Everyone has a carbon footprint– it’s your own personal measure of how much carbon dioxide you create and how much you contribute to climate change.

But you don’t need to build a zero-carbon home to make an impact or even feed some cows of garlic to have a reduce this and save thousands of dollars too. Here’s 10 easy steps that make a real difference:

Incandescent light bulb

Image via Wikipedia

1. Use the web to switch to a green energy supplier

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Currently UK suppliers are only required by law to buy green energy as 3% of their total spend but, of course, you can always buy more:

2. Change your lightbulbs to Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs)

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Lighting accounts for up to 50% of your electric bill. The International Energy Agency estimated last year that lighting accounts for 19% of total global electricity production, resulting in emissions equal to 70% of global car emissions.

Many retailers have already pledged to stop selling inefficient light bulbs by 2011 but some have gone even further – Habitat will phase them out by 2009 and Currys have already stopped placing orders for fresh stock.

Fluorescents are a better choice. They last longer and will save about 5% on your monthly electric bill. LED’s are even better, but currently a little harder to find. While we are talking about lights, turn them off when you leave the room.

CFLs use 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. They also use about 75 percent less heat, so they’re safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling.

You don’t have to compromise on style when switching – energy efficient bulbs now come in a range of shapes and sizes including traditional globes, candle bulbs and reflectors:

3. Use less hot water

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Heating hot water makes up around 40% of an average power bill (for households using electricity for space heating and hot water). Small improvements can result in big savings.

  1. Lowering the temperature setting: The ideal temperature setting at the hot water cylinder is 60 C (or 140 F). Higher temperatures only increase your power bill and can scald children (it only takes one second at 70 C). You will find the thermostat under the protective lid on the side of or underneath the cylinder. It can usually be adjusted with a screwdriver. Many thermostats are not very accurate. Test that the water comes out of the tap within +/- 5 C (+/-12 F) of the temperature setting.
  2. Tempering valves: A temperature setting below 60 degrees Celsius can increase the risk of Legionnaire’s disease. A plumber can install a tempering valve to automatically mix hot and cold water to a safer temperature, saving heating costs.
  3. Water saving shower heads:A water saving, or low-flow showerhead uses less than 6-10 litres of water a minute, compared with 10 – 20 litres for an ordinary showerhead. Most new showerheads for sale now are standard low-flow showerheads. A low-flow showerhead costs approximately £12, is easy to install and can be used on all pressure systems. To test what type of showerhead you have: turn the shower on at normal shower temperature and put a bucket under it for one minute. Record the number of litres in the bucket. If it is more than 6-10 litres per minute, it is not a low-flow showerhead.
  4. Take showers not baths: Showers use less hot water than baths. An average bath takes 300 litres of water, while a 10-minute shower uses only 60 litres with a low-flow showerhead (100 – 150 litres with an ordinary showerhead).
  5. Leaky hot water pipes and taps: Leaking hot water pipes and taps can account for higher power bills. Fixing the problem is much cheaper than paying a higher power bill.
  6. Cylinder wraps: Hot water cylinders that are not A-grade cylinders (check if there is an ‘A’ sticker on the side of the cylinder) will benefit from extra insulation. The older the cylinder, the more it will benefit, as insulation levels have increased over the years.
    A cylinder wrap costs less than $100 and saves up to $65 a year. It is easy to install yourself. It is much more economical to dry clothes on the line or in the clothes dryer than to use the heat of the hot water cylinder.
  7. Hot water pipe lag: Hot water pipes lose heat rapidly before they reach the kitchen, bathroom or laundry taps. To prevent the heat loss you can simply wrap them with pipe lagging material along the whole length of the pipe. The lagging will also shorten the time you have to wait for hot water to get to your taps.If the pipe is not accessible, wrap at least the first metre of hot water pipe coming out of the hot water cylinder. Don’t forget to wrap wetback connections as well.
  8. Gas heating:Half of the power used for electric hot water cylinders is used for maintaining the right temperature. Gas hot water heating only heats the water on demand.When you are looking at gas for space heating, check if gas hot water heating is a good option for you.

4. Don’t leave your appliances on standby

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One million tonnes of greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere every year by appliances left on standby in the UK. When it comes to our myriad electrical appliances, off doesn’t really mean off. Those little red lights or clock displays are still sucking out energy.

