Living a sustainable lifestyle is often an intangible aspiration. We make decisions that seem well thought-out, and hope they make a difference. But after we spend $100 to swap out all of our incandescent lightbulbs for LEDs, well, it's not exactly like our country is suddenly on track to meet the Paris Agreement climate goals.
On a North American average, we're each responsible for roughly 20 metric tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per year. That's a lot.
So what can we do? And how much will each decision it help? Let's look at five lifestyle decisions and how much they can reduce your annual carbon footprint.
(Data derived from Environmental Research Letters, Wynes and Nicholas, 2017 and POW Canada.)
Change Your Incandescent Lightbulbs to LED
This one is easy, particularly as the cost of LED replacements has come down exponentially over the past decade. In fact, it's tough to even find conventional incandescent bulbs at most major home-supply stores—there's just no demand. Still, you could be looking at $100 or more to swap out all your bulbs—and if you're just in it for the cost savings, it'll be years before you earn that back on your bill.
As with a lot of easy changes, the results aren't world-beating either. This one will only save about 0.1 tonnes of CO2e per year. But little hinges swing big doors! We recommend doing this—it's easy, relatively affordable and, multiplied by millions, can make a difference.
Replace Your Conventional Vehicle with a Hybrid
The Toyota Prius changed the game when it arrived on North American shores in 1999 (yes, it's been that long). Think—this was the era of the Hummer, and along came a funky little gas-electric that boasted 50+ mpg in the city. In some states and provinces (the West Coast was quick to adopt), these runabouts became ubiquitous as just about every auto-maker played catch-up to produce their own. Now there are many different hybrid models—from econoboxes to luxury cars—and the price-tags are often comparable to gas-only equivalents.
But do they make a difference? Yes! Swapping even a fuel-thrifty conventional car for a hybrid can save up to 1.1 tonnes of CO2e per year. (Going full electric? You'll save about 1.3 tonnes!) Now we're getting somewhere.
Eat a Plant-Based Diet
As the decisions become tougher, the payoff becomes better. We love meat—but it comes at a hefty environmental cost. Take, for example, the carbon footprint of a meat-inclusive diet: about 3.3 tonnes of CO2e per person, per year. A vegan? Only 1.4 tonnes. That's right, you could keep on driving your V8 SUV, but go plant-based, and you'd likely be running a lower footprint than a Prius-driving omnivore.
If full-veggie or vegan isn't for you, consider simply reducing your meat intake. Try more plant-based options, or stick to eating meat on weekends only. This one can make a real difference.
Avoid One Trans-Atlantic Roundtrip Flight
Welcome to every jet-setter's dirty secret—international air travel is a major source of carbon pollution. A single trans-Atlantic flight is responsible for 1.75 tonnes of CO2e, per person. Yikes. Think of it like this: a couple jets to Paris for a week's vacation, and the carbon they've put into the air is equivalent to driving a conventional car for an entire year. If you make several long-haul flights annually—well, it might be time to rethink your lifestyle.
Not that you need to give up travel. But if you cut out one trans-Atlantic flight per year, you'll save almost the same amount of CO2 as you would by swapping out an omnivore's diet for a vegan one. That's something to chew on!
Cars pollute. And we love them. As such, making the choice to live car-free is likely the most challenging decision on this list. And for some—like those who live in rural areas—an impossible one. But if you live in the city, and can walk, cycle or take public transit instead of firing up a dinosaur-burner, well, you can reduce your carbon footprint by more than any other single item on this list.
Ditch the car and your footprint goes down by at least 2.4 tonnes of CO2 per year. It's huge—but not surprising when you consider that transportation makes up about 27 per cent of an individual's carbon footprint.
Well, if you swapped out your old-school bulbs, bought a Prius, ate vegan and travelled domestic—you'd be knocking almost five (5) tonnes CO2e off your annual footprint. That's no small potatoes. Ditch the car entirely, and that rises to more than six (6) tonnes.
Or, more realistically, you can take from this list and do what you can—always with aspirations for better.
PS: Ever consider your laundry?
Did you know that annually more than 700 million plastic laundry jugs end up in our landfills? Tru Earth has the solution.