How to Take Climate Action - Part I: How to Reduce Your Household Carbon Footprint

Marley Flueger
February 23, 2021

This blog is part of a series called How to Take Climate Action that unpacks what we can each do to influence the systems around us and reverse climate change. As people, our power comes from the roles we play in our households, at work, as participants in financial markets, and as members of local, national, and global communities. No two climate action practices look the same, but when we take action together, we can reshape our global systems for the better.

The climate crisis is the defining challenge of our lifetime – and it’s a systems issue. But decisions made by people over centuries have compounded over time to cause a rapidly accelerating mess of a warming planet. But we’re not powerless to change our trajectory. In this chapter of the Climate Action Playbook, we break down the most effective things you can do to take climate action at the household level.

Climate Action Playbook Part I: How to Reduce Your Household Carbon Footprint

To build a climate action practice, start with the emissions within your control. Choices we make about how we eat, travel, power our homes, and shop can reduce our national carbon footprints by 25%. Since household consumption influences global emissions, action at home can reverberate throughout the entire system. 

This guide will teach you how to reduce your household carbon footprint, but it’s not an all-or-nothing mandate. Use it as a cheat sheet of meaningful, manageable changes to support your personal climate journey – and download Joro for guidance, motivation, and to measure your progress along the way.

Build carbon intuition for your household choices

Developing your carbon intuition is the first step to taking ownership of your carbon footprint. 

Carbon intuition is an instinctual understanding of the relative carbon impacts of different  lifestyle choices. We build our carbon intuition by regularly measuring and managing our personal carbon footprints, and use it to make climate decisions that matter.

What’s a Carbon Footprint?

Almost everything we consume takes energy to produce, transport, and get rid of. Your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by your activities during a given time period, measured in carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e. These figures aren’t static: yours may fall on a day you spent more time at home, or spike on a day you took a long-haul flight.

Learn more: Read this blog on carbon footprints to dig into the details.

How To Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Link your credit or debit cards to Joro and let our updated Carbonizer algorithms work their magic. Using the same bank-level security as apps like Venmo, we analyze your purchase history to calculate your daily, weekly, and monthly carbon footprint in real-time. Purchases are sorted into categories, so you can see the most important drivers of your emissions. 

Take Action: Start tracking your carbon footprint with the Carbonizer

How Do I Lower My Carbon Footprint?

You can think of your carbon footprint as split into four main categories: home, food and drink, transportation, and goods and services. Joro helps you understand your personal carbon footprint and offers personalized suggestions to reduce your impact in a way that’s achievable, enjoyable, and measurable. 

Developing a climate action practice doesn’t mean changing everything overnight. Carbon footprints vary from person to person, and lifestyle changes that work for someone else might not work for you right now.

1. Home Energy

Effective energy use could reduce global electricity demand by over 20% and is one of the least expensive ways to decarbonize at scale. And when it comes to using energy smarter at home – you’ve got options. 

Update Your Lighting & Appliances

From low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets to energy-efficient washing machines, lighting, and refrigerators – there’s a greener option for nearly every item in your home. As you consider replacing old appliances, phase in Energy Star-certified alternatives whenever you can.

Opt for Renewable Energy

Residential solar panels and geothermal heat pumps are up front investments that can save you money (and emissions) in the long run. Tax credits and incentives can reduce their cost substantially, so research what’s available where you live

If you’re a renter, or can’t afford solar or geothermal installation, there are still ways to power your home with renewables. Check to see if consumer choice programs are available in your state, and opt-in to clean energy through your utility provider. 

Fix, Weatherize, and Optimize

Leaky faucets and hoses, poorly insulated windows, and clogged furnaces and air conditioners waste energy and money. But smart choices like planting shade trees and maintaining your heating and cooling systems boost efficiency with minimal effort. Take stock of where you can maximize energy-efficiency in your home.

Learn More: Joro’s guide to energy and climate savings opportunities breaks down the smartest home solutions.

