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
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.
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
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
emissions (approximate guide):
|The most fuel efficient "ECO"
e.g. Toyota Prius
|Supermini 1.2L or smaller
|Supermini 1.2 - 1.6L
car 1.8L engine or smaller
|MPV 1.8L engine
|Family car larger than
|MPV car larger
|Coupe between 1.9 and
|Executive car 2.5L or
|Executive car larger
|4 x 4 / SUV 3L
|4 x 4 / SUV larger
* 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
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
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
Get More Efficient Refrigeration
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.
is graded by the letters A-G, with A being the most
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
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
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"?
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
- 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.
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