Just because that cellphone charger doesn’t have a phone attached to it doesn’t mean it’s not drawing energy. Devices such as televisions with standby modes can use up to half the power they would draw when turned on. Don’t just turn something off: unplug it.

Buy a power strip to plug everything into so that you can turn everything off at the mains with just the one switch. And if you’re really in to high tech solutions, you can try the Intelliplug which automatically powers off your computer peripherals (monitor, speakers etc) when you switch off your PC.

You could also build your own timers for around £1.50.

5. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

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You can recycle most things and it’s is beneficial in two ways:

  1. it reduces the inputs (energy and raw materials) to a production system, and
  2. reduces the amount of waste produced for disposal.

On average every person in the UK throws away their own body weight in waste every seven weeks. We all know we should recycle more but we can’t always be bothered – and where do you put the stuff that’s not going in the bin?

Did you know that:

  • 1 recycled tin can would save enough energy to power a television for 3 hours.
  • 1 recycled glass bottle would save enough energy to power a computer for 25 minutes.
  • 1 recycled plastic bottle would save enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for 3 hours.
  • Up to 60% of the rubbish that ends up in the dustbin could be recycled.
  • The unreleased energy contained in the average dustbin each year could power a television for 5,000 hours.
  • On average, 16% of the money you spend on a product pays for the packaging, which ultimately ends up as rubbish.
  • As much as 50% of waste in the average dustbin could be composted.


  • don’t buy heavily packed goods
  • buy ‘loose’ food rather than pre-packaged
  • stop junk mail and faxes through the Mailing Preference Service
  • cancel delivery of unwanted newspapers, donate old magazines to waiting rooms
  • use your own shopping bags when visiting the supermarket or use the doorstep delivery service
  • grow your own vegetables. Many varieties can be grown in small gardens
  • use a nappy laundry service, and save disposable ones for holidays and long journeys
  • take a packed lunch to work or school in a reusable plastic container


  • reuse carrier bags. Each person in the UK uses an average of 134 plastic bags each year
  • reuse scrap paper for writing notes, etc
  • reuse envelopes – stick labels over the address
  • rent or borrow items you don’t use very often – e.g. party decorations and crockery. Some supermarkets hire out glasses for parties, saving on disposable cups
  • donate old computer and audio visual equipment to community groups or schools
  • buy rechargeable items instead of disposable ones e.g. batteries and cameras
  • buy things in refillable containers e.g. washing powders
  • buy concentrated products which use less packaging
  • take old clothes and books to charity shops, or have a car boot sale
  • look for long lasting (and energy efficient) appliances when buying new electrical items – ensure these are well-maintained to increase product life cycle


  • choose products in packaging which you know can be recycled
  • compost – lots of kitchen waste can be composted. Contact your local council for details of local composting schemes and details of any compost bin sales. Click here for further advice on composting in your garden
  • buy products made from recycled materials. Most supermarkets now stock a wide range of these items, click here for some examples
  • find out where your nearest recycling facilities are by clicking here

6. Use a smart meter

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A smart meter is a little device that takes the electricity meter out from under the stairs to tell you how much electricity you are using as you are using it. It has found a permanent home on the kitchen worktop and I can now tell which appliances and lights are on around the house just by looking at it. the information provided by the devices can revolutionise the way households consume energy, and can reduce demand by up to 10%.

Smart meters, which measure your energy consumption, are a great way of keeping track of how much energy you’re using. When you can actually see how much carbon you’re wasting every time you switch on the TV or make a cup of coffee, it will make you think twice. The Electrisave and the stylish DIY Kyoto are portable monitors you can take from room to room to see at a glance which appliances are devouring the most electricity.

7. Go easy on the air conditioning

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Although not as acute a problem here in the UK as, for example, the USA, where according to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI):

60% of a typical summer electric bill is devoted to air conditioning, and that could jump to 75% based on the weather.

In other words, the hotter it gets from climate change, the greater the significance of air conditioning to the total power bill.

You could buy a energy-saving air conditioner or just make one yourself for around £17

In any event, air conditioning filters can get dirty in a matter of days. An air conditioner with a clogged filter has to work harder, which means higher power bills and the creation of more greenhouse emissions. Running clean, you can save up to £80 each year. You’ll also enjoy the benefit of fewer allergy causing particles in the air, and a more comfortable home or office.

