Everyday Public Service: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint for the Greater Good
From large scale community initiatives to small scale changes at home, understand the social impact of your carbon footprint and learn the steps you can take to reduce its size.
Meet the Expert
Waste Free Earth
Marina McCoy is an award-winning, Sustainability Strategist and Founder/CEO of Waste Free Earth. She has been living zero-waste for the past six years and loves sharing her enthusiasm for waste reduction with anyone willing to learn. Her main passion is creating sustainable strategies for events and businesses; from small community events, to weddings, corporate events, and music festivals with over 100,000 attendees.
If you knew your everyday actions were contributing to the spread of disease, would you change them? If you knew that even your smallest daily habits were increasing the number the of people who are food insecure, would you think twice? If you knew the size of your carbon footprint directly impacted the lives of your neighbors, would you work to reduce it? For people who care about their communities, the answer to these questions is probably an enthusiastic “yes”, but how do you go about changing? Your carbon footprint impacts more than just yourself. There is a social impact attached to the size of your footprint and working to make it smaller is just as much of a public service as volunteering or charity work – you just need to know where to start. From understanding your carbon footprint and how to measure it to learning what you can do to reduce and offset it, keep reading to discover how everyday public service can make your community, and the planet, a greener place.
Understanding Your Carbon Footprint
There’s a lot of talk about our carbon footprints in the news and on social media but how much do we really understand?
To make our carbon footprints a little less intimidating, let’s breakdown what makes up our footprint.
What is My Carbon Footprint?
A carbon footprint is, as defined by The Nature Conservancy, “the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions.” This includes many things that we take for granted on a day-to-day basis, such as driving a vehicle, heating a home, and buying things from the store. Even operating your computer creates some amount of CO2, and when you think about all the computers in the world, that number adds up fast.
Across the globe, The Nature Conservancy reports the average carbon footprint for one person is about four tons. In the United States, it’s four times that – an average of 16 tons of greenhouse gases created per person! To make a difference in the rise of global temperatures, a footprint of two tons or less is the goal. That’s a pretty big change, but with some mindfulness and hard work, it can be done. Reducing your carbon footprint starts with understanding your personal footprint and then taking steps to minimize it.
How Can I Measure My Carbon Footprint?
Many factors go into measuring a carbon footprint. From how much you travel and the method of travel to how many people live in your household and the appliances you use, the food you eat, and so much more. In fact, there are many factors you might rarely consider, such as how much plastic you use, that can dramatically affect your footprint.
“Chances are, you are going to be shocked by the results but don’t let that discourage you, let it inspire you!” McCoy says. “Now that you have the baseline, you can start finding ways to reduce your overall impact.”
The following footprint calculators can walk you through the factors and give you a number that represents your current carbon footprint.
Online Carbon Footprint Calculators
Debunking Common Myths
With something as important as the health of our environment, there are bound to be some myths floating around. Let’s start by debunking a few of the most common ones.
Myth: Air travel is the worst possible contributor to CO2 emissions.
Truth: Road transport contributes a whopping 74% of CO2 emissions; planes contribute only 12% to that total. In addition, 80% of those emissions come from long-haul flights, such as those that fly overseas, for which there is no practical alternative way to get to the destination.
Myth: Tap water isn’t safe, so bottled water is the way to go.
Truth: Tap water is held to rigorous standards, which are often more stringent than what bottled water companies are required to follow. In fact, about 64% of bottled water actually comes from the municipal water supply – the very same water that comes out of your kitchen tap!
Myth: Biodegradable plastic is much better than other kinds of plastic.
Truth: Though it might seem like biodegradable plastic is better for the environment because it eventually breaks down to basic elements, the process of that breakdown actually creates greenhouses gases. Therefore, cutting out as much plastic as possible – biodegradable or not – is the best option.
The Social Impact of Your Carbon Footprint
Though it might not seem as though one person can have an effect on extreme weather, hurricanes and fire events, the spread of disease, or even food insecurity, keep in mind that millions of people doing the wrong things for the environment can cause just that. Communities often face hardships that are a direct result of our carbon usage. Let’s take a look at the major issues that generations to come will face as a result of our overuse or depletion of natural resources.
What You Can Do
Good stewardship of the world includes doing your part to make it a better place. Mindfully working to reduce your carbon footprint, even a small bit at a time, is a huge step toward a solution – and a good example to others to do the same. Here are some things you can do in your everyday life and local community to make a difference.
Community Sustainability Projects
When community comes together, great things can happen. These are just a few of the good ideas a group of devoted people can accomplish to reduce the size of their community’s carbon footprint.
Small Scale Changes
Though there’s no doubt environmental issues are huge and will take a worldwide effort to solve, every change begins with a small step.
“Your small changes do matter,” McCoy says. “Yes, huge corporations are our biggest polluters, but ultimately, we are the ones supporting them by buying their products or using their services. Think about that. We do have the power. Choose where you decide to put your consumer dollars towards.”
These are some small changes you can make, starting now, that will help do your part in lessening your personal carbon footprint. Here a few ways you can start to make a difference.
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint Through Volunteering
When everyone pitches in together, great things happen, and your carbon footprint can drop significantly. Here are some ways to help alleviate the pressure on Mother Nature.
National Environmental Advocacy Organizations
Pursue a Green Career
The ultimate way to dedicate yourself to reducing your carbon footprint and making a positive social impact is through pursuing a career (and degree) in an environmentally friendly field. To learn which degrees and careers in sustainability could be right for you, check out our guide to green careers and environmentally conscious careers.
Offsetting Your Carbon Footprint
No matter how hard we try to reduce our carbon footprint; some emissions are unavoidable. Along with reducing your environmental impact, individuals can take positive action to offset their carbon footprints by supporting climate projects that prevent carbon emissions from being released into the atmosphere. Below are a few popular carbon offsets initiates aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.
Carbon Footprint Reduction Resources
1 1% for the Planet.
“It’s a great way to find groups that are doing a stellar job and have been vetted by the 1% For The Planet team,” McCoy says. “You can filter your search for non-profit groups and put ‘climate’ in or whatever topic you are most interested in.”
This Vermont non-profit is “all about working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all,” McCoy says.
3 The 35 Easiest Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.
Offered by Columbia University, this article provides ways to get started with going green.
4 Calculate Your Carbon Offset.
These calculators look at the carbon footprint of the individual, household, travel, and events to help give a true picture of energy usage.
5 The Four P’s of Community Solar.
Curious as to how to make your utilities greener? This white paper has some answers.
This organization focuses on creating zero-waste communities.
7 Environmental Protection Agency.
This government agency is charged with creating policy and practice to protect the environment.
8 The Guide to Using Carbon Offsets.
This report from Cool Effect provides in-depth information on what carbon offsets are and how to use them.
9 How Communities Have Defined Zero Waste.
This section of the EPA website offers great examples of what various communities are doing to cut down on waste production.
10 Planet Aid.
This organization provides a wealth of information on all areas of climate change and eco-friendly methods.