Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenge and put the blame on others like businesses and governments - research has shown that 60-80% of our impacts on water and climate come from household consumption. This means that as individuals, if we change our consumption habits - the food we eat, the energy we use, and the things we buy - we can drastically reduce our environmental footprint and help solve climate change.
The Climate Neutral Now is a United Nations initiative that encourages all levels of society to take climate action to achieve a climate neutral world by mid-century. However, a recent wave of climate reports have concluded that if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we must keep global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Meaning - we’ve got 10 years (until 2030) to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. While government action is important, individual citizen action is absolutely necessary to achieve this goal.
Achieving climate neutrality now is not as hard as it may seem, and requires these steps:
Measure your greenhouse gas emissions. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.
Reduce your greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible. Based on what you emit more on, you can learn more about habit shifts and sustainable lifestyle tips below.
Offset the greenhouse gas emissions that you cannot avoid.
Share your journey with others and urge your family & friends to join the movement!
We all emit greenhouse gas emissions. However, Americans disproportionately emit more greenhouse gases every year (~60 tons carbon dioxide per household) in comparison to the world average (~18 tons carbon dioxide per household). The food we buy, the clothes we wear, the way we travel, and the way we live all contribute to our individual impact on climate change.
The first step to becoming carbon neutral is to measure how many greenhouse gases you release into the atmosphere. While there are many carbon calculators available, I personally like the Nature Conservancy’s carbon calculator, since it also accounts for greenhouse gas emissions from consuming goods and services (like food and household goods). This calculator also estimates how you can reduce your carbon emissions by taking action. If you reside outside the US & Canada - I recommend using the UN carbon footprint calculator. Just like clocking distances ran when training for a marathon or tracking your retirement fund - tracking your emissions over time is absolutely key for becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
Household Energy Consumption
The United States uses the most energy per capita in the world - meaning that individual Americans can make a big impact in decreasing global greenhouse gas emissions by taking individual action at home. The U.S. has always relied heavily on fossil fuels - such as natural gas, oil and coal - for energy production. But, the production of renewable energy resources keeps increasing. In 2017, 18% of energy production came from renewables. With better wind and solar technology on the market and federal tax breaks available, renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels!
Support Renewable Energy
Help achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 by supporting renewables!
Opt-in to a renewable energy program
examples: Monterey Bay, San Diego, and California
If you live in California, Texas or Toronto: You can sign up for OhmConnect to get notifications on your phone about when there is intense energy demand on the grid (meaning more dirty, expensive fossil fuel consumption). After you receive your Ohm alert (#OhmHour), community members reduce their energy use by turning off lights, turning down thermostats and not using electronics. If you’ve used less energy than you were forecasted to, you get rewarded with cash payments!
Explore roof-top solar (if you own your house)
EnergySage is a great website for getting a cost estimate (with 0% down loan options) and energy savings with solar installation. In 2020, you can deduct 30% of the solar installation cost from your federal taxes.
Tesla’s Powerwall is a sleek battery for your home. Great for storing solar energy during the day to use at night. Or a backup power supply in the event of an emergency or planned on-grid energy grid shut down (in California this is a new way to prevent wildfires during high wind events). If the home battery storage is linked up with on-site solar system, then it is also eligible for a 30% federal tax deductible.
Consider purchasing a monthly carbon offset subscription that invests in renewable infrastructure elsewhere (if you rent and can’t opt into a renewable energy program).
See a list of places to purchase offsets in the “OFFSET” section below.
Support companies that offset 100% of their carbon emissions by purchasing renewable energy
Google Cloud Platform - to run your compute, store your data and develop your applications - your digital footprint is offset with 100% renewable energy.
Lyft - all Lyft rides are carbon neutral, and has made Lyft one of the top 10 voluntary purchasers of carbon offsets on the planet. Lyft has also partnered with public transit agencies across the US, set a goal to achieve 50% shared rides by the end of 2020, and launched a bikes & scooters program.
