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How to reduce your carbon footprint

A few easy ways to do your part for the planet.

Before the global pandemic that has deeply altered the way we’re living now, climate change was considered by many to be the most pressing issue of our time. And with good reason: Scientists believe that global climate change is contributing to the melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels, and drastic — and possibly permanent — changes to the habitats of many plant and animal species, including humans. Put it all together, and you have an urgent global emergency on our hands.

Naturally, a worldwide problem can feel overwhelming for any individual to face. But collective action is based on the choices of many individuals, and there are things that you can do to help fight the good fight against climate change. Start with the basic science — carbon emissions are the root cause of rising temperatures. Essentially, carbon dioxide gets trapped in the atmosphere, warming the planet, a situation that can be astonishingly difficult to undo. But one thing that can help is to reduce the carbon we emit in the first place—down to zero, if possible.

That may or may not work with your lifestyle. But if you’re concerned about the planet’s future — and because you’re already interested in life insurance, one of the best ways to help take care of your family financially after you’re gone, we’ll assume that you plan for the future regularly— we wanted to provide a few ways you can reduce your carbon footprint. Here are those ways.

In this article:

Travel cleaner

While it’s true that people should avoid unnecessary air travel (and the recent rise in working from home has made us realize how much business travel is in fact unnecessary), the airline industry only accounts for 2.5% of global carbon emissions. The bigger problem is cars. In the U.S., the greatest source of carbon emissions is transport, and most of that comes from privately owned vehicles.

One of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to drive a lot less. To get a sense of how much impact that can have, consider that the COVID-19 lockdown caused America to reduce its overall carbon emissions by one-third during a week in April. Fewer cars on the road means a lot less carbon in the atmosphere. The greenest way to reduce dependence on your car is to bike and walk more, assuming you live in a place where that’s possible (various cities including Atlanta and Chicago have invested heavily in cycling infrastructure over the last few years). Bonus: Cycling or walking to work or to the store is more enjoyable than being in stuck traffic. It’s also good for your health, as well as the planet’s.

If pedal power isn’t an option for you, then take public transport whenever you can – it’ll reduce your transport emissions by at least half. Also, you’ll have more time to read. When you do drive, make sure your car is running as efficiently as possible – service it regularly and ensure your tires have enough air in them. Doing that improves fuel efficiency, which means less carbon coming out of your car and less cash coming out of your wallet at the pump.

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Eat less meat

Cows are docile, good-natured, delicious. It’s hard to see them as a threat to humanity, but beef production is environmentally catastrophic. Among other things, it leads to forest clearances, numerous types of pollution and a huge amount of methane entering the atmosphere (largely because of cows burping). According to a University of Michigan study, a serving of beef leads to 60 times the carbon emissions of a serving of vegetables and over five times as much as a serving of chicken. (As one wise person we know put it, it takes two years to grow a steak, and only two weeks to grow a radish.) We’re not suggesting you go vegan, but if you eat less meat, particularly beef, you’ll shrink your carbon footprint immediately. You might also shrink your waistline — the average hamburger is 20% fat.

Go green at home

According to the Department of Energy, mose energy use in the average American home is for heating, air conditioning and water heating. It’s easy to reduce consumption in all these areas without reducing quality of life. To keep the temperature comfortable indoors without blasting the heat or AC, insulate your home. If you own your place, that could mean replacing the insulation in your roof or installing double glazing. If you rent, it might be as simple as fixing the seals on doors and windows. Either way, use curtains or blinds to maintain a stable room temperature when you’re not home, and if you have a programmable thermostat, use it so that you’re not heating an empty house during the work day. (Note to pet owners: that animal is covered in fur, it’ll be fine if the mercury dips a little while you’re out).

Also, experiment with different temperatures for your water heater – it should be warm enough for you to shower when you want (120 degrees Fahrenheit should be fine), but there’s no need to have a tank of hot springs-ready water on the go 24-hours-a-day.

Another way to make your home more eco-friendly is to use less electricity. Turn off appliances when you’re not using them. (Yes, it sounds obvious, but how often do you leave your computer on overnight?) Replace old fridges and freezers (doing so can pay for itself in a few years because of the lower electricity bill) and do the same with light bulbs. LED lights use 85% less energy than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs and they last 25 times longer. If you’re streaming TV or movies, do it with your smart television, not a game console: consoles use around 10 times as much energy.

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Shop smarter

It’s hard to say definitively whether buying clothes online or in-person has a lower carbon footprint – it’s affected by a multitude of factors, and varies depending on the shopper. For example, did you take public transport from work to a store, pick something up and then continue on home? That would certainly use less packaging (meaning less carbon) and gasoline than buying something online and having it shipped to you in a box filled with packing peanuts. Or did you drive 25 miles to the nearest store to buy a couple of things? If so, it could have been more energy efficient for you to order them online and have them delivered by a shipper who is already bringing other things to your neighborhood, via the most efficient route possible. (Note that using next-day delivery involves more carbon emissions, as it makes it harder for your goods to be shipped in the most economical and energy efficient way.)

There are three key things to do when it comes to shopping and carbon emissions. The first is to try to shop efficiently: whether you’re shopping online or IRL, try to get as much as possible at the same time, thus reducing the amount of trips, fuel and packing materials needed.

The second thing is to buy better products. Sustainably-made and second-hand goods obviously have less environmental impact, but so do things that won’t need to be replaced: buying a cheap T-shirt that will soon have to be replaced by another cheap T-shirt does the Earth no favors. That means less fast fashion, and less flat-pack furniture that will only survive one move. It’s a way of shopping that means you’ll do less harm, and are more likely to end up with a house full of stuff you really like.

Speaking of “a house full of stuff,” the most important thing you can do when shopping is to just buy less. A Penn State study found that the average American household wastes around 30% of its food – that adds up to about $1,850 wasted per household per year, plus a lot of carbon entering the atmosphere for no reason. Beyond food, many of us buy things we don’t need, and if we carry out the simple exercise of really, really thinking about how much we want or require something before we click “checkout,” we’ll all end up with more money in our bank accounts and less carbon on our consciences. It’s important to note that buying less isn’t the same as just “keeping less.” if you’re in the habit of buying things in several sizes or colors, then using free returns for the rejected items, bear in mind that the returns may be free to you, but they have a significant environmental price in terms of the carbon emissions that result from the extra shipping and packing.

There is no magic solution for reducing our carbon footprints. We have to get to work somehow, we can’t arrive naked, and we are going to need lunch at some point. What’s important is to be honest with ourselves about the fact that most of what we do causes carbon emissions, and to behave mindfully to reduce them as much as we can.

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About Michael Davis

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Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Our disclosures

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.

Haven Life Plus (Plus) is the marketing name for the Plus rider, which is included as part of the Haven Term policy and offers access to additional services and benefits at no cost or at a discount. The rider is not available in every state and is subject to change at any time. Neither Haven Life nor MassMutual are responsible for the provision of the benefits and services made accessible under the Plus Rider, which are provided by third party vendors (partners). For more information about Haven Life Plus, please visit: https://havenlife.com/plus.html

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