HOW CAN WE CUT OUR CARBON EMISSIONS? This report explains some of the ways in which we can make changes to our lifestyles that will reduce our carbon emissions. (Carbon footprint.). A summary carbon calculator is included separately in this section of the website. Many of the changes we could make are relatively small but they can add up to a significant contribution. The Young People’s Climate Ambassadors are setting every household a target of saving 1,000 kilograms of carbon in a year. That’s A TONNE OF CARBON A YEAR.
The changes we could make fall into 4 categories: 1. Energy use 2. Travel 3, Food 4. Clothes and other products
1. Energy use The amount of carbon emitted from generating electricity varies according to the way in which it is generated. There is significant variation between different power stations even using the same type of fuel. However, according to a Parliamentary report the general principles are clear. Coal produces the most carbon, (800g – 1100g for each unit of electricity). Gas fired power stations produce less carbon (400g - 600g per unit). Other forms of energy generation can produce much less. Solar power averages about 75g for each unit, Wind averages at about 40g and Nuclear 25g for each unit of electricity. Coal is being phased out and now accounts for a small percentage of our power generation so, in order to keep things as simple as possible, the calculations that follow will be based on our emissions from gas. So the assumption will be each unit of electricity generates 400g of carbon. There are some very simple things we can all do to cut back on our energy usage and save on carbon emissions. Research from 2020 shows that three quarters of households regularly overfill their kettle and, as a result, our bills are £68 million more than they should be. A family can easily boil a kettle 10 times a day. If each time you make a cup of tea or coffee you put in twice as much water as you need, then in a year you could have generated about 70 kg of carbon more than necessary– and wasted a lot of money! Water companies tell us that, if we let the hot tap run while we clean our teeth, that will waste 13 litres of water a day. As the water is hot that means we are also wasting energy. A standard boiler will generate about 20g of carbon for every minute it is running. By turning the tap off while you clean your teeth, you could each be saving over 20 kg of carbon (and saving a lot of money!). Maybe more, as this assumes you have a modern efficient gas boiler! You can make a similar saving by spending just one minute less in the shower. Most detergents work just as well at 30oC as they do at 40oC so just turning down the temperature on your washing machine can save 100g of carbon per load, which, assuming 5 loads a week, is 25kg per year. Much greater savings can be made by drying your clothes without using a tumble dryer. These can generate 1700g of carbon per load. Assuming 5 loads a week, this equates to 440kg in a year which is nearly half of your target of saving a tonne! Dishwashers are sometimes thought to be wasteful but, in fact, this is not necessarily the case. It is possible to wash dishes by hand and use less energy but you have to be extremely careful. If you leave the hot tap running, for example, then the energy use mounts up very quickly so you would be better much better off using the dishwasher. A saving can be made by simply turning the temperature down. Using the 50oC setting rather than 65oC can save you 220g of carbon a load. Assuming you run the dish washer every day, this would equate to 80kg a year. Since the introduction of low energy light bulbs, leaving the light on is not quite the problem it used to be. If you leave a new low energy light bulb on, unnecessarily, for an hour then this will only generate 2 or 3 grams of carbon. Of course, if you are very wasteful and leave half a dozen lights on, unnecessarily, all day, every day, then it all mounts up - to 70kg a year! 2. Travel It has been estimated that transport accounts for 21% of all global carbon emissions. About 3/4 of these emissions come from road transport; air travel accounts for about 11% and shipping about 10%. Obviously, the least polluting forms of transport are walking and cycling and we should all use those forms of transport as much as possible. However, they are not very convenient for long journeys! Calculating the exact carbon footprint of different forms of transport is complicated as it depends on so many factors such as how fast you drive, how many passengers there are but our summary table provides a rough guide. However, we can identify some basic principles. Travelling by train is usually the most eco friendly form of transport and, for all forms of transport, short journeys are more polluting per mile than long journeys. Flying is usually considered the most polluting form of transport. Short journeys (less than 1000 miles) are significantly more polluting per mile than longer journeys. Take off and landing are the most energy intensive parts, and so most polluting parts, of a flight so shorter journeys use more fuel per mile. Most petrol cars require about 5 minutes to warm up for the engine, and the catalytic converter, to be most efficient. So, in the first minute or so of a journey, carbon emissions can be more than twice the average. The upshot is that, if you walk, or cycle, a mile to school and back every day instead of driving in a small petrol car, then you could be saving a kg of carbon every day! If you were travelling in a large petrol car then the saving could be 2 kg every day! Taking a train to a destination such as (say) Edinburgh rather than flying, will save over 85 kg of carbon each!
