Quick Tips for Major Eco-Footprint Reduction

In this blog, and in my book, I give tips on how to cut your eco-footprint to 10 percent of the US average. That’s the level of carbon reduction specified by George Monbiot in his book HEAT: How To Stop the Planet from Burning.

That book sparked the grassroots lifestyle movement known as the Riot for Austerity (AKA 90 Percent Reduction Challenge), which I often refer to in this blog and in my book. (This movement was actually the inspiration for my book, and later, this blog.)

Although 10 percent is the level deemed by climate activist and journalist Monbiot as essential to even open up the possibility that human life will survive on this planet, I’m a firm believer in the idea that everyone has to start somewhere. And I think that if everyone were cutting their footprint by even 10 or 20 percent, we’d see radical changes in market demand, and therefore in planetary ecosystems. Look at the improvements we’ve seen in air and water quality, and wildlife sightings near human settlements, since the Covid pandemic significantly curtailed manufacturing and transportation demand. This happened without most people even trying to reduce their footprint in other areas — and there are many other areas besides transportation and manufacturing where we can make a difference via our everyday choices.

On that note, I want to offer you some quick tips for making major reductions in your footprint. By undertaking these to the extent that you are willing/able, I estimate that you can quickly reduce your footprint to 50 percent of the US average, or even 20 percent. That last few percent down to 10 can be a little trickier, but here are the big fruit.

ELECTRICITY: 1) Minimize use of forced-air heat in your home. (Obviously easier in warmer climates, but even people living in colder climates can make significant reductions. Heat with deadwood if that’s an option. And portable electric radiators are an energy-efficient way to heat just your immediate surroundings.) Learn to live without air conditioning. 2) Wash your clothes in cold water, and line-dry them. 3) Turn off your water heater, or turn it on only during the time window you are using it to take showers; switch it off the rest of the day. Use hot water only for showers, and keep your showers short.

HOME OIL/GAS: Tips for big reductions are the same as for reducing electricity.

GASOLINE: Cut short-distance car trips. A disproportionately large share of car trips are less than 5 miles (more than 35 percent of motor vehicle trips are under 2 miles), and those short trips consume proportionately more fuel than long-haul trips. Live near where you work and shop. You can take a few long-distance trips a year and still keep your transportation footprint at around 20 to 50 percent of the US average. Avoid traveling by air. If you have to fly, purchase carbon offsets.

WATER: Use no automated irrigation outdoors. Replace lawn with native & waterwise plants. Water your food garden with a hose or watering can, and use the minimum needed. Use water only for bathing, cooking, drinking, toilet-flushing. “If it’s mellow, let it yellow” can save you many gallons of toilet flush water a day.

WASTE/TRASH: Biggest reduction in household trash volume and weight comes from composting your food scraps instead of throwing them away. Also, minimize purchase of packaged foods and other items in plastic packaging.

FOOD: Grow some of your own food if you can. Whatever you can’t grow, buy as much as possible from local farmers. Avoid buying “faraway food” (fruit from thousands of miles away, etc.); eat what’s in season where you are. Reduce meat and dairy intake.

CONSUMER GOODS: Ask yourself if you really want or need the item. Repair rather than buy new if possible. Buy used rather than new. (Lots of people are doing this already, for economic reasons as well as footprint.)

These tips will allow you to radically cut your footprint in a hurry. Even if you can only do some of them, don’t be discouraged. Most of us have trouble making cuts in one category or another.

For lots of tips, from people all over the world, about reducing consumption and waste (and therefore cutting your carbon footprint) in every area of daily life, I recommend the Facebook group Zero Waste, Zero Judgment.

Also, you might enjoy reading my book DEEP GREEN. (Available in print, as a PDF, or free right here online on this blog.)