Four Ways to Cut Your Carbon

Looking to reduce your personal carbon emissions? There are some big steps you can take.

For example, if you need to travel a long distance, you can choose rail or even sailboat —  to follow in Greta Thunberg’s wake — rather than flying. The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist last week completed a transatlantic journey by racing yacht to attend the United Nations summit meeting on global warming this month.

Few of us fly every day, and fewer sail. So how can we do our part to reduce CO2 emissions (which contribute to harmful greenhouse gases largely blamed for driving global warming) in our daily life? Here are some suggestions for reducing your everyday carbon footprint:

Commute via public transportation instead of driving or – yes – even taking an Uber or Lyft.

Forgoing car ownership for ride-hailing services feels like it would be an easy win for the environment, but the air-quality math doesn’t always add up. Many people, especially young city-dwellers, are opting for ride-hailing over mass transit (buses, trolleys, subways), and the use of these services has skyrocketed in recent years. Ride-share vehicles (and we’re not talking about car-pooling) account for a rising percentage of vehicle miles traveled in metropolitan areas, with the heaviest traffic impact being in the core urban centers. The ironic reality is that more ride-hailing vehicles on the road means worse traffic congestion and higher emissions. (There are also socio-economic repercussions to the shift from transit to ride-hailing, as noted in The American Prospect.)

Opting for mass transit over driving or ride-sharing in a gasoline vehicle can reduce your personal emissions by almost half a ton per week, according to The Nature Conservancy. Visit their website to calculate your carbon footprint. 

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Go vegetarian one day a week: Meatless Monday or Tofu Tuesday?

Meat consumption continues to increase globally. It is estimated that the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the worldwide man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Meat production also consumes water resources (1,800-2,500 gallons per pound of meat) and agriculture products. Almost 50% of corn produced in the U.S. goes to feed livestock. By pledging to skip meat and cheese for one day each week for a year, you will be saving emissions that equate to taking your car off the road for five weeks.

The typical American eats 8 ounces of meat per day, which correlates to 36 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from the production of that meat. If you pledged to a “Meatless Monday,” for example, and swapped that meat for 8 ounces of beans — plant-based source of protein and a common meat substitute for vegetarians — it would correlate to about 14 pounds of CO2 emissions. You’d be reducing your carbon emissions impact by about 60%! For more detail on the mathematics of “Meatless Monday,” click on this Mathematics for Sustainability blog post.

Wash your clothes in cold water.

You know those labels on your clothing that you ignore as you throw colors in with whites, and caution to the wind? Paying attention to the care instructions on your clothing labels could help reduce carbon emissions. As a bonus, you’ll extend the life and look of your clothing and save money on your energy bill. According to Coldwatersaves.org, about 90% of the energy used by washing machines goes to heating the water. Washing four out of every five loads of your laundry in cold water could reduce your personal CO2 emissions by 864 pounds per year, equivalent to planting .37 acres of forest. Next time laundry day comes around, remember: What’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold.

Drink tap water instead of bottled water.

Opting for tap water is not only cheaper than bottled water, but it is significantly better for the environment.

Bottled water is primarily sold in plastic containers which are produced using oil derived from fossil fuels. PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is the main type of plastic used in water bottles. The Pacific Institute estimates that the amount of oil used to produce plastic water bottles for one year is enough to fuel one million American cars for one year. Aside from producing the bottles, the carbon footprint is also affected by shipping the bottles, and if, how and where they are recycled. How does that translate to emissions? Estimates show that one 500-milliliter (0.53 quart) plastic bottle of water has a total carbon footprint equal to 82.8 grams (about 3 ounces) of carbon dioxide.

Despite studies that show there is a negligible difference in taste between tap and bottled water, some people still are weary of drinking straight from the tap. The good news is that there are many places around Philadelphia where you can refill your personal water bottle from a filtered water fountain. The Academy of Natural Sciences has several bottle-refill stations throughout the museum. Bring in your reusable water bottle and stay hydrated on your next visit to the Academy!

For more in-depth comparisons about the benefits of drinking tap water instead of bottled, check out this helpful summary from Money Crashers.

By incorporating these easy life changes into your daily routine, we can make a big difference in the amount of CO2 emissions we are producing and work toward a more sustainable future.

By Kathryn Christopher, manager of Science Communication and Outreach

3 comments

  1. Thank you for these very simple and energy efficient ways of helping the environment! It is so important to let our fellow citizens know what they CAN do to help reduce CO2 emissions and save money!!!
    Blessings!!.

  2. Wow who knew. I’m a vegetarian for 38 years ( just don’t like meat well except my sister’s meatballs which I must have every Christmas) , I do use a home filter for water mostly because I only drink water and hot teas. I almost always wash in cold water ( except towels and sheets….I have to use hot on those – sorry folks. I used to fly 5-6 times a year for 15 years, but developed a phobia so yeah! I’m unknowingly reducing a lot of folks carbon footprints….that said though I’m told that China and Indian will be increasing their footprint exponentially over the next 10 years so even IF the US reduces it’s footprint to ZERO tomorrow, it would make a basically unmeasurable difference. I also believe that climate change is a big concern and is/will be dealt with as ” humanity” develops technologies that reduce the carbon footprint one hundred fold more than each individual can do in a lifetime. I certainly am not planning to follow the advise of a tween on the type of behavior best for me. Perhaps if she was a climate savant I may lean towards listening to her, but she’s not a savant, just a kid who has been scared out of her wits by alarmists who are producing a generation of terms who believe their life will end before their 30’s. Per shame on the adults allowing this insanity. But again, terribly glad to know that just by choosing a more healthful lifestyle we will automatically reduce our footprint and feel as if we are helping the world.

  3. Thank you for posting – this is a really helpful article! Maybe people could also try to have car-less days (as well as meat-less ones). Employees could ask to work from home one or more days per week rather than commute to work. On weekends, there could be an effort to walk or bike instead of driving.

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