How to reduce your carbon footprint: Simple and easy steps to fight climate change
20 August 2020 | OVO Energy
Fighting the climate crisis can seem like a daunting task. We’re on a mission to get to zero carbon living with our members and renewable home energy is a fantastic place to start.
But there are loads of other, easy ways we can all be more planet-friendly and reduce our collective carbon footprint together.
Before we get going though, a few of you might be wondering what exactly we mean by ‘carbon footprint’.
Carbon footprint is a way of measuring our impact on global warming. Your carbon footprint is based on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) released into the atmosphere, as a direct result of your daily life.
From the way you travel, to what you eat, to the energy you use to heat your home – basically, it’s how you live. Read on for some simple steps to make a real impact on your carbon footprint. Let’s shrink it together!
How to reduce your carbon footprint at home
From daily habits to big improvements and even entertaining kids, there are loads of ways to be kinder to the planet at home. You might save some money too – win win!
Energy in the home – this is a big one
Around, 26% of our carbon emissions1 come from our home energy. Here are some ways to make sure the energy you use on essential things – like heating and lighting – goes to good use.
- We’re big on energy efficiency. It’s better for the planet and your wallet. From checking your boiler to insulating your roof, read our helpful guide to wasting less energy at home. Additionally, from September 2020, homeowners in England will be able to get up to £10,000 of vouchers to make some brilliant energy-saving home improvements. It’s all part of the UK Government’s new Green Homes Grant scheme, which is designed to help pay for a range of greener home upgrades. If you're interested in taking part, read our comprehensive guide about the Green Homes Grant Scheme.
- Get a green energy supplier and use renewables to power your home. All our home energy plans come with 100% renewable electricity as standard2 and you can supercharge your journey to a lower carbon life with OVO Beyond.
- Switch off and unplug. Turn off lights, appliances, and chargers when they’re not in use. Then you can really relax, knowing you’re saving energy.
- Get a smart meter to keep an eye on your energy use – you’ll soon spot where you could use less.
- Don't forget your lightbulbs! Swapping to energy-saving bulbs can really make a difference to your bills and to the planet.
Did you know that even scrolling through this webpage creates emissions? Find out more in our guide to the carbon footprint of the internet.
If you’re building a new home, or you’re thinking about upgrading your heating system, there are some greener options out there for you. And they could save you energy and money in the long run.
- If you've got old storage heaters in your home, it's time to get them upgraded. Older storage heaters are known for releasing heat when it's not needed, making them rather inefficient. Get in the know, with our ultimate guide to storage heaters.
- Think about renewable-based heating systems – like air source heat pumps. Using an abundant natural resource – air – they could end up being a greener way to warm your home.
- If you’re interested in getting renewable heating tech in your home, it’s worth knowing the Renewable Heat Incentive is set to end in 2022 – but it’s set to be replaced by the Clean Heat Grant. This is a new government scheme to help with the costs of installing renewable heating in your home.
Assess your appliances
- Unfortunately for our laundry, tumble dryers are one of the biggest carbon culprits. But the good news is you’ll save lots of money by air drying. It’s kinder on your clothes too, so they’ll last longer. Plus, swapping tumble drying for line drying can save 90kg of carbon per household per year!
- Modern, efficient washing machines do a great job at 30℃. There’s rarely a need to go to 60℃ – which can use 5x more energy. Less heat is also better for fabrics – higher temperatures break down fibres faster. Find out more by reading our guide to how household water use affects climate change.
- The more efficient your everyday appliances, the less energy they use, so the lower your bills should be. Try the paper test on your fridge: if the door can’t hold a piece of paper when you shut it, the seal could be broken. Which means it’s not working efficiently – and needs more energy to stay cold.
- Have your cooking appliances gone off the boil? Fan ovens can usually be used at slightly lower temperatures than other types as the heat’s circulated around, efficiently heating your grub. But check the fan and door seal are in tip top shape – so your oven doesn’t have to work harder to warm your delicious concoctions.
- Even though you leave them on for hours, slow cookers tend to use less energy to heat your dinner than using the stove top or oven. They don’t need high temperatures and use around the same energy as leaving on a 60-watt light bulb. And it’s all in one pot so there’s less washing up – anyone for stew?
To find out how much electricity an average UK home uses, and how your home compares, read our new guide.
Before you recycle or throw broken things away, try getting them fixed.
- Find your local Repair Café and finally mend that broken blender, coffee grinder or speaker. This goes for other appliances, furniture and bikes too
- If that’s not an option, you can give things away to someone else, on community forums and sites like Gumtree
Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle
Apply these 4 Rs wherever possible. Take plastics as an example – they take huge amounts of energy to produce and the scope for carbon emissions is vast.
- Refuse straws and polystyrene containers. Single-use plastics are the worst.
- Reuse your own bags when you shop and reduce the amount of plastic you buy, by opting for unpackaged food
- Say goodbye to single-use bottles and cups. Get a reusable cup and a flask instead
- Repurpose plastic pots for plants, paints or pencils
- And if you’re out of options, that’s when you recycle
How to reduce your carbon footprint when traveling
A big way to reduce carbon emissions is to rethink your travel. How do you get from A to B, and how often do you do it? Here are the things to consider:
Day to day
- Drive less. Petrol and diesel-powered cars pump out carbon emissions, so the less you drive the better. If you live in a well connected city or you don’t have to travel to work by car, then walking, public transport, or cycling are usually cheaper alternatives – and healthier too.
