How Can I Become Carbon Neutral?
Updated: Apr 7, 2022
You might have noticed that more and more products, organisations, and individuals are being labelled as ‘carbon neutral’. But what does that mean and how can you become carbon neutral yourself? Continue reading through our ultimate guide on becoming carbon neutral to find out.
Almost all of our everyday activities produce emissions which are released in the atmosphere. The rapid climate change we are now seeing is caused by humans using oil, gas and coal for their homes, factories and transport. When these fossil fuels burn, they release greenhouse gases - mostly carbon dioxide (CO2). These gases trap the sun's heat and cause the planet's temperature to rise.
Temperature rises must slow down if we want to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, scientists say. They say global warming needs to be kept to 1.5C by 2100.
Reducing and offsetting our emissions are necessary actions we need to take in order to prevent the devastating effects of climate change.
Humanity is beyond the point of no return when it comes to halting the melting of permafrost. Even if human-caused greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced to zero, global temperatures may continue to rise for centuries afterward, a new study shows. This is why it’s important that each one of us focuses on not only reducing their emissions, but also on removing CO2 emissions via carbon offsetting.
What does ‘carbon neutral’ mean?
A carbon neutral person is someone whose individual CO2 emissions have been fully compensated for somewhere else. This means that the total amount of CO2 you produce through your everyday actions has been matched and removed somewhere else on Earth, achieving a balance in the total emissions in and out. The same applies to products, organisations or countries.
Imagine a seesaw - on one side you have your personal CO2 emissions that come from travel, diet and energy consumption. On the other side you have actions which remove these emissions, such as planting trees. When the amount of carbon emissions you produce is the same as the amount of emissions you remove, you become carbon neutral.
Am I carbon neutral?
It’s easy to confuse the huge sacrifices we make for the environment with actually being carbon neutral. For example, many people think that recycling every little bit of plastic and paper will significantly reduce their environmental impact but that is a widespread misunderstanding. In fact, even if you recycled 100% of your waste, you’d only reduce your carbon footprint by 0.2 tonnes of CO2 which is just 2% of the average UK carbon footprint.
Unless you already proactively offset your carbon footprint, you are almost certainly not carbon neutral. Even if you live off the grid, grow your own vegetables and farm your own animals, there are still many ways in which you create greenhouse gas emissions. Below we look into the breakdown of your carbon footprint and which areas of your life contribute the most to it.
What is my carbon footprint?
The average person in the UK has a carbon footprint of 13.4 tonnes of CO2.
Your carbon footprint is made up of emissions arising from your:
While in some of those areas you can reduce your environmental impact, there are still emissions which are unavoidable. No matter what, you still need to eat something and live somewhere.
You can use a carbon footprint calculator to estimate your own footprint. However, the carbon calculators that you find on the internet aren’t very accurate. Online carbon calculators use averages when adding up your emissions, for example not all beef emits exactly the same amount of emissions. They also fail to calculate every action you take - for example buying flowers is a hidden source of emissions. Almost every calculator only considers emissions occurring within your own country but ignores the environmental impact of imported items you buy - whether that’s fruit, clothes or electronics. The Global Carbon Atlas provides data on each country’s “emissions transfers” which should be considered when calculating your personal carbon footprint. If you add the data from these consumption-based emissions, the UK carbon footprint per capita rises by a further 4.85 tonnes of CO2.
Every little action you take has an impact. For example, charging your phone once a day creates 2.9kg of CO2 per year. If you were to compensate for these emissions you’d need to plant 0.3 trees. Your average household washing machine creates 51kg of CO2 per year, which takes approximately 5.1 trees to offset. Finally, thirty minutes of Netflix a day creates 584kg of CO2 per year, needing 58.4 trees to offset.
The best way to know exactly how big your carbon footprint is is to go through a full ‘carbon audit’. However, carbon audits are very time consuming and expensive.
How can I become carbon neutral?
To become carbon neutral, you will need to reduce your CO2 emissions to zero. Many people choose to reduce their emissions as much as possible and then to offset their unavoidable carbon emissions. The average person in the UK produces 13.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.
Here are the most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
1. Live car free (2.4 tonnes of CO2 reduced per year, 18% of carbon footprint)
Going carless for a year could save about 2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to a 2017 study.
Using public and shared transport is much better for the environment than owning a car yourself. How can you stop using a car? Try taking a train, bus or better yet, ride a bike. If you must own a car, consider carpooling when commuting to reduce the overall impact.
You should also look to buy an electric car next time you upgrade. Using an electric car on average can reduce your emissions by 1.3 tonnes.
2. Avoid flying (1.6 tonnes of CO2 reduced per year, 12% of carbon footprint)
Do you fly often? Taking one fewer long round-trip flight could shrink your personal carbon footprint significantly. Jet fuel is one of the most polluting substances on the planet. You can avoid the costly flight in a few clever ways - you can holiday within the UK (there are some AMAZING and sunny places right here!), you can take the ferry, or you can take trains abroad such as the Eurotunnel.
3. Change to a green energy provider (1.4 tonnes of CO2 reduced per year, 10% of carbon footprint)
If you want to contribute towards a greener world, there are not many easier ways to start than by changing your energy supplier to one that provides renewable energy. You'll be surprised to know that a lot of energy suppliers these days offer 100% renewable electricity tariffs, so when asking who the best green energy supplier is, you could be looking a long time for answer. Check out this list of green energy providers in the UK before making your informed choice.
4. Switch to a plant-based diet (0.8 tonnes of CO2 reduced, 6% of carbon footprint)
While food systems are complicated, and research is still evolving on what the most environmentally-friendly diet is, experts mostly agree that cutting down on meat is a better choice for the environment.
Red meat is the worst for the environment, with beef being up to 8x more polluting than pork or chicken. This is because the production of red meat uses a lot of feed, water and land. Cows themselves also give off methane emissions (an extremely harmful greenhouse gas).
For that reason, eating a vegan diet is likely to be best for the environment, say experts. According to a study published in 2017 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, red meat can have up to 100 times the environmental impact of plant based food. According to some estimates, beef gives off more than 2.7 kg (6 lbs) of carbon dioxide per serving; the amount created per serving by rice, legumes carrots, apples or potatoes is less than 200g (half a pound).
Switching over to a vegetarian or vegan diet is often very difficult for people. You do not need to make a complete switch immediately or perfectly. Every little bit you do will be helpful. Why not start with one vegetarian meal per week at first. Introducing a vegetarian meal can be an exciting update to a dull routine and you will help the environment too.
5. Offset your unavoidable emissions (13.4 tonnes of CO2 reduced, 100% of carbon footprint)
Sometimes you cannot avoid doing things that contribute to your carbon footprint, but you can support projects and initiatives that offset these emissions. No matter what, you still need to eat something and live somewhere and those activities do have some emissions.
The easiest and best way to make yourself carbon neutral is to offset your emissions.
Offsetting is investing in projects that reduce carbon emissions and take out pollution from the atmosphere. Examples of offsetting projects include supplying efficient stoves to homes in Eritrea, or providing renewable energy to families in Uganda. These projects not only have environmental benefits but also co-benefits that target the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, such as biodiversity protection and support for local communities.
Offsetting your carbon footprint is the easiest way to ensure that 100% of your personal emissions have been compensated for and you are no longer contributing towards the harmful greenhouse gases which cause climate change. Even if your carbon footprint is much smaller, by offsetting the UK average carbon footprint of 13.4 tonnes, you’re creating an extra positive climate impact.
ZeroSmart offers individual and family subscription plans to reduce 100% of your carbon footprint to zero and make you carbon neutral. Our carbon offset gifts are a kind way of showing someone you understand their climate anxiety.