Deciding that you want to reduce your carbon footprint is the easy part. Figuring out how to do it, well, that can be hard. How much effort do you want to put in? How much money do you want to spend? Can you really live without hamburgers? Depending on whether you’re able to take on big or small changes, Bloomberg’s Greener Living team has a list of things to try.
Shop clothes and shoes in your own closet
The single simplest and cheapest step you can take to tackle climate change in your own life is to buy and consume less stuff, thereby avoiding all the carbon emissions that go along with creating, distributing and using those additional items. When it comes to clothes, this means hanging on to what you have in your closet for roughly twice as many wears. If everyone did just that, it could cut clothing-related emissions by 44%, according to a 2017 report from the charity Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Buy secondhand apparel
If you’re keen on buying more of almost anything, the best option is to shop secondhand. For clothing, shoes and accessories, one way to do this is through third-party online marketplaces, such as The RealReal, Inc., ThredUp Inc. and Depop Ltd. Even secondhand giants with a chain of physical stores are pushing online, including the nonprofit Goodwill Industries Inc with its GoodwillFinds. A growing number of clothing and shoe companies are also reselling returned or traded-in products to consumers for a discount, like the outdoor apparel company Patagonia, Inc. on its Worn Wear site and the running shoe company On AG with its Onward site. Alternatively, you can use a browser extension called Beni while shopping for new clothes; it’ll suggest similar or identical secondhand products in a pop-up box.
Use augmented reality to shop
There’s always a gamble in buying clothes online: In 2021, American shoppers returned $761 billion worth of goods, or nearly 17% of all retail sales, according to the National Retail Federation. But trying items on virtually first may help you decide if a product works for you, thus reducing the chances you have to return it, according to a survey by the market research firm Alter Agents of more than 4,000 shoppers globally. The Canadian retailer Shopify Inc. already lets shoppers try items on virtually, while other online retail giants such as Amazon.com Inc and Walmart Inc. are experimenting with the technology.
Try compostable underwear
Resale isn’t an option for most intimates, nor is recycling when it’s time to dispose of them. Most intimates come from “fossil fuel-based non-renewable resources,” says Rachel Kibbe, CEO and founder of the consulting firm Circular Services Group. “They’ve enabled stretch and support and function that consumers have come to love. But they also are not recyclable at all.” One company called Kent is trying to offer a sustainable alternative: compostable underwear.
Stock up on canned fish
The food system is responsible for roughly a third of annual global emissions, with the majority of those emissions coming from the production of livestock. In comparison, anchovies, sardines, and other tinned fish boast a particularly low carbon footprint, making them a cheap climate solution in a can. “Wild fish give you the highest amount of protein with the lowest carbon footprint,” says chemical engineer Gumersindo Feijóo of Universidade de Santiago de Compostela. “Put it in a can and it gets even more interesting, because it keeps the flavor and the nutritional value and it doesn’t need refrigeration or cooking.”
Try plant-based food alternatives
Another small step toward reducing the emissions associated with your food intake involves swapping an animal product for a plant-based one. There are more plant-based food options than ever now, from burgers and nuggets to plant-based milk, eggs, and cheese. Even as sales fall for plant-based meat alternatives, the options are still plentiful. And if meat alternatives are not for you, try the originals, like beans, tofu and seitan.
Try a flexitarian diet
The biggest way to cut your food-related emissions footprint is to shift your diet away from meat, dairy and other animal-based foods. This still doesn’t mean you need to become a vegan, though. One option is the flexitarian diet — primarily a plants-based diet, but no food is off limits. There’s also the climatarian and reducetarian diets, which are focused more on eating less beef, lamb and other meats.
Unplug home appliances when not in use
Practically every electronic device and appliance in your home is still using energy even when not in use or turned on — a phenomenon known as standby power. If you’re looking to reduce your home’s energy consumption, standby power is one place to start. While experts don’t recommend regularly unplugging every device when not in use for safety reasons, there are many easy targets: seasonal appliances, such as lawn mowers and snow blowers; small kitchen appliances, especially when you’re on vacation; spare TVs or cable boxes in barely used guest rooms; and any lingering VCRs or other gadgets that are at this point mostly novelty.