Change Your Energy Use Habits

Idle devices and unattended thermostats have a bigger impact than you think. Build mindful habits by joining an in-app challenge on Joro. We’ll send you regular reminders to power down, unplug, and adjust your thermostat when you’re not using it. 

Take Action: Join a home energy challenge on Joro.

2. Food & Drink

Food production is one of the most energy-intensive industries on Earth, generating 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Over 50% of habitable land is used for agriculture – driving habitat destruction, species loss, and deforestation worldwide. 

Food lies at the heart of tackling climate change – but how do we eat with our global future in mind? 

Eat a Plant-Rich Diet

Farm processes and land use factors account for 80% of most food emissions. And animal products – particularly beef, lamb, and dairy – amass much higher footprints than plant products. Some people think it's all or nothing, but we're here to tell you that you don’t have to go vegan overnight. Even starting with small shifts, like eating vegetarian lunches or vegan breakfasts, can significantly reduce your household carbon footprint over time. 

  • Eat Less Meat and Dairy: Animal products have a massive carbon price tag. Beef, for instance, produces over 13 times more emissions than eggs and 40 times more than soy and corn. 
  • Two Legs or Less: You have to cut out meat altogether. While fish and poultry have higher footprints than most plant-based foods, they produce roughly a quarter the emissions of lamb, and 10 times fewer emissions than beef.
  • Join a  Food Challenge: Take a new diet for a test run with Joro’s vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian challenges. Track your progress, access tips & resources, and discover how tasty Earth-friendly eating can be. 

Not sure where to begin? Set yourself up for a successful food challenge with our beginner’s guide to a plant-based diet.

Eat Seasonally and Regionally

The average meal travels 1,500 miles to get from farm to plate. Support local agriculture and cut down mileage by eating regionally and in-season. 

  • Shop Close to Home: Farmers markets and co-ops source offer more production transparency and regional options than conventional grocery stores. Look for organic certifications, sustainable seafood labels, and opt for grass-fed  beef.
  • Eat with the Seasons: Growers use energy-intensive practices to meet the demand for out-of-season produce. Avoid increased fertilization, hothouses, and mass refrigeration with a quick Google search for what’s in-season in your region.

Reduce Food (and Food-Related) Waste

Up to a third of food produced worldwide doesn’t make it to meal time. And we don’t just waste the energy used to produce our food when we toss it out: organic material decaying in landfills releases harmful methane gas.

  • Shop Smarter: Plan your weekly meals before heading to the store and only buy what you’ll use. Use perishable products the first few days after purchasing – you’ll be less likely to eat them when they’re limp or browning.
  • Practice Conscious Cooking: Reduce the amount of food you cook at meal time and work leftovers into your weekly meal plan. Make an effort to use food that’s nearing expiration – especially carbon-heavy meat and dairy products.
  • Eat Out Less: You have less control over portion size and food waste when dining out or ordering in – so try to cook at home more often. When you do go out to eat, split large entrees or bring a reusable container for leftovers.
  • Compost Food Scraps: Start a compost pile to fertilize your plants and garden. If you can’t compost where you live,  look to see if your town offers curbside pickup for industrial facilities. 
  • Ditch Single-Use Plastics: Up to 50% of the plastic we produce worldwide each year is single-use. Used just a few minutes for a take out order or beachside drink, these items can persist in our environment for generations. Bring a sustainable alternative instead.

3. Travel & Transportation

Transportation accounts for a fifth of global emissions. Automotive technology is rapidly advancing, but it will be years before clean energy dominates the market. Here’s how to reduce your carbon footprint at home – from your garage.

Avoid Emissions from Cars

  • Walk & Bike More: A twenty mile car ride produces the same emissions as a quarter pound hamburger. When you can, run errands on two wheels or walk to work instead.
  • Carpool & Public Transit: The more people in a vehicle, the lower each individual’s emissions. Carpool with a coworker or take the bus to reduce the impact of your daily commute. 
  • Maintain Your Vehicle: Regular maintenance can extend the lifespan of your vehicle and maximize fuel economy. Stay on top of tune ups and repairs, replace dirty filters, and keep your tires full for better MPG.

Switch to Hybrid or Electric

  • Buy Your Own: Hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) cause far less emissions from driving than gas-powered ones, and are getting more affordable. When it’s time to buy, look into EV incentives to alleviate sticker shock. 
  • Green Your Rideshare: Support clean-energy when you need a lift. Lyft’s “Green Mode” allows you to prioritize drivers with hybrid or electric automobiles.

Fly Less (And Offset When You Do)

Aviation is responsible for 11% of transportation-related emissions, but can make up over 90% of a frequent flier’s carbon footprint. Reduce emissions from flying by telecommuting, taking vacations close to home, and flying nonstop in newer aircraft when you do have to fly. 

Gotta jet? Compensate for your flight’s emissions with Joro’s vetted carbon offsets

4. Goods & Services

Everything you buy takes energy to make. Learning how to reduce your carbon footprint at home means being mindful of every item you bring through your door.

Extend the Lifespan of Your Items

  • Repair, Recycle, Donate: Aim to keep items in circulation as long as possible. Before tossing something out, ask yourself – can this be fixed, donated, or re-imagined for another use? 
  • Buy Less, Buy Better: Fast fashion apparel, kitschy party favors, and mass-produced home goods aren’t made with the planet or longevity in mind. Ask yourself: Do I need this? Does it feel meaningful? Is it made to last?

Shop Secondhand

Extend the lifespan of products already in circulation by buying secondhand. Local thrift stores, online buy/sell/trade groups, and consignment apps like Depop and ThredUp are great places to find gently-used items you can give a second life.

Support Sustainable Businesses

Keep tabs on climate-neutral business and buy from them when you can. Search for local service providers that prioritize the environment to put your dollar in good hands.

Choose Experiences Over Items

Go easy on the planet and treat yourself and your loved ones to meaningful activities instead of items. Bonus: experiences spark more long-term joy than products – newness fades, but memories are resilient.

5. After Reducing, Offset What You Can’t Yet Change

The most important action to stop climate change is to reduce the emissions that cause it. But even the most committed of us will have a carbon footprint. Carbon offsets allow you to effectively support emissions reduction by investing in projects that reduce greenhouse gases somewhere else in the world.

Paired with reduction, high-quality offsets can help accelerate the shift to a low-carbon society. But they should only supplement your climate action practice - they’re not a license to pollute.

Learn more: Read about how to buy carbon offsets.  

Choose Your Offset Wisely

Carbon offset come in many different forms, including forestry projects that store carbon in trees, soil sequestration projects that use regenerative farming to restore carbon to the earth, and even direct air capture that uses machines to suck carbon emissions out of the air. But not all offsets are created equal. The industry is poorly regulated, which can make it difficult to find worthwhile investments.  

Joro allows you to offset flights, subscribe to monthly offsets, and gift offsets to loved ones from the app. In addition to vetting for carbon reduction efficiency, we choose projects with additional benefits like job creation, habitat conservation, and climate adaptation. 

Take action: Subscribe to high-quality carbon offsets.

Where we go from here

Individual choices can’t compensate for the systemic revolution necessary to reverse climate change. But small changes have a big impact over time – and learning how to reduce your carbon footprint at home is only the beginning. As you grow your carbon intuition and personal climate practice with Joro, you’ll build the foundation you need to expand your sphere of influence.

Next Up: Climate Action in the Workplace

What we choose to do with our careers matters. Switching your career into the climate space might be easier than you thought. Even if you don't work in sustainability, you can still make a difference: nearly every business in the world has a carbon footprint. As an employee, you have the power to influence smarter energy use, waste reduction practices, and policies that reduce  travel-related emissions. 

Stay tuned for part two of our mini-series, where we’ll show you how to work for the planet and practice climate action on the job.

A climate action practice is the daily exercise of bringing awareness and intention to reduce the carbon emissions within your control.

Grow your practice with exclusive tips and advice.

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