Today is world environment day and this year’s theme is biodiversity. If you aren’t aware, biodiversity is vital for the balance of all life.
There is a lot of research that suggests we will be facing many more pandemics like the one we’re currently in if we don’t rebalance. One way to really help is to calculate your carbon footprint to see what impact you are having.
This calculator by the World Wildlife Fund is so simple to do and takes you through all different categories like food, travel, consumer goods.
It gives a full breakdown at the end along with advice on how to make small but impactful improvements.
If anything else it gives you a starting point to at least look at your current lifestyle and be mindful of the decisions you are making and the impact they are having.
Reducing our carbon footprint might not seem to link to biodiversity but when you consider that much of the disruption to animal habitats around the world which make them endangered is caused by humans clearing land to make way for farming, materials, development, building projects etc you can see why all of our personal choices in food, transport, goods we consume really matter.
Please just give it a look, answer the questions honestly (it’s pointless trying to beat the system to get a good score) and re-asses on a regular basis too. What more can you do?
You can see my calculation above, and I will show the breakdown in the detail and discuss it below.
Home Tip One Switch Energy Provider
We switched to a renewable energy provider about four years ago now. We were with Bulb to begin with, we’re now with Pure Planet who provide all of their electricity via renewable sources and offset their gas.
Improvements: Ideally we want rid of gas from our home but this is a really big and expensive undertaking that we’re not in a position to go ahead with at the moment. I keep my eye closely on new technology and discussions around the best way forward with respect to heating.
Home Tip Two Make The Switch
When we moved into our current home a few years ago we had to get it fully rewired as it was from the sixties. Part of that process was to replace all lighting including spotlights to be very low usage LED bulbs. I don’t think we’ve ever had to replace one yet and they certainly reduce energy usage. A rewire is a bit extreme of course, it wasn’t a cost we expected and neither is it something that would normally be undertaken. Its an expensive upfront cost to replace all bulbs in your house with LED so a more manageable way is to try upgrading just one each month. It will still help.
Home Tip Three Embrace New Technology
We’ve been using a smart thermostat for the past three years or so. Initially we had one that was unique for Worcestor Bosch boilers but when we moved we swapped over to a Tado. We initially used their rental scheme to try it for a year to see if it was worth it. I don’t think they offer this any longer though. We definitely saw savings and convenience in being able to change settings and optimise the temperature especially when we’re out of the house and at night time. You can probably achieve a similar effect with a programmable timer but tbh I’ve never liked the complexities of those systems. The Tado was so easy to install and programme via the app.
Travel Tip One Cycle
The travel section of the calculator didn’t allow me to provide that much detail but never the less it captures the most important stuff. Pre-pandemic my wife used our electric car for the commute to work (six miles away) five days a week. This is currently reduced to only two times a week as she mostly works from home. I used to work 10 miles from home and cycled most days. If the weather was too bad or we had other logistical issues such as school drop off etc we would often car share and then I would use the metro (local light railway network). So when undertaking this calculation it asked if I use public transport and the answer is largely no overall.
Improvements: Since the pandemic and changes to working life, my wife has now got a bike and we’re trialling using that for the commute as there is less traffic and it’s only two days a week so this will hopefully reduce our need to use the car even further. We mostly walk or cycle from our home to local destinations for leisure time.
Travel Tip Two Public Transport
At the present time this is a tough one to advocate. Overall it’s obviously better for the environment but public safety with Coronavirus has to be considered too. We are fortunate in that we don’t really need to rely on public transport much as we don’t need to travel too far for work or our leisure activities. I know public transport is overall better than private car use but the cost also has to be considered. If we car share as a family using our electric car, the environmental impact is much reduced and so too is the cost compared to using the bus and train. On longer journeys that we used to undertake such as visits to friends around the UK we always try to use the train or car share at least. These are tough decisions when you have a family with young children. No solution is perfect.
Travel Tip Three Drive Smarter
Simple advice to take on board. We do carry around a lightweight stroller in the boot that we don’t really need to. We’re fortunate with the electric car to have regenerative braking too which means when you drive sensibly we rarely need to touch the brake pedal which enhances the efficiency and reduces brake dust particulate matter.
Improvements: I look forward to advances in battery technology and the knock on effect to reduce the weight of electric cars, this is one of the downfalls I’m aware of. I keep an eye on the market for what’s coming up in a couple of years when our little one gets a bit bigger and we can get away with carrying less stuff around we can downsize to a smaller car.
Food Tip One Eat in Season
We’ve used Gousto, a food delivery service for three to four meals a week, for the past three years. We appreciate it is not the cheapest option but when we did a full cost breakdown and weighed up the pros and cons we really feel it is worth it. I will probably cover this service in more detail in another Blog but basically we get fresh, in season produce with every meal. They work incredibly hard to be sustainable and reduce their environmental impact. We used to throw away a fair bit of food, not through lack of trying, just the usual problem of supermarkets making larger packets cheaper to buy so you get deceived into getting more than you need no matter how you try, so you either have to eat it (and put on weight in the process) or throw away. I’ve never liked waste and Gousto delivers the exact ingredients to that is eliminated. Overall as well its greatly reduced our travel and visits to supermarkets too.
Improvements: We are trying to use more local businesses such as green grocers etc for our fresh produce to further avoid the plastic usage that supermarkets love. We are becoming ever more mindful of looking at labels to see where our produce has come from. I try to follow the advice that is given in the There is no Planet B book regarding ‘hardy’ food items vs ‘soft’ items. An example is sweet potato – a very healthy item to eat, they travel from overseas but are very hardy and so come via ships not air freight so it’s less impact and more sustainable. Again, there is no cut and dry with this stuff, there’s lots of considerations and complexities. The food section in the planet B is really useful though.
Food Tip Two Eat Less Meat and Dairy
This is another great thing with using Gousto. We can easily select vegetarian or plant based meals as they have separate categories for these. It’s just one of those conveniences that has really worked in reducing our meat intake. We always wanted to try more vegetarian and vegan dishes, we bought recipe books and tried to cook things but it never worked out that successful. The Gousto variety really helped us. We now always start with at least one vegetarian or vegan dish each week, but we’re trying to increase this, some weeks if the meals look good we’ll go for two or three. We then pick a fish based dish and then a chicken or turkey dish. We rarely ever eat red meat now, once every couple of months really but even so we’re trying out the ‘meat-free’ mince to replace these dishes even.
Dairy is a tougher one. We have two young kids and I still believe that whole fat milk is very important for their nutrition. It provides a good balance of protein, fat, calcium and vitamins. I continue to read up on research and I’m comfortable with properly sourced Soy milk being the next best alternative so this is something I am switching to as much as possible, I now use it form breakfast, porridge etc. But I prefer a dash of whole milk in my coffee if I’m honest.
Improvements: As the kids get older I think we can definitely switch to soy milk more. We do still eat about one block of cheddar cheese a fortnight, we’ve tried vegan cheeses in some of our meals and I don’t mind it. It’s something we need to try and source more easily or just reduce our cheese eating, its something we could mostly ditch I reckon.
Food Tip Three Add Some Variety
Think this is mostly covered above. Our three to four Gousto meals are different every week and they are always changing their menu’s too so it keeps things changing.
Stuff Tip One Buy One Expensive Thing
This is probably the biggest area that I think could be improved. This section was skewed a little bit when doing this calculation as we recently purchased a new iPad and iPhone for the household due to home schooling. It wasn’t 100% necessary as we could have coped without for sure but it was one of those decisions we made after weighing up the pros and cons. Now when it comes to fashion… well we’re not uber fashionable and we don’t spend a lot of clothing but when we do, we tend to buy in sales to reduce cost, but this doesn’t always fit with the most environmental option. We try to make our clothes last as long as possible though. I still wear t-shirts that are over 15 years old. My wife has work wear that goes back nearly 10 years. It’s not about looking scruffy, we just try to opt for better quality to make things last.
After recently reading this blog post by I Dress Myself I realised I need to be paying a lot more attention to the materials our fashion items are made from, particularly when it comes to man made substances like polyester. We also need to be more conscious of what happens with them afterwards. We’ve previously donated items to charity or used H&M’s garment collection scheme of returning a bag of clothing to receive a credit note. Further than this, you may notice on my shop I’ve started selling T-shirts. These are all organic cotton and made by Teemill who use a completely circular chain so when a T-shirt is finished with you can return it, get a replacement with a credit note and they recycle your old one all within their factory. IT really is the future of fashion.
Stuff Tip Two Buy Second Hand
We have two young children so they grow quickly and require bigger sizes, for their needs we try to get use hand me downs or buy second hand but it isn’t always possible and when your son is footie crazy and mostly dresses in footie tops this is harder too. When we do buy new for them again we aim for a better quality item to last a lot longer and we can pass them on to others to use. Most other ‘stuff’ items we buy are second hand where possible. To be honest, the motivation for this hasn’t been environmental, it’s been cost saving, especially when it comes to toys and technology items. I was brought up with little spare money and it teaches you a lot about being resourceful and that second hand is just as good and much better value. Certain modern technology items you have to be careful with though, they tend to build in a lifetime to products these days which really frustrates me. This is based on the idea that software updates etc won’t work on older devices. Again, it’s one of those things to weigh up. If you’re going to be using an item a lot and it’s important for a job etc then you need it to be kept secure and unto date so it can be tough.
Improvements: In terms of other fashion items, like trainers and other ‘stuff’, I now follow B Corporations (take some time to look into them) they are basically companies that aim for higher sustainability standards and aren’t just all about turning a high profit. I also follow things like the Triodos bank ethical investment fund to see which companies they deem to be ‘better’ in relation to consumer goods. These are all important steps to make sure the ‘stuff’ I’m buying is as sustainable as possible and money that is better spent to reduce the carbon impact.
I really hope you’ve stuck with me on exploring this subject and I hope you will go and do your calculation. I hope you will share the results with friends and family too (and me, please), it really interests me.
The only way to solve the climate issues and restore life balance is by being open and honest and working together. This isn’t a shaming exercise or a ‘I’m better than you’ result. We all have work to do, nothing is perfect. Just one small change by all of us can have a big impact.
One last thought: Please also remember, the biggest change you can make with relatively little effort is to vote for those with the power to enact much bigger impacts on heavy industry, airlines etc. That vote is free to use and has huge effect. No votes coming up? Support the parties who want to enact change, contact your local MP, let them know you care and you want to see change. Don’t let up, when you don’t get a good reply. We have to keep believing there is a better future ahead to protect aand grow with mother nature.