- Wheeling or walking. From traffic-free paths to a better commute, you can find UK cycling, wheeling and walking routes along the National Cycle Network through Sustrans.
- But, if you need to use a car make sure it’s running efficiently and keep it serviced – the harder your car has to work to run properly, the more fuel it will use
- Share car rides with another person – a problem shared (is emissions halved)
- Consider an electric car. As well as having low emissions or even none at all, EVs can be more cost effective to run. Plus, the UK government offers grants to help with upfront costs, as part of a national move towards ultra-low emission vehicles. Thinking of joining the revolution? See how our EV Everywhere plan can save you money – and carbon.
- You can even find out ways to reduce the carbon pawprint of your four-legged friends!
Holidays and long-distance trips
- There’s no way around it, flying causes huge amounts of carbon emissions. The best way to avoid it is to fly less.
- Luckily, travel by train is not only more leisurely, but way better for the planet too – skipping the plane and taking the train to Paris produces 90% less carbon emissions!
- If you’re planning a trip by rail, The Man in Seat Sixty-One has the inside track on all the best routes and how to travel comfortably
- If you can afford to, offset your carbon emissions. You can do this through a non-profit organisation, such as Atmosfair.
How to reduce the carbon footprint of your food
From wasting less food to making choices about what lands on our plates, here are a few things that are easy to change – when it comes to all things edible:
Buying food that’s grown locally means less carbon is produced – because the distance the food has to travel is shorter.
- If you can’t get to a farmers’ market, try signing up for a local veg box instead
- This also means you’ll be eating food that’s in season, which is tastier too
- If you’ve got the time (and the green fingers), you could get an allotment
- Or you could volunteer at a community garden – you’ll learn loads (and often get to share the spoils)
From growing to transport, by the time food arrives on your plate, it’s already generated greenhouse gases. UK homes bin a colossal 4.5m tonnes of food a year, which could’ve been eaten, according to Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). But luckily, there are simple ways to reduce food waste:
- Make a plan and only buy what you need
- Pickle: if you’ve got more veg than you need, you can pickle almost any of it – it’ll keep in the fridge for ages. Basic recipes start with just vinegar and salt. Save some glass jars from the recycling and go for it!
- Preserve: take a similar (but sweeter) route with jams and cordials
- Freeze: you can freeze more things than you think – from bananas to butter
- Compost: if you’re recycling your food waste, great work! But if you have outdoor space, those vegetable peels could also go towards a compost. Use it to grow more veg, and the win win cycle continues.
Less meat, more veg
You might have heard this one before: farming animals creates a lot of emissions. And, in some cases, it also takes up a lot of land, which could be filled with plants and trees instead. Even if you don’t go 100% veggie, just reducing your meat consumption will still cut carbon. Especially red meat.
- Why not put vegetables centre stage? Take a leaf out of Elly Pear and Anna Jones’ recipe books, and make delicious mostly-plant-based meals at home.
- Buy better meat (and why not support your local butcher too?). Choose cuts that go further – a whole chicken to roast is way more economical and less wasteful than just buying legs, for example.
How to reduce the carbon footprint of your wardrobe
We all need clothes, but the fashion industry accounts for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions per year. The good news is there are some steps we can all take to buck that trend.
The clothes we already own
- Around 350,000 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill every year. Not only does landfill take up space, but it also releases methane – a nasty greenhouse gas. To avoid this: swap with friends, hand down to siblings, or give unwanted clothes to charity.
- If your items are beyond that, find your nearest clothes recycling point. Some shops take garments to recycle too.
- You only need a needle and thread to sew loose buttons and rips, helping clothes last longer. Fixing something is often quicker and easier than you’d think. You could try mending clothes using the Japanese technique, sashiko.
- And there’s always your local tailor or dry cleaner, if a long hem or a broken zip is stopping you from wearing something.
- Go vintage or second-hand. They don't make them like they used to – vintage jeans are the best and loads of sellers offer handpicked pieces in excellent condition. Making denim uses tonnes of water so if you’re buying new, see them as an investment that you’ll wear forever – or until you hand them down.
- When you need to buy new, be selective. Look for fabrics and styles that you’ll get the most out of – those quality pieces within your budget, that’ll hold their shape and withstand wear and tear.
- It’s worth considering that you can re-dye natural fibres like linen and cotton fairly easily (as long as they’re not blended with elastane or polyester). So you can give faded pieces a new lease of life, rather than binning them. You could even tie-dye them or try out some natural dyes.
- If you’re looking for ways to repair and recycle (without compromising your style) check out Lauren Bravo’s book.
Want to know more about reducing carbon emissions, energy efficiency and living a greener life? Or want to get your head around even more carbon jargon? Browse our blog where we delve into everything from solar energy to rewilding to a brewery with a brilliant solution to food waste.
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Sources and references
1Based on analysis carried out by the Carbon Trust for OVO Group (2019), 26% of an average individual’s carbon footprint in the UK comes from energy. In this analysis, the carbon footprint includes the following lifestyle categories: energy, transport, shopping, food and drink and holidays. See table for each category. This excludes emissions from things that the average person cannot directly control such as supporting the NHS, defence, government bodies, etc.
2100% of your electricity comes from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydro. The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work.