Minimize energy use during peak hours
Amid a blistering heat wave in California this past summer, state officials sent a text alert advising consumers to lower their power usage to avoid blackouts — and it worked. Across the Atlantic Ocean, officials in the UK this winter are incentivizing homeowners to use less power during the peak hours of roughly 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. to combat an energy crunch sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Maybe this means making dinner earlier or doing laundry later, but cutting energy use — especially during peak hours — can lower your energy bill and keep emissions down by avoiding bringing additional power sources online.
Buy toys made of recycled materials
The average Western household buys 40.3 pounds (18.3 kilograms) of plastic toys per child every year, according to a 2021 study published in the journal Environment International. For many plastic toys, their final destination is the dump. In a bid to cut down on this plastic waste, toy maker giant Mattel, Inc. is launching a line of products made of “100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic materials.” Admittedly there aren’t a ton of options available now, but that’s expected to shift in the future as more companies tackle their waste and plastic footprints.
Green your retirement funds
Most employer-sponsored and individual retirement plans have some money invested in companies fueling the climate crisis, and oftentimes people paying into them don’t have a clue. While it may not always be possible to immediately switch your savings into a climate-friendly alternative, there are a growing number of options and resources to do so. Here’s a step-by-step guide to greening your 401(k) or other retirement accounts, starting with figuring out what’s currently in your retirement plans.
Change up your commute with an electric bike
If you walk or take public transportation to work, please ignore. But any car drivers out there looking to reduce their emissions and save on fuel costs should consider biking on a regular bicycle, an electric bike or an electric scooter. As a bonus, you’ll be on-trend. According to data from NPD Group, Inc., which tracks sales at bike shops, outdoor stores and other retailers, the US e-bike market grew 40% between 2020 and 2021, and continued its expansion this year. Here’s a breakdown of some of the best electric bikes on the market.
Switch to an electric car
If you can’t live without a car, upgrading from a gas guzzler to an electric option is a way to dramatically cut back on carbon dioxide and other emissions. Bloomberg Green put together a comprehensive guide rating every electric vehicle currently available in the US, from the Hyundai Ioniq 5 to the Kia EV6 and Tesla’s Models 3, Y, S and X. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) also means consumers will soon have access to new financial incentives for making the switch to new or used EVs. There is one problem, though: A combination of high demand and supply chain problems mean it’s hard to get your hands on a new electric car right away. For now, the best way to get an EV fast may be buying used.
Even a hybrid car can make a difference
Not quite ready to go fully electric? Hybrids are the perfect transition car, offering a taste of EV life without requiring all the charging infrastructure; and they may be cheaper and easier to find right now. In the first nine months of 2022, drivers worldwide bought almost 2 million hybrid vehicles, a 45% increase from the previous year, according to BloombergNEF.
Get a heat pump
The humble heat pump is increasingly hot stuff when it comes to climate tech. It keeps your home cool and less humid in the heat, or warm in the cold, and it’s more efficient than conventional air conditioners and fossil-fuel furnaces. In the long run, the heat pump can save you on energy costs. In the US, equipment and installation typically run from $4,000 to $12,000 for an air-source heat pump, depending on various specifications. That’s roughly on par with the cost of traditional cooling and heating systems, and the IRA will soon provide more financial incentives.
One of the most significant ways to cut the emissions footprint of your lifestyle is to power your home with clean energy, and getting rooftop solar is one such option. The IRA means there are now a host of financial incentives to help defray the price tag for solar installations on US homes, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. That includes a 30% tax credit for residential solar systems through Jan. 1, 2034. Even some renters can access solar through community solar or solar garden programs, and those who do may get a discount on their utility bills for providing more clean energy to the grid.
To contact the author of this story:
Zahra Hirji in Washington at email@example.com
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