3. Food Nearly all the food we eat requires some sort of energy to produce, even if its just transporting it to the shop. However, different types of food have very different carbon footprints. One of the major problems from eating beef, and other farm animals, is that they produce a lot of Methane which is a very powerful greenhouse gas. In fact it is many more times more powerful than Carbon Dioxide (although it doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere). In order to present a single simple statistic to act as a guide for people, scientists convert all the different greenhouse gases into CO2 equivalence. So, for example, 1kg of Methane could have the same effect on global warming as 25 – 30 kg of CO2! On this basis, the production of 1 kg of beef could produce the equivalent of 60kg of eCO2! Lamb produces 25kg, Pork 7kg and Chicken 6kg whereas many vegetables produce less than 1 kg. A small cheeseburger has a carbon footprint of over 4kg. At its most simple, meat and dairy products have the highest carbon footprint and fruit and vegetables have the lowest. So we can all make a significant contribution to cutting carbon emissions simply by replacing a meat based meal with a vegetable based one. Clearly, a family would not have to give up many beef dinners or cheeseburgers to achieve the target of saving a tonne of carbon! The exact carbon footprint will vary depending upon exactly how the food has been produced, how, and how far it has been transported, and the packaging used. We have provided a rough guide to the carbon footprint of different types of food in our summary table. 4. Clothes The fashion industry is one of the worst offenders when it comes to creating greenhouse gases. A report by the McKinsey & Company analysed the performance of the industry since 2000. It claims that the industry is responsible for 4% of total global emissions. They found that, since 2000, the number of clothes sold had doubled but the usage (the number of times an item of clothing was worn) had fallen by more than a 1/3rd. Many of us have wardrobes full of clothes we don’t wear anymore and, we throw away things too quickly. 60% of clothes go to landfill within a year of being manufactured and only 1% is recycled within the industry. It has been calculated that, on average we wear an item of clothing just 7 times. Campaigners urge us to increase that to 30 As a general rule, clothes made from artificial materials (polyester) have a carbon footprint approximately twice of natural materials. Garments made from recycled fabrics can halve carbon footprints, maybe even more. The key message here is to reuse, repair and recycle. The real damage is done when we throw things away unnecessarily. If we buy a new pair of jeans, that has a carbon footprint of 33kg, a new pair of trainers 14kg and a cotton shirt 15kg. Major Investments Some families may be able to make major changes by making significant investments in new technology such as:
New Windows and Doors
These investments often require a major upfront financial investment and so are not suitable for everyone. However, for those who are able to afford the investment there is usually a significant long term financial benefit, in addition to the benefit of a reduction in carbon emissions. A single solar panel produces between 250 and 400 watts. Assuming that there are at least 1500 hours of sunshine a year (there were more last year), this means that a panel of just 8 panels could achieve the target of saving a tonne of carbon emissions. Investing in insulation can save a family a lot of money, and significantly reduce its carbon footprint. Exact figures will depend upon the individual circumstances of each house but decent insulation in the loft can reduce energy bills by about 10% and insulation for the walls can be even more effective. Replacing old, drafty single glazed windows and doors with double glazing can also make a major contribution. According to the Energy Savings Trust properly insulating an average small terrace house will save more than 500kg of carbon and an average large, detached house as much as 1500kg a year. In an average house, replacing single glazed windows and doors with double glazed can save 330kg of carbon a year. An electric car does not have a carbon footprint of zero as the electricity it uses creates carbon emissions when it is being generated. However, a typical EV has a carbon footprint of just 50g per passenger mile (compared to an average petrol car of 200g.) This means that you might only have to drive 6-7000 miles a year in order to save your tonne of carbon