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Green Living - Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Almost everything we do these days generates a "carbon footprint". The phrase comes from the fact that transport and manufacturing and almost anything that uses electricity requires the burning of a fossil fuel to generate that energy (internal combustion engines in lorries and cars, coal and gas fired power stations for e.g.). As fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) are mainly carbon, so carbon dioxide is released in the process - this is considered to be a bad thing as being a "greenhouse gas" it then contributes to global warming.

You'll find plenty of lists of how to "save the world in easy steps", and a lot of them are fiddly little things that it's a problem to remember and sometimes a pain to do. There's also the fact that some make a huge difference, others, while terribly worthy may be wiped out by that light-bulb you forgot to turn off last night.

These are the biggies - that make the largest difference, if you want to re-use supermarket bags and earn a few loyalty card points as well even better, but if you don't do those listed here, you're not really making much of an effort.

It comes down to reducing the amount of greenhouse gases you are personally responsible for releasing. Some are obvious, drive a car - carbon dioxide (CO2) comes out of the exhaust, some are less obvious, buying just one new shirt instead of two that you don't really need for instance saves on CO2 emissions in its production and transport.

So here goes, roughly in some kind of order.

Don't Fly

A long haul flight is about 18 months motoring equivalent per person.Isn't that a bit militant? Well maybe it is Mr. Airline-Industry-Dependent-Man, but flying is the one usually unnecessary thing we do that can have the biggest immediate effect on greenhouse gas emissions (CO2). Long-haul flights are the worst as they have to carry extra fuel that in the early part of the journey that is needed to carry the extra fuel that is needed in the later parts of the journey - short-haul flights don't need to do that to the same extent.

So how bad is it?

A single long-haul return flight, say from the UK to Australia, South America or the Far East can release about as much CO2 as driving 15,000 miles in a fairly standard 1.6L car on your own (and yes that is per person, you don't divide it by all the people on the plane). The average annual mileage by a motorist in the UK is about 10,000, so one long-haul airline round trip is the same as 18 months of normal motoring - and wipes out an awful lot of eco-friendly bike-riding in a single stroke.

All of these thing produce about the same amount of CO2

  • 15,000 miles (18 months worth) of motoring in an average size standard car
  • 1 return long-haul flight e.g. UK to Australia, South America or the Far East
  • 3 return medium-haul flights e.g. UK to East Coast America, Africa or India
  • 6 return short-haul flights e.g. UK to Europe
Dump the 4 x4, SUV or Pickup - Get a More Economical (and better) Car
Slow, wallowy ride, corners by appointment & Hi-Pollutin'(Swallows diplomacy pill) You can probably reduce your CO2 emissions by at least a third by getting a far more fuel efficient vehicle. An MPV will do pretty much the same job as an 4 x 4 for this saving in fuel and emissions while giving a similar internal space, though maybe not being so good at mounting a machine-gun on the back and taking part in a limited regional armed conflict or hauling a whole winter's worth of lumber from the back-woods - hands up who needs to do those things?

Relative CO2 emissions (approximate guide):

The most fuel efficient "ECO" cars 0.5
Hybrid* e.g. Toyota Prius 0.61
Supermini 1.2L or smaller 0.70
Supermini 1.2 - 1.6L 0.88
Family car 1.8L engine or smaller 1
MPV 1.8L engine or smaller 1.05
Family car larger than 1.8L 1.14
MPV car larger than 1.8L 1.2
Coupe between 1.9 and 3L 1.26
Executive car 2.5L or less 1.37
Executive car larger than 2.5L 1.6
4 x 4 / SUV 3L or smaller 1.7
4 x 4 / SUV larger than 3L 1.94

* Note - while the Toyota Prius was the first commercially available hybrid and amongst the least polluting production cars currently available, there are a number of small engined petrol and diesel models that are now less polluting than the hybrid Prius's emission levels. Also - hybrid doesn't always mean low emissions, Lexus have recently produced hybrid SUV's with 3.3 and 3.5L engines that have emission levels far above many standard family petrol and diesel models - but they get to say it's a hybrid and pretend they're helping while they're not.

Faster, leaner, better chassis (corner with smiles), less polluting and waaaaay cooler. Alfa Romeo Brera(Spits diplomacy pill out) No-one really needs to drive around in something the size of a small bus, safety considerations are negated by the increased tendency of 4 x 4s to overturn in accidents as they're top-heavy. So help the planet and get a better car that can go round corners too and is far more fun to drive.

It's a little known fact that other cars regard 4 x 4's and pickups as dorky idiot cousins that it's an embarrassment to share genes with - ask any Alfa Romeo or Prius of your acquaintance.