Etsy - 100% of carbon emissions from shipping are offset, with no additional cost to the consumer. Message the seller you are buying from to request plastic-free packaging (e.g., paper envelopes, cardboard boxes, newspaper padding)
REduce Household ENERGY USage
Avoid using the clothes dryer
Hang clothes on an outdoor clothes line or indoor drying rack. I like loading up the laundry machine at night and delaying the start until the early morning, so I can hang the clothes up outside on our line before going to work. The clothes are usually dry at the end of the day.
Unplug electronics, kitchen appliances on the counter, and lights not in use
Devices plugged in can still use electricity even though they are shut off (this is called “vampire power”). Unplugging appliances or using a power strip can ensure electricity isn’t leaking.
Program the thermostat in the winter
Keep the house around 60-65 deg F when you are home, and down to 55 deg F at night and when you are out of the house. Wearing cozy slippers and a warm sweater in the house can keep you warm. Invest in a warm duvet for sleeping in bed.
Smart Thermostats (like Nest and ecobee) are programmable with your phone and can even program itself overtime. The energy savings can help pay for the device within 2-years and if you are a PG&E customer, you can get a $50 rebate.
Reduce energy use during peak hours (generally 4-7 pm) when energy demand on the grid is high (meaning more dirty, expensive fossil fuel consumption)
Eat dinner by candlelight
Delay dishwashers and laundry machines to start in off-peak hours (12:00 am to 8:30 am)
If you live in California, Texas or Toronto: You can sign up for OhmConnect to get notifications on your phone about when there is intense energy demand on the grid. After you receive your Ohm alert (#OhmHour), community members reduce their energy use by turning off lights, turning down thermostats and not using electronics. If you’ve used less energy than you were forecasted to, you get rewarded with cash payments!
Opt for a fan versus air conditioning in the summer
Keeping window shades down during the day can also help keep the house cool.
Switch to LED lightbulbs and choose Energy Star rated appliances
ReducE Food Waste
30-40% of all food is wasted. Wasting food is a waste of money, waste of land and water resources, contributes to food insecurity, and is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. This is because food thrown away into landfills generates methane gases, which are 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere. Take individual action by reducing food waste at home and composting food scraps.
Compost Food Scraps
- Compost in your backyard or indoor worm bin
- Find a Compost Pick-up or Drop-off Service
- Already Compost or want to find a compost in your neighborhood? Sharewaste.com matches individuals with food waste with those who are already composting.
- Check with local farmers’ markets, community gardens, urban farms, community centers, and friends/neighbors on NextDoor.
Buy only what food you need
Make a weekly dinner menu and shopping list before you go to the store
Store perishable food items properly
Inside the Fridge: Apples, berries, and cherries • Grapes, kiwi, lemons, and oranges • Melons, nectarines, apricots, peaches, and plums (after ripening at room temperature) • Avocados, pears, tomatoes (after ripening at room temperature) • Leafy greens (cut and stored in a plastic storage sealable bucket/bin; wash before eating) • most vegetables
Outside the Fridge: Bananas, mangos, papayas, and pineapples: store in a cool place • Potatoes / onions: store in a cool, dark place • Basil and winter squashes: store at room temperature— once cut, store squashes in fridge •Herbs (cut 1/4” off bottom stem and put in glass of water - like flowers)
Opt for grocery items with minimal and plastic-free food packaging
Avoiding processed and packaged foods is often a healthier option, too.
EAT a Plant-Based Diet
Studies have shown that adopting a vegan diet can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% and a vegetarian diet (includes cheese, milk, eggs) can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 63%. Re-framing meat as a delicacy, rather than a staple food is a crucial step for reducing individual greenhouse gas emissions. If being a vegetarian/vegan is too difficult, designate 1-2 meals per week with sustainably raised meat. Opt for chicken over beef, and when eating beef - choose grass-fed.
Support local organic agriculture
Shop at your local farmers market or signup for a Community Supported Agriculture program
Eat in season
berries in summer, squash in winter
Eat locally (select <10 items that can be imported - sugar, coffee, tea, flour, etc)
Eat organic food
Some fruits and vegetables require more pesticide use than others. Refer to the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists to see which fruits and vegetables you should prioritize buying organic.
Drink shade-grown and organic coffee
Shade-grown coffee protects 90% of forest habitat in comparison to the widely used Arabia coffee bean (monoculture, clear-cut forest variety). Research has shown that shade-grown coffee farms protect bird habitat and diversity, soil protection/erosion control, sequester carbon from the atmosphere, nature pest control, and improved pollination.
You can buy shade-grown coffee from Starbucks or one of the companies listed on the bottom of this website.
Try the Impossible Burger - a vegan burger that looks, feels, tastes and smells like ground beef, even though it's made entirely of plants. It's all thanks to science and genetically engineered yeast
Find a restaurant near you and keep a look out for it in grocery stores - it’s coming in 2019.
Explore making food from scratch
Many of these items are easy to make at home, require less packaging, taste better, and are cheaper!
Homemade popcorn (instead of chips) -try different flavors
Nut or oat (the barista’s choice for lattes) milk
Nut or seed butter (almond, cashew, sunflower)
Bread (easy or foodie) & Gluten-free
Soup Stock (beef/chicken, veggie, kombu dashi)
Veggie patties (Spinach & Quinoa, Smoky Beet Burgers)
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot
95% of all solid waste generated in the United States does not get recycled. And while recycling is important, the US continues to export its recyclables to China (because it’s cheaper to process), but recent tariffs and import bans are resulting in nearly half of our recycled products to end up in the landfill. Plastics are made of fossil fuels and take 500 years to degrade in a landfill. Plastic products are everywhere and so cheap that they are hard to avoid - like the food in the grocery store, straws at restaurants, to-go containers and coffee cups, children’s toys. Plastic pollution is a massive problem, especially in our oceans, threatening our food supply and health. The upside, is that individual households can drastically reduce plastic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by changing our consumption habits. Americans increasingly spend more money than they earn, saving only 6% of their income (less than $4,000 per year) for retirement and emergencies in 2018. Society (and marketers) tell us we are inadequate and need something we don’t have. But, research has shown that buying stuff does not make us happier. Over the past several years, the Zero Waste Lifestyle and Minimalism movements have been growing - helping individuals re-examine what is most important in life and reduce our environmental impact. Wasting less requires many habit shifts and is a journey. Enjoy the process, money savings, and simplicity it brings.
Watch this inspirational video about how Bea Johnson, founder of the Zero Waste movement, and her family of four have successfully reduced their yearly waste to fit in a mason jar.
She is proof that you don’t have to sacrifice comfort, style, or sanity to live a more sustainable life.
Refuse what you do not need and what can be replaced with a reusable alternative.
Be Prepared - create a zero-waste travel kit to bring along with you every day:
- water bottle
- coffee/tea mug
- portable utensils
- reuseable bag
- reusable straw (if you use straws)
Refuse single-use plastics (straws, plastic cups, utensils, coffee cup lids, to-go containers, bottled water)
@restaurants: “Drink with no straw, please”
@restaurants: opt for eating in, instead of take away
@restaurants: pick foods with less packaging (sandwich wrapped in paper versus a salad in a clamshell).
Stop junk mail
Follow these 6 steps to get off mailing lists to stop junk mail.
Only buy what you need
Declutter and simplify your life buy buying less stuff. Not to mention save more money.
Here are some inspiring resources:
Look for product with minimal packaging
See the Sustainable Products page for sustainable alternatives to the everyday things you need.
Buy higher quality clothing made of natural-fibers (organic cotton, linen, wool, silk, rayon). Avoid buying cheap, fast fashion items that are made of synthetic fibers (polyester, acrylic). New studies have found most of the plastic pollution in the ocean to be microplastics from washing polyester clothes.
Get multiple uses out of the same item
Buy used items
- Find a local second-hand shop
- Look for used items on Craigslist or FreeCycle
- Buy used items sold by independent businesses on Ebay or Amazon (and opt for slower 3-5 day ground delivery, rather than 1-2 day delivery). When ordering used items, send a message to the seller to request plastic-free shipping materials (e.g., paper envelopes, cardboard boxes, newspaper padding). Also, Amazon itself sells used and refurbished items:
Amazon Warehouse: Great deals on millions of quality used products including furniture, toys, instruments, kitchen appliances, clothes, and more. All items are inspected and graded using Amazon's rigorous 20-point inspection process and sold at a discount. Purchases are Prime-eligible, backed by our 30-day return policy and award-winning customer service.
Amazon Renewed: Shop refurbished, pre-owned and open-box products such as computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, cameras, audio devices, home appliances, and more. All products are professionally inspected and tested to work and look like new, and are backed by a minimum 90-day warranty, so you can shop with peace of mind and save on brands you love.
Certified Refurbished Amazon Devices: Shop certified refurbished Amazon devices like Echo, Fire Tablets and TV, Kindle E-readers, and more. Certified refurbished devices are eligible for the same limited warranty as brand new devices, or a 30% discount with a 30-day money back guarantee on pre-owned devices.
Use your local public library
Many libraries loan out books, music, movies, e-books, audible books, and some even have sewing machines and other equipment for rent.
Join or start a neighborhood sharing network
Tool Library - rent a tool (drill, hammer, power saw) instead of buying and storing one.
Little Free Library - a neighborhood book exchange - take a book, leave a book
NextDoor - a great app for digitally connecting with your neighbors, posting ads, etc.
5. Use reusable items
- Rechargeable batteries
- Beeswax wraps or tupperware containers instead of single-use aluminum foil (producing aluminum is extremely energy intensive!), ziplock bags, plastic wrap.
- Install a bidet on your toilet instead of using toilet paper. When using toilet paper opt for 100% post-consumer toilet paper (the scratchy stuff), since old-growth trees are being deliberately cut down to create the fluffy toilet paper.
- Cloth napkins and handkerchiefs instead of paper towels and tissue paper (opt for 100% post-consumer paper products, if not)
- Learn Furushiki - a traditional Japanese way of wrapping gifts using fabric.
- Use a cloth diapering service: [Bay Area] , [Bay Area - Marin], [NYC] (This is not an exhaustive list. Please do a google search to locate one in your local area)
- See the Sustainable Products page for more ideas
Repurpose old or broken items for another use (like old towels for rags) at home
Do it right
Learn about what is accepted at your local recycling program.
- Visit your municipality’s recycling center website. Wishful recycling (tossing items in the recycling bin that you hope are recyclable or think should be) could be contaminating recycling materials causing (literally) tons of recycled items to be sent to landfills instead of being recycled.
- Amazon Second Chance - learn about how to recycle Amazon packaging, trade-in/recycle/return items, and fix items
Explore other places to recycle everything else that’s not accepted by your local recycling program.
- Terracycle can collect and recycle almost any form of waste. They partner with individuals as well as major companies, retailers, manufacturers, cities, and small business to divert trash from being buried in landfills or burned in incinerators.
- Check out local major retailers (Best Buy, Home Depot, Staples) about recycling drop off services for batteries, electronic waste, and light bulbs
- Recycle your old electronic devices (example: Apple and Samsung)
Support products that source from recycled materials. Some examples:
Paper Culture - Plant a tree with every order, print on 100% recycled paper, offset their carbon footprint
Patagonia - you can buy used Patagonia clothes through their Worn Wear program.
Rothy’s - washable shoes that are made from 100% post-consumer plastic bottles.
let mother nature do its thing
Convert your bathroom trash can into a compost bin
Compost hair, nail clippings, cotton swabs, empty toilet paper rolls, and even floss. See the Sustainable Products page for ideas on compostable alternatives in the bathroom.
A to B
Carbon emissions from flying are nearly twice as potent as carbon emissions emitted on the ground (like driving, growing food, etc) because when you fly, the emissions are directly applied high into the atmosphere. Take less trips or take longer to get there by driving an electric/hybrid vehicle, taking a train or ferry/ship. And when you do fly - offset your emissions (see OFFSET section below for suggestions).
If you need a new car, buy a fuel-efficient one.
Avoid buying an oversized vehicle. Most driving happens over short distances and with light loads. Rent a larger car from U-haul or car rental company when you need to do a house project or drive up to the mountains.
Explore buying/leasing an electric car
Charging stations are available nationwide. There are also federal and state tax credits available.
Adopt efficient driving habits
Accelerate slowly, break less often, and keep your tires inflated properly
Become a one-car household
- Walk, bike or take public transit to run errands. Electric cargo bikes can transport up to 2 children and groceries on a single bike - a great option for families needing transport around town!
- Join a car-flex program, like Zipcar or Maven that also have electric and hybrid car options.
- Rent a larger car when you need one from U-haul or car rental company.
Traveling for Work
Reduce the commute
Balance work and life better by living where you want to work and play.
Walk, bike, take public transit, or carpool to work
Research has shown that people who walk and bike to work are happier.
WAZE - Find or start a carpool
JUMP - a nationwide electric bike sharing company
Work from home and telecommute to meetings
Talk to your employer about existing policies or request one. Even working from home one day a week can break up the rat race. Try using: Skype, Zoom, Google Duo
Minimize conference attendance
And if you are organizing an event - read this to make it a worthwhile experience for everyone
Take an Amtrak train for longer journeys instead of flying to business trips
Amtrak has destinations nationwide. Many trains have wi-fi, restaurant cars, and even sleeper cars. Enabling you to work enroute.
Traveling for Pleasure
Less is more. Select a destination with high walkability and public transportation options.
Take a staycation
Stay in the comfort of your own home and explore local attractions. Making a promise not to do chores and permitting yourself to eat out more is a great way to ensure it feels like a vacation.
What is a Carbon offset?
A carbon offset is a certificate representing the reduction of one metric ton (2,205 lbs) of carbon dioxide emissions, the principal cause of climate change.
What kind of Carbon offsets are there?
Capturing and destroying a greenhouse gas that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere. An example of this is a methane gas capture project at a landfill.
Producing energy using a clean, renewable resource that eliminates the need to produce that same energy from fossil fuels, the burning of which releases greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. An example of this is wind power.
Capturing and storing (or “sequestering”) greenhouse gases to prevent their release into the atmosphere. An example of this is a project that promotes the healthy growth and maintenance of forests.
Where Can I buy Carbon Offsets?
The following organizations maintain a portfolio of projects that meet international standards and are transparent.
CoolEffect - US and International projects focussed on clean energy technologies that enhance social well-being (like clean cookstoves and biogas digesters), forest conservation, and methane/nitrous oxide gas capture in communities. Over 90% of every dollar goes directly to projects.
TerraPass - US-based projects focused on landfill methane capture, wind turbine infrastructure, and forest restoration/afforestation.
CODE REDD - International projects that prevent deforestation, enhance forest conservation, and afforestation (planting trees).
Lead by example
Encourage others through your own actions.
Think global, act local
- Join a local climate action group via 350.org - find one near you
- Get your town or company to join the We Are Still In Coalition and declare that they will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement.
- Engage in your local politics. Here are some suggestions.
Celebrate the journey
The new skills you learn and habit shift you take to reduce your climate impact matters.
Change takes time. Focus on making changes within your spheres of influence. Spending time with friends/family, exercising, enjoying nature, and meditation can help you be more mindful about your intentions.