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
Marina-McCoy
Marina McCoy

Founder/CEO of
Waste Free Earth

View Bio

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?

“Carbon emissions are intimidating to most people, but that shouldn’t give us a reason to ignore them,” says Marina McCoy, the founder and CEO of Waste Free Earth. “It’s hard to pin-point how much one person makes day-to-day because we all have different variables, including diets, lifestyles, travel, geographic location, accessibility to local products, etc.”

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.

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.  

Extreme Weather Events

Think severe weather is getting worse? You’re not imagining things. Studies have found that CO2 levels in the atmosphere can directly influence weather patterns, including making storms, hurricanes, floods, and other weather phenomena much worse than in years past. As we see all too often on the news, severe weather can wreak havoc on communities, take countless lives, and lead to serious destruction across the world.  

Disease Spread

As more greenhouse gases are released, the overall global temperature goes up. As that happens, more insects that spread disease – like mosquitoes – begin to truly thrive. They become globe-trotting vectors for disease. Rising ocean levels can contribute to sanitation issues, which can in turn cause a multitude of water-borne diseases to spread. In short, the larger the carbon footprint of the world as a whole, the more we are all in danger of serious health problems.

Food Insecurity

Remember the severe weather that can be caused by our ecological choices? That severe weather can include altered rain patterns and even dramatic drought. That spells disaster for billions around the world, as staple crops become difficult or impossible to grow, more expensive, and packed with fewer essential nutrients. At a time when agriculture needs to ramp up production to feed the world’s population – expected to top 10 billion by 2050 – growing food is harder than ever.   

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.

Plant a Community Garden

A community garden is a wonderful way to bring people together and provide them with healthy, nutritious food with known origins. It also helps cut carbon footprints by reducing the travel time, expense, and carbon emissions it takes to get those same fruits and vegetables to your local stores.

Launch a Tree Planting Initiative

Start an Eco Club

Organize a Trash Pick-Up Group

Carpool with Neighbors

Get Political

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.

At Home

1

Change your diet.

Eating less red meat, choosing to patronize farmer’s markets instead of big grocery stores, and growing your own food can all make a huge difference in your carbon footprint. If we could collectively make the choice to adopt a more plant-based diet, we could save up to eight gigatons – yes, gigatons! – of CO2 per year. 

2

Compost what you can.

Every kitchen produces some food waste. Rather than toss it in the trash, toss it in the composter! The waste eventually turns into a rich, dark fertilizer that is perfect to use in home or community gardens. It can even be used for fertilizing indoor plants.

3

Find new uses for things.

Before throwing something away, consider how it might be put to use somewhere else in the house. For instance, glass jars can hold pens, pencils, buttons, screws, and more, old clothes can be cut into cleaning rags, and popsicle sticks can be used as garden markers.

4

Go with Energy Star appliances.

Energy Star appliances are great for your home because they can cut your utility bills by up to 30%; they’re great for the environment because they can avoid more than 5,500 pounds of emissions over the span of a year. 

5

Use a clothesline for drying clothes.

Rather than use electricity to run the dryer, let Mother Nature do the work and save over 1,400 pounds of CO2. Hanging clothes on a clothesline can dry them quickly, leave them smelling fresh, and might even make colors more vibrant.

At School

At Work

On Your Commute

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More Tips from an Expert

Our expert, Marina McCoy, has some other helpful ideas:

  • Reuse what you already have.The less you buy, the less waste you create. Therefore, the less carbon you are emitting into the atmosphere.
  • When food shopping, shop in the bulk section with your reusable bulk bags.If bulk shopping isn’t available to you, buy products in large quantities instead of single-use servings. For example, switch out the single-serving apple sauce containers for a large jar of applesauce. Switch out the individual yogurt cups for the larger container that you can reuse afterward. 
  • If you can do so, shop local and shop in season.The average meal travels 1,500 miles to get to your plate. By buying local food, even if it’s just one item, you are significantly reducing your carbon footprint.
  • Practice mindful shopping.We have the ability to shop for products at any hour of any day. The constant access to products results in unmindful shopping, which leads to overconsumption. Before making a purchase, give yourself a day or two and see if you still need that item. Instead of looking for a quick way to satisfy yourself. The best thing I did was give up shopping on Amazon. It’s incredible to see how many things I can truly live without when I don’t have the ‘click and buy’ option at my fingertips. 
  • Change the way you think about waste.Just because something is considered single-use, doesn’t mean that it actually is single-use. Look at Ziplocs, they are single-use products, but if you wash and sanitize them, they can be reused multiple times (except if you are storing meat.) These simple changes add up to a more significant impact.

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.

WWOOF at an Eco-Friendly Farm

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an international organization that links farmers with those who want to help make a difference. Organic farms are labor intensive, don’t use pesticides or harmful chemicals, and often give back to their local communities through farmer’s markets and other initiatives. When you help out, you’re reducing your own carbon footprint in the process.

Plant Trees with the Arbor Day Foundation

Help with Local River or Ocean Cleanup

Work with an Advocacy Organization

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.

This organization focuses on responsible tourism that enhances, rather than detracts, from the beautiful vistas and peoples around the world. Look to this organization for sustainable travel solutions that allow you to travel across the world and feel good about it.

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.”

2 350.org.
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.

6 Eco-Cycle. 
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.