Car Fuel Data Site (UK) - get the environmental data on all current cars here

Get More Efficient Refrigeration

Old refridgerator - power-hungry-planet-eater.In most homes, the single most energy-hungry appliance over the year is the fridge. Buy the most energy efficient model you can - it will be cheaper in the long run. Less efficient models are usually less expensive to buy, though the initial cost price difference is getting slimmer compared to the most effective machines. The extra running cost of electricity of cheaper models easily wipes out the initial cost-saving.

Energy efficiency is graded by the letters A-G, with A being the most efficient.

If you need an extra freezer, then get a chest freezer rather than an upright - they are significantly more efficient. Open the door of an upright freezer and all the heavy cold air falls out (hot air rises, so cold air falls) to be replaced with warmer air which needs refrigerating again when you shut the door, not to mention the cold air in your kitchen which gives the central heating more work to do.

Chest freezers retain their cold air when the lid is opened and they also usually have better insulation than an upright - a much more effective choice in every way.

Reduce Space Heating Requirements

The second largest energy user is frequently the heating of a living or working environment. The scope for reducing energy usage is less so than refrigeration, but still considerable. Ways to do this:

  • Insulate roofs, ceilings, walls, windows and floors, you may be able to get a grant to help you do this, ask at your local council, government office or library.
  • Use curtains on windows to keep the heat in and shelves above radiators (about 2"/5cm above) to deflect heat outwards rather than up under curtains where radiators are so frequently placed and the heat is lost in heating the window.
  • Turn the thermostat down by 1 degree - 2 is even better! 1 degree Centigrade will save around 10% of the energy needed and you probably won't notice so much - if you're cold, put something on. If you're cold and don't put something on it'll help you lose weight as you generate heat from within by burning up food instead!

  • Keep doors and windows closed as far as possible.
  • Don't heat little used parts of the house / workplace. Rarely or unused spare or guest rooms for instance can have their heaters turned off and doors closed when not in use.

Reduce Water Heating Requirements

ShowersOne of the easiest ways of doing this is to take showers and not baths, though it is possible to use an awful lot of energy in the shower too. Power Showers are the worst culprits, normal showers are fine for getting you clean. And don't spend so long in the shower.

More efficient washing machines and dishwashers can have a large effect here too, so consider paying a little extra at purchase time to save an awful lot more in energy cost through the lifetime of the appliance.

Get More Effective Lighting and Use it Less

Low Energy Lamp ES 15W 240V We're all aware of energy efficient light-bulbs - effectively short coiled fluorescent tubes that use a fraction of the energy of an ordinary light bulb and last far longer too. They are considerably cheaper over the life of the bulb - so why aren't you using more of them, if you already know this?

Maybe it's too obvious to say, but turn lights off where they are not needed, the same goes for all those appliances you leave on stand-by. BTW - exactly when did "off" start to get replaced by "stand-by"?

Business Can Help Too

For some reason I don't entirely understand, all of the above often goes instantly out of the window when business is concerned. Here's a few obvious ways that business can help VERY considerably:

  • 1/ Don't assume that it doesn't matter as long as "it's business" - it does - you / they are responsible. At the moment in many cases the polluter doesn't pay, but in reality WE ALL PAY and the polluter is riding on the backs of everyone else. "It's Business" is not a no-blame joker-card, often the effort to improve may be small and the effect large.
  • 2/ Don't have doors open in the winter with a fan heater blowing downwards above the entrance so people can walk in but still feel nice and warm even though the door is wide open. Doors are a very effective low tech means of retaining heat and therefore cutting greenhouse emissions - use them! (reduces fuel bills too - best described as "overheads" sounds more impressive in corporate-speak!).
  • 3/ You don't really need to have ALL the lights on ALL night - timer switches will do the job if you can't be bothered. You'll save on power bills and also on the life-time of light fittings. Advertising is just not going to be effective between about midnight and 8 a.m. so turn it off!
  • 4/ Office environments don't need to be frigid in the summer. If you need to put something on to stay warm when people outside are in t-shirts, then the air-conditioning dial is in the wrong place.
  • 5/ Encourage government to help where you can and DO NOT SUPPORT WASTEFUL INDUSTRY. An extreme example (November 2006) - A seafood company in Scotland is planning to ship frozen langoustines from Scotland to Thailand so that they can be peeled and then frozen and shipped back again. Currently they are peeled using water jets, but this isn't so great. A 12,000 mile trip to be peeled by Thai workers earning 25p an hour instead will give a better quality product for less cost. Each 1 tonne of fish will generate 0.5 tonne of carbon dioxide that wouldn't otherwise have been released. But hey! they can make money from it and that's all that matters isn't it?

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Copyright Paul Ward 2000 - present