Avoid or reduce the unnecessary

Recently we learned about the carbon mitigation hierarchy,and that the most impactful thing we can do is to avoid or reduce ourconsumption.

This week let’s delve into this topic a bit further, and explore some simple and meaningful ways we can avoid or reduce consumption.


1.      Avoid unnecessary purchases

Pretty simple, right? Well, maybe not, as research shows our consumption habits are often a way we try to elevate our own personal status.

Consider some advice from Christiana Figueres, who led the UN Paris Agreement negotiations between 192 countries (talk about herding cats!). She says that “much of what we buy is designed to enhance our sense ofidentity”, and that we can live good lives without depending on being materialistic.

Check out the trailer for this great documentary shining alight on over-consumption - The Minimalists.  It brings awareness to the point that you simply don’t get happier by consuming more, and that “this same thing that’s not making us happy, is also causing the degradation of our habitat”.

It’s as simple as asking yourself “do I really need this?”, before you tap your card.


2.      Reduce energy use at home

Energy is one of the largest household expenses, as well a sthe largest contributor to your carbon footprint.  And even if you’ve taken the fantastic step to power your home with carbon neutral energy, it’s still costing you money. So,the less of it you use, the more you save.

Yes, we all know to turn the TV and the lights off when we leave the room, but it’s also about choosing more efficient lighting and appliances when buying from the outset.

For example, a big user of energy in our homes is the fridge. Luckily us Australians have that handy star rating on our appliances to help us quickly understand how efficient it is. But did you know, each star our fridge has represents a 20% reduction in the energy used to run it? So, a 4-starfridge should use about 60% less energy than a 1-star fridge. On average, that represents over $110 in electricity savings per year.

Some other ideas:

  • If you’re cooling or heating your home, be sure to keep your doors and windows closed so you don’t lose all that cold or hot air,and use a programmable thermostat
  • Wash clothes in cold water and hang dry them
  • Use a dishwasher instead of hand washing
  • About 10% of the energy used by our electronics is used while they’re turned off. This is sometimes referred to as ‘ghost power’, which is a fancy way of saying ‘wasted power’. Switch off power points or unplug electronics when not in use

star rating systems make it easy to understand how planet-friendly our appliances are


3.      Reduce water use

We Australians understand the importance of saving water –over 90% of NSW remains in drought even after recent heavy downfalls. One thing that is less understood is the carbon impact of our water use. It takes lots of energy to manage our dams, pump it to our homes, and finally to treat our used water and sewage. Unless your city and council source all their energy renewably, we’re likely burning coal to treat and move all that water. Reduce water use, reduce your carbon footprint.


4.      Reduce food waste

The UN says “if food waste was a country, it'd be the #3global greenhouse gas emitter”.

Food can be tossed at the farm, spoiled in transit or wasted in our fridges (food waste makes up about 37% of your red bin).

If we could stop wasting food, not only would we reduce carbon emissions when this food is rotting, we would avoid related carbon emissions from the packaging, transportation and refrigeration of this unnecessary waste.

Here are some simple ways we can reduce the waste:

  • Plan ahead, buy only what you need
  • Use your freezer, extend the shelf life of food considerably
  • Get creative with leftovers, find new recipes to use ingredients you have
  • Blend, bake, or boil – use overripe produce in smoothies, bread, jams, sauces, or soup stocks

food waste makes up 37% of our red bins


5.      Travel less, or differently

Here are a few quick tips:

  • Work from home when you can, instead of commuting to the office
  • Leverage tools like Zoom or Skype instead of driving or flying to a meeting
  • Walk wherever you can, cycle if it’s too far to walk
  • Take public transit if you’re travelling long distances,and if you must take a car grab a few mates or colleagues and carpool

Flying should be a last resort because in many cases as it’s a highly carbon intensive way to travel. When you absolutely must, fly non-stop instead of taking lay-overs as planes use much more energy during take-off and landing. And fly economy, as it emits about 1/2 to 1/3 of the carbon as flying business or first class.

While the recent COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating, with many people now confined to their homes the uptake in video-conferencing and remote-working has been massive. We’re proving it’s a viable, flexible, and productive way to work – and there are no train delays or jet lag to worry about! This big habit change has been thrust upon us, but if we can keep it up long after we get past this pandemic it will be a win for us, and the planet.


6.      Buy better, and rent when possible

When we do need to buy something, there are two key ways we can reduce the carbon footprint of our products.

First, reduce packaging. This this can take many forms, such as avoiding the plastic produce bags at the supermarket (most fruit and veg comes with protective skin or peel already so there’s no need to bag it), avoiding ‘double bagged’ goods (like small bags of crisps in a larger bag,or a single Big Mac order in a takeaway bag), or bringing reusable containers to scoop & pay stores (e.g. scoopwholefoods.com.au), your butcher, fishmonger, and cheesemonger.

Loop by TerraCycle could be launching in Australia later this year


Second, buