8 ways to cut your carbon footprint

Women and boy standing in front of the carbon calculator table, which is laid with different cards.
The Carbon Calculator team in action at Imperial Festival

Liam Flanagan, Research Postgraduate on the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP (SSCP DTP), lists his top 8 ways to cut your carbon footprint.

Which has a bigger carbon footprint – the United States or Australia[1]? Eggs or cheese[2]? Drying your hands using paper towels or a Dyson Airblade dryer[3]?

These are just the sorts of questions that make up ‘The Carbon Calculator’, a game developed by students on the SSCP DTP as part of the Challenge Team training component, which promotes working across disciplines and outreach. The game was designed to kick-start conversations about climate change and encourage participants to consider how much different lifestyle choices can contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. It uses a variety of data sources including ‘How Bad are Bananas?’* a book by Prof. Mike Berners-Lee.

The game proved popular at Imperial Festival earlier this year, with some answers that surprised festival-goers – did you know that locally brewed cask ale has a lower carbon footprint than bottled beer? Encouragingly, many participants were keen to know more about how to cut their carbon footprint and impact on global warming. So, as requested, here are some simple steps you can take:

  1. Think carefully about your A to B

Transport now accounts for 26 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – but changes to your daily routine could make a big difference to your personal carbon footprint. Try to walk or cycle anywhere within a two-mile radius of your house – it will keep you fit as well as cutting your carbon footprint! For longer journeys, use public transport, or team up with friends to ‘carpool’. If you do have to drive, make sure the tyres are fully pumped, and that the oxygen sensors are in good order; this can improve the cars fuel mileage and efficiency by up to 3% and 40% respectively.

  1. Reduce your meat and dairy consumption

beef lentils


Meat and dairy have an enormous environmental footprint – avoiding such products is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on the planet. A recent analysis showed that beef results in up to 105kg of greenhouse gases per 100g of protein, while tofu produces less than 3.5kg per 100g of protein. And, reducing your meat and dairy consumption is not just good for your carbon footprint – eating green has a myriad of health benefits too.

  1. Go local


Buy locally-produced, seasonal food and drink. The produce will travel far less ‘food miles’ before arriving at your plate, therefore cutting your carbon footprint – and it will be fresher. More tips on how to make sustainable food choices here.

  1. Take control of your energy consumption

It’s all too easy to forget to turn the lights off, or habitually leave the air conditioning on when you go out – but now, we have technology to counter our absent-mindedness. Smart meters give you instant control of your energy use from a smart phone, so you can make sure you only use what you need – reducing your carbon footprint and saving money at the same time!

  1. Support clean energy

Consider changing your energy supplier – there are now numerous companies that use clean, renewable energy sources and are similar in price to traditional suppliers.

  1. Quit wasting water

You may not think your use of water would impact your carbon footprint, but energy is required whenever water is moved uphill, treated, heated, cooled or pressurised. The Energy Trust developed a Water Energy Calculator that estimates, per household, the quantity of water and energy used, and the amount of carbon emitted, and provides recommendations of simple steps you can take to clean up your act.

  1. Reuse and recycle

Manufacturing has a hefty carbon footprint – the extraction, refinement and processing of raw materials all requires a lot of energy, and impacts hugely on our environment. Avoid throw-away products; for example, by swapping disposable coffee cups and plastic containers for reusable alternatives, like Keepups and Tupperware; be careful about how you get rid of things you no longer need; for example, some shops offer in-store recycling, while certain brands are trialing a ’refurbished garments’ service.

  1. Before you book a flight, consider the alternatives

Many people are aware that flying has a high impact when it comes to carbon emissions. Although air travel can sometimes be unavoidable, in many cases there are other options. When travelling around the United Kingdom and Europe, make the most of the railways. Compared with the queues, delays and stress of a short haul flight, train travel can be a relaxing, civilised alternative. Or, for a more economical option, travel by bus.

Two people talking and smiling, standing in front of the carbon calculator game

At Imperial Festival, lots of ‘Carbon Calculator’ participants said they would be prepared to make changes to their lifestyle to cut their carbon footprint – some motivated by a desire to reduce their impact on the environment, others by economic or health-based reasons, like saving money or losing weight.

It goes to show that cutting your carbon footprint is not only good for the environment, but has multiple benefits that will improve your lifestyle and help make the world a better place. It’s a win-win-win!

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* A similar, independently-developed carbon footprint game entitled ‘How Bad are Bananas?’, based on the eponymous book, was previously created by Anja Fischenich (formerly of LSBU) and is now marketed and sold in the UK by Future We Want.


[1] Australia, with 18.62 metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita per year; compared with 16.07 metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita per year for the United States
[2] Cheese, with 13.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide produced per kilogram of cheese; compared with 4.8 kilograms of carbon dioxide produced per kilogram of eggs.
[3] Drying your hands with one paper towel, which equates to 0.010 kilogram of carbon dioxide; compared with drying your hands with a Dyson Airblade, which equates to 0.003 kilogram of carbon dioxide.

One thought on “8 ways to cut your carbon footprint

  1. This is an intersting article. More ways to cut carbon footprint:
    1. Stop using social networks
    …We estimate the total energy consumption for uploading and downloading photos on Facebook in one year to be about 304GWh. By comparison, according to Facebook, it consumed about 500GWh of energy in 2012 for the IT facilities in its data centres. So total Facebook consumption is 804 GWh
    2014 14th IEEE/ACM International Symposium on Cluster, Cloud and Grid Computing
    Wylfa Nuclear power station (Anglesey)
    Power generation: Units operational 1 x 490 MW; Nameplate capacity 980 MW; Annual generation8,395 GWh
    So total Facebook consumption is 1/10 nuclear power station.
    2. Stop using digital photography
    I have the (horrendous) data.

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