8. Give up your car

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Via ::The Economist

Driving is an addiction like smoking and drinking, but seemingly much harder to give up. It may be that the alternatives are just too awful to contemplate.

Despite congestion, the rocketing cost of fuel and the dire warnings of environmentalists, we are just as dependent on our cars as we were more than a decade ago, according to a report from the RAC Foundation. Half of us have never used the bus.

Car dependency has increased steadily since 1993, except in London. The distances travelled by car have increased by 17 per cent.
Three quarters of us have a driving licence, up from two thirds just over a decade ago.
Nearly two thirds of women drive, compared with less than half in 1993, while in the same period the proportion of men behind the wheel has risen from 75 to 80 per cent.

Experiment with giving up your car, you may find it easier than you think. Our cars produce 11% of the country’s carbon emissions so there are big savings to be made here.

Try “Lift sharing“, “ride-sharing”, “car-sharing” or “[tag]carpooling[/tag]” -it doesn’t matter what you call it, it boils down to the same thing – two or more people sharing a car to get from A to B rather than driving alone. The benefits are numerous both for yourself, your family, your community and the environment. You save money on running costs, you save time looking for parking spaces and you help to save the planet by reducing your carbon footprint.

If everyone who drives on their own to work every day were to catch a lift with someone just once a week, the commuting car journeys would reduce by 20%! And both parties would save money!

Car Preparation

  • Weight – reduce weight, and fuel consumption, by simply removing unnecessary items from your car that do not need to be there for a particular journey. These can include buggies, golf clubs, tools, footwear and so on.
  • Remove roof racks – the wind resistance dramatically increases fuel consumption.
  • Tyre pressure – ensure that you have the correct tyre pressure. Every 6psi the tyre is under-inflated the fuel consumption increases by 1%.
  • Maintain your car – check that your engine is properly tuned as this improves performance and limits fuel consumption.
  • Refuelling – avoid overfilling the tank as spilled fuel evaporates and releases harmful emissions.
  • Check your windows and lights – ensuring that your windows are clean and your lights are working will make your journey safer.

Journey Planning

  • Consider planning as many jobs as possible in one trip – Aim to get as much as you can out of the journey. Five jobs in one trip is better for the environment than five trips! Use the following journey planners:
  • Do not use the car for short journeys – if your journey is less than half a mile then walk or cycle.
  • Avoid congested areas – and so reduce travel time.
  • Only travel in the rush hour – if you absolutely have to.
  • Time shift your journey – a twenty minute >delay could make all the difference to time in the car.

During the Journey

Where possible drive with the windows up – to reduce drag and make your fuel consumption more efficient.

  • Try not to be in a hurry – Stressed driving can be erratic and is uneconomical. Simply relax and try to enjoy the trip.
  • Try not to beat the lights – The chances are that if you hit a red light and then try to beat all the following lights, you will rush but miss them anyway. If you drive at a more sedate speed you will usually find that by the time you reach the next light it will have turned green again.
  • Air conditioning should be limited – as it uses more fuel.
  • Switch off the engine – if you think you will stationary for more than two minutes.
  • Keep your speed down – as driving at 50-60 mph means your emissions will be lowest. Driving over 70mph will rapidly increase your emissions. It can cost you up to 25% more in fuel to drive at 70mph compared to 50mph.
  • Avoid unnecessary revving – or idling of the engine as this uses more fuel.
  • Harsh acceleration – and braking can use up to 30% more fuel and can cause increased wear and tear on the vehicle.
  • Control your speed – as travelling at less than 15mph creates the most pollution. As your speed increases up to 60mph your level of pollution decreases. Travelling over 60mph increases your level of pollution again.
  • Careful motorway driving – will improve safety and traffic flow. The concertina effect caused by one motorist breaking sharply often results in traffic slowing to a near stop due to the delayed reaction of drivers behind. If we try to observe the car three or four ahead and give ourselves some distance from the car in front we can anticipate and judge the necessary speed. When you see a car break up ahead, simply remove your foot off the accelerator. By the time you get close to the car in front the chances are that they will have speeded up. You can almost make yourself responsible for stopping the concertina.

Buying Cars

  • Buy nearly new – Try not to buy a new car unless you absolutely have to. Be aware however, that newer vehicles pollute less and tend to be more environmentally efficient.
  • Buy infrequently as the second-hand car market is very imperfect – It is best to choose a car where you know its history. It is even economic to spend more repairing a vehicle than its market value. Reliability is the key. Once a vehicle becomes unreliable sell it.
  • Size is important – Buy as small as you can for your day to day needs. You may decide you need a big car because you have relatives that live over 400 miles away. If you only visit them twice a year however, and most of your driving is done in a 50-mile radius a big car may be inefficient. By buying a smaller car for the majority of driving and renting a bigger car for the long trips you will save money.
  • Consider sharing a car between the family instead of running two or more cars.
  • Buy a fuel-economic car – The fuel economy of similar sized cars using the same type of fuel can vary as much as 45%. The ETA’s Car Buyer’s Guide gives an accurate assessment of all cars on the market.

Green Driving Products

  • Fuel Saving Tyres – Firestone have applied design and engineering to create these fuel saving tires for most types of car. Click here for more information.
  • Environmentally Friendly Batteries – Varta Automotive are not only the world experts in car batteries, they also go to great lengths to adopt a green approach where possible through out all stages of development and production. The ETA recommends Varta as the greenest battery around. Click here for more information.
  • Friendly Car Polish – Zymol Cleaner Wax is not just a 1st class product for cars, vans and motorcycles, its natural formula has no harsh chemical solvents, it is water-based and blended without hydrocarbons. Contains carnauba wax, beeswax, vitamin E, aloe Vera, banana and coconut extracts and almond meal to produce a superior shine and durability. Click here for more information.

9. Buy fair trade

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Fair trade is an organized social movement which promotes standards for international labour, environmentalism, and social policy in areas related to production of Fairtrade labelled and unlabelled goods. The movement focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries.

Despite the criticism, fair trade is having a major global impact on pay and conditions. Here are some of the companies that are market leaders in this fight:

  • Edun – socially conscious, high-end fashion for men and women; www.edun.ie
  • People Tree – Fairtrade and environmentally friendly fashion; www.peopletree.co.uk
  • American Apparel – sweatshop-free casual clothes; http://www.american apparel.net
  • Terra Plana – artisan footwear company; www.terra-plana.co.uk
  • Kuyichi – Fairtrade denim from the Netherlands; www.kuyichi.com
  • Farmers markets – to find your nearest suppliers of locally produced food, go to www.farmersmarkets.net
  • Co-op – supermarket chain with strong ethical policies; www.co-opfairtrade.co.uk
  • Waitrose – strong supporter of Fairtrade; www.waitrose.com
  • M&S – making an effort to supply Fairtrade goods where it can
  • Cred Jewellery – the only Fairtrade suppliers in the UK; http://www.cred.tv
  • Asda, John Lewis, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Somerfield all sell some Fairtrade flowers
  • Body Shop – clearly labels fairly traded products with a “Community Trade” stamp
  • Oxfam – some stores sell Clean, a range of Fairtrade handmade soaps

10. Get active

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The public generally has quite a defeatist outlook on the issues which confront us. They seem so huge, so difficult to deal with that it’s hard to believe that anything we do will have a meaningful impact. We have a sour cynicism about politics and life in general. Perhaps, the biggest factor may be the internet. Instead of gathering to interact in massive rallies on the street, today’s activists fire off emails or update their blogs – like me!

Blogs might reach a lot of people, but they siphon away energy and indignation into angry words, instead of action visible to all. The vastly improved communication potential of blogging is actually taking a bit of the life out of political activism. Nevertheless, much of the work to combat climate change needs to be done at a national and even an international government level.

  • Get an overview of environmental activism here or here.
  • If you want a personal carbon footprint reduction action plan, along with further recommendations about how you can help tackle climate change, the Act on CO2 calculator is a great start.
  • I Count is the campaign of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, the ever-growing coalition of more than 50 organisations, has over 700 years’ experience working for a safer, fairer world.

I hope you can put at least some of the above tips into practice to reduce your carbon footprint and begin to save some of your hard earned money?

What’s your tip? Leave a comment below.

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