How can an average UK household reduce their carbon footprint?

The average UK household has a footprint of around 20 tonnes. Now it is true, that this is well below USA emissions as that is for 4 people – so average emissions of around 5 tonnes per head.

However, with relatively small adjustments, this can be cut dramatically. 12.3% of emissions come from heating, and a further 10.4% comes from electricity.

Furthermore, a significant cut can be made through replacing beef mince with Turkey mince. This can reduce your food carbon footprint by as much as 50%, and given that most mince is eaten in dishes with other foods, it is often unnoticeable

In our household, we are making an effort to tackle both these. 

  • Firstly, power provider. We get our energy from octopus. Apart from guaranteeing that our electricity comes from a renewable sources (solar or similar – useful if you have solar panels, as they have a tariff where they pay the same price for exciting electricity you pay for importing 5p) they also properly offset any gas use through a first replanting effort in the Amazon basin.
  • Secondly, generating your own power. Both for environmental and cost reasons, we are in the process of installing thermal solar (through the green housing Grant) and photovoltaic solar. The thermal solar should reduce our has usage by as much as 70%. Given octopus one in one out pricing, our electricity would hopefully fall dramatically. While 2.9kwh is never going to be enough to cover all our electricity needs (particularly if in the future, we have the money to transfer to an electric car), it should be enough currently to also cut out emissions by a similarly significant amount. As our thermal solar is coming through a government program, and the photovoltaic solar is second hand (and will be installed alongside the thermal solar) our household is likely to be in profit within a couple of years.
  • Thirdly, insulation. We live in a concrete build house. While these are cheap and easy to build, often the insulation they have is poor. As they are solid construction, there is no wall cavity to fill with insulation. Therefore the only way to insulate walls, is to do so internally or externally. Our approach will be piecemeal, as this can be highly expensive, however even by only adding insulation when doing work can make a difference (we are about to insulate perhaps 10% of our walls, but this will reduce our heating requirements significantly and it is a badly designed section of the house for heat retention. Lost insulation, also has rapid payback times (and carbon footprint reductions)
  • Fourthly diet. By switching from been mince to Turkey mince, we have cut our food carbon footprint by…..  Your diet carbon footprint can also be cut in other ways. We have a series of fruit trees – greengage, grape vines, and blackberry and raspberry bushes. Any fruit you grow yourself, has an essential negative carbon footprint, as travel miles are zero and the trees themselves suck in carbon. Reducing food waste, by using leftovers at later meals (as well as planning) can reduce waste and cost of feeding you and your family, alongside cutting your carbon footprint. Eating foods that are in season also has a huge impact, as out of season foods have often been flown long distance.
  • Fifth, repair reuse and recycle. A great deal of the world carbon is emitted when making things. Most broken items can be mended and this not only saves carbon but also money. Slowly repair is getting better – many items are intentionally manufactured with a shorter lifespan – we should look at this as theft (not only does this mean huge additional unneeded emissions worldwide, but it requires us to buy a replacement and with brand loyalty this is often from the same manufacturer, so by halving lifespan they double income). Pressure is on manufacturers to improve repairability, and brands building planned obcelesence into their products should be boycotted until their behaviour change. When any item does reach the end of its life, recycling the materials used is far less carbon intensive than mining more (often recycling can save more than 90% of emissions). While some of this is not in the hands of individual households, as a whole, pressure can force big changes from even the largest company (and often the cost is negligible or even negative). Even recycling glass and other household items cuts emissions

If each of these methods are used by a family, emissions can be reduced dramatically. We all need to make changes to how we live if we are to move to a net zero carbon emissions world. I have only listed simple changes you can make at home, and obviously they cannot reduce your while carbon footprint – though fully applied they can reduce your carbon footprint by as much as ….

Other changes we wish to make but haven’t yet, include an electric car. This is an expensive purchase, particularly if you have (as we have) always bought second hand. This is an expensive move, although in many electric cars this is hugely mitigated by up to 90% cheaper fuelling, dramatically reduced servicing requirements and as much as 50% higher lifespan (if you are like me, this saving could be even higher). Like me many people are hesitant, however, if you have the money for a brand new car you should be looking at electric.

One area which is harder is flying. Many people argue we should just not fly (Greta Thurnberg for instance) however this causes other issues. I have written on here about easyjets effort to build electric planes – which they aim to be able to use on 80% of flights. Not only does this cut emissions dramatically, and greatly improve efficiency (and reduce noise pollution amongst many others) but if electricity comes from green sources it can virtually eliminate carbon. However this only works on vaguely local flights. It’s range limits all but the shortest transcontinental flights – easyjets electric planes is claimed in places to have a range of 800 miles, though a range of 500km would cover the aimed 80% of routes. 

I have argued (and will continue to argue) that ecotourism must continue. Much of the natural world can only be protected through tourists flying to visit far flung destinations. 

Will it be possible to get to east Africa by electric planes? I could imagine a time in the future, where you plane hopped across to Africa, setting down 5 to 6 times on route to change batteries. While this might double flight time, many people would happily take longer. 

Until this is possible, I argue eliminating air travel is selfish – sure, you can cut your personal carbon emissions, but without visitors the future of ecosystems that currently act as essential carbon sinks is likely to be devastating. Offset your flights (properly, make sure your offset scheme removes carbon, not some other good work), reduce flights where possible – flights under 300 miles should be possible to drive in most cases, teleconferencing can replace much business travel, and combine reasons for flying as much as possible – even while continuing to support wilderness through tourism, many rich people can cut their flying carbon footprint in half at least without a dramatic change.

This is, I recognise a long article article. Unfortunately, however this is a significant issue. Even one of these issues if combated in every home which reads this article regularly, could make a difference of over 10,000 tonnes of carbon emissions – not to be sneezed at.

Now it should be noted that this article is written for a reader in the USA or Europe. People elsewhere should certainly reduce their carbon footprint as much as possible, however as their carbon footprint is smaller to start with it is less required.

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