As awareness about our changing climate grows, so too does the desire to take positive action.
And while the big corporates are in the spotlight, individuals also need to consider their daily activities and find ways to minimise their own emissions.
Everything we do has an impact – from how we get to work, the type of car we drive, how we heat or cool our homes, the types of meals we put on the table, and of course our holiday destination choices.
And it all adds up. The average Australian household (2.6 people) emits 15-20 tonnes of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) annually, collectively adding up to about a fifth of the nation’s emissions.
The United Nations warns that if carbon emissions in wealthy countries like Australia aren’t cut to two tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year by 2030, it will not be possible to achieve the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
That means the average 2.6 person family should be aiming for 5.2 tonnes a year – about a quarter to a third of current volumes.
The message from Perth-based environmental charity Carbon Positive Australia is that we all need to reduce, reflect and restore to protect our planet. That means cutting our emissions and finding ways to offset the remainder.
Fortunately, there is plenty that can be done around the home and through our daily activities to slash emissions and play our part in achieving a greener future.
To cut emissions, you first have to know the amount of GHGs you’re producing, and where these coming from.
A national online carbon calculator, launched by Carbon Positive Australia, can get you started in understanding your own footprint at https://carbonpositiveaustralia.org.au/calculate/.
It will take about 5-10 minutes to input key information about your consumption and lifestyle across six categories – travel, energy, water, transport, food and drinks, and waste.
You can choose to include any or all of these categories, and if you don’t have exact usage, Australian averages are available.
At the end of the calculation, you’ll receive an itemised footprint with tailored insights to help you cut your emissions. As you make changes to your habits you can continue using the calculator to track your progress.
Finding the balance
While there’s plenty that can be done to reduce your impact, it’s extremely difficult to reduce absolutely all emissions. To account for the unavoidable emissions you produce, you can consider carbon offsetting.
Offsetting involves a donation to projects that remove or reduce greenhouse gases from the atmosphere – balancing out those produced.
It would be difficult, for example, to give up travel, but it can be done guilt-free if offsetting the emissions. A long-haul flight can generate about five tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, but these can be offset for about $100, based on current prices.
Popular types of offset projects include reforestation and tree planting, renewable energy projects, waste and landfill management and carbon-reducing agricultural practices.
It is important to remember though, that offsets should only be used after steps to reduce as many emissions as possible have been taken.
Individuals can buy offsets through specialist companies and charities including Carbon Positive Australia and Greenfleet, which focus on tree planting and land restoration projects to sequester carbon and restore natural ecosystems.
Funds donated to these offset providers are directed into different regeneration or vegetation projects, so it’s worth checking the individual websites to look at the projects they have underway.
There are plenty of ways to offset, including by the tonne. It can cost about $18-$20 per tonne to offset emissions, meaning an average household of 2.6, which reduces its emissions to 5.2 tonnes a year, could offset for a little over $100, tax deductable.
There’s also the option of offsetting for more tailored activities, such as individual flights, vehicles or food and drink, or making a flat donation, which can be done through many providers.
The more people opt to reduce emissions and offset the remainder, the better chance we have of managing the impact of climate change.
Tips for cutting your carbon footprint
Investing in a greener future
- Consider installing solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. If not possible, switch to green power sources where available.
- Make your home more energy efficient, such as double-glazing windows, and improving insulation.
- Change to energy-efficient LED bulbs which use up to 80 per cent less electricity.
- Choose appliances wisely, opting for high energy star ratings.
- Consider a hybrid or electric vehicle that you can charge with renewable energy.
Earth friendly habits
- Walk, ride, use public transport or carpool to work.
- Reduce the emissions from your commute to work if your employer allows and try working from home occasionally.
- Keep your pantry organised, plan meals and only buy the food you will eat.
- Try growing your own food with a vegie patch and plant a few fruit trees, even keeping a few chickens for eggs if you have the space.
- Shop local to cut down food miles. Taking advantage of local produce while in season also cuts food miles.
- Go plastic-free by refusing use of single-use plastics.
- Carry a water bottle, filled from the tap, and opt for a reusable coffee cup.
- Compost food and garden waste yourself.
- Avoid fast fashion and consider renting, borrowing, or searching op shops for that new look.
- When no longer needed, donate any good condition items or clothing, rather than sending to landfill.
- Turn off appliances left on standby and always switch off lights not being used.
- Take shorter showers.
- In winter, dress for the weather and layer up, rather than keeping the heating up high.