While solving climate change is bigger than any one individual, family, or business, personal actions are deeply important. Every little bit counts, and they demonstrate to everyone you know that change for the better is possible.
So as much as you can, follow these recommendations.
There’s a lot here, but don’t feel overwhelmed! Fighting climate change on an individual level is all about prioritization. Based on your carbon footprint assessment and your unique lifestyle, pick the changes that make sense for you.
To make it easy, we’ve broken down our Take Action steps into three categories: transportation, home, and food. And whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, there’s a tip in each category specifically for you.
How We Get Around
Take Public Transportation
If you have the option to carpool or take public transportation, do it! One bus on the road uses far less gas than the number of cars it would take for each person riding the bus to drive on their own. Not to mention it reduces traffic and smog from commuting. So if you don’t already own a car — and live somewhere that you can reliably take public transportation — don’t bother buying one. You’ll save money and the planet at the same time.
Drive a Hybrid or Electric Car
If you have to have a car, make it a hybrid or an electric one. Because for many — if not most — Americans, the single biggest thing they can do to reduce their carbon footprint is making this switch. Not only do the newest hybrids have lots of leg room, they can cut your transportation emissions (and fuel costs) almost in half. You can drive those emissions to almost zero by picking a new electric car like the Chevy Bolt, which has a range of 238 miles and doesn’t cost much more than an average new car/truck sold in the U.S. In fact, some states have even implemented tax breaks or incentive programs for buying electric vehicles. You’ll almost certainly make up the difference in avoided fuel costs in about 5 years. As part of your research next time you need a new car, consider fuel economy and emissions along with mileage and other features. Can’t find electric vehicles at your dealer’s lot? Demand that they carry more models!
Not sure if an electric car is right for you? Learn more about owning an electric vehicle, and walk through our electric car mythbusting Q&A.
How We Live
While homeowners may find it easier to fight climate change through smart home upgrades, even renters can take action. Ask your landlord about making small changes with big payoffs, and pay attention to little things like saving money on your heating bills by cellophaning windows in the winter.
Increase Home Efficiency
Our homes are the second largest source of personal carbon emissions. Luckily, there’s a range of things we can all do — whether we rent or own — to reduce them. Particularly if you’re a homeowner or landlord, you can make a huge difference here. The investments required do need some up-front cash, but will pay for themselves quickly.
Get a Home Energy Audit
In most New England states you can get a free energy audit to help you improve your home energy efficiency. Your results will show whether you need new light bulbs, to seal drafty doors and windows, whether adding wall or attic insulation will help, and more. It’s a great first step, and following the audit’s recommendations can help you start saving money.
Install Compact-Fluorescent or LED Bulbs
In the U.S., lighting accounts for about 10% of all electricity use in buildings, and almost 7% of total electricity consumption. Energy efficient compact fluorescent and LED bulbs, which are now dimmable and come in warm colors, use up to 80% less electricity to produce the same light and last up to 25 times longer than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.
Use a Programmable Thermostat
However your home is heated or cooled, using a programmable thermostat is an easy way to save energy and money – about 10% off your monthly bill for every 7–10 degrees warmer in the summer, or cooler in the winter. That’s a big deal since space heating is responsible for about 40% of electricity use in both homes and offices. Heating and cooling homes and businesses makes a big difference.
Install Energy Efficient Appliances
Refrigerators, TVs, and electric clothes dryers together account for over 15% of home electricity use. When it’s time to replace a broken appliance or upgrade to something better, buy one with the Energy Star “Most Efficient” designation and save 15–30% more energy than standard models. (Renters: If you know your apartment needs to upgrade, mention this designation to your landlord. Make sure they know it’ll both help the environment and save them money in the long run.)
Install a Heat Pump
When you need to replace either your furnace or your air conditioner, switch to a heat pump (air-source, geothermal, or ductless mini-split), which will take care of your home’s heating and cooling. They work particularly well in New England, as they’re great for below-zero conditions. Because they’re so efficient, a heat pump will almost certainly save you hundreds of dollars a year in home energy costs!
Install a Solar Water Heater
Solar water heaters are more efficient than either gas or electric water heaters, and many can be added on to existing home systems. On average, if you install a solar water heater, you can expect your water heating bills to drop between 50% and 80%.
Buy Renewable Electricity
In much of New England, we have the choice to buy renewable electricity for our homes (and businesses too)! It costs more — about $14 more per month on your energy bill to buy a combination of renewables — so not everyone will be able to do this. But if you can, it is a great way to maximize your personal contribution by increasing the demand for renewable energy. The increased amounts are also tax deductible for federal purposes. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, we recommend using the Mass Energy Consumers Alliance.
Install Solar Panels
Throughout New England, most utilities offer net metering, a program that allows allows rooftop installations to pay for themselves in five to nine years. Rooftop solar panels are a big investment for most families, and are almost always a great one (particularly if you also end up buying an electric car)! The incentives, rebates, and local pricing varies between regions, though, so talk to an expert before you take the plunge.
How We Eat
Try Meatless Mondays
Meat produces far more greenhouse gas emissions than grains or vegetables, and uses more fossil fuels to boot. So even one day of eating less meat helps reduce your personal carbon footprint. It can also help you save on your monthly grocery bills. There are many ways to enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner without adding meat!
Buy Local Food
As much as you can, buy food that is grown locally. This means your food wasn’t shipped in using planes, trains, trucks, or boats — all of which consume fuel and spit out dangerous greenhouse gases. Certain vegetables and meats in particular can have a larger environmental impact than you realize. So next time you’re at the grocery store, check where your food is from and opt for something a little fresher and closer to home.
Pay Attention to Food Waste
Food waste is a huge problem, as each year we throw out roughly a third of all food that’s produced. Not only does wasting food mean wasting money, it also contributes to global warming by releasing methane when it decomposes, and requiring more fossil fuel energy to produce and ship more food in general. Save yourself time and money — and reduce your carbon footprint — by making it a goal to not waste any of the food you buy or composting what you don’t eat.
Think about Your Food
While there’s some debate around the topic of buying organic, many argue that food grown without chemical fertilizers has a lower carbon footprint. This is because creating those chemicals (and then covering farms with them) produces its own set of greenhouse gasses. Additionally, some organic farms store more carbon in their soil through the use of good farming practices, keeping that carbon out of our atmosphere. That said, it’s all about the individual farm. If you have the time and money, find out more about where your food is coming from. Can you get to know your grower at a local farmer’s market? Can you talk to the butcher at your local grocery store? Then if you can stomach the price, organic local food is not a bad way to go.