted.
Therefore, it is important for governments, companies, not-for-profits and households to be actively involved in directly reducing carbon emissions.
Overall, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the high amount of effort required to create sustainable homes. However, to achieve significant reductions in the long-term, everyone must contribute.
To learn more about sustainability, please read our blogs, listen to our podcasts and watch our webinars on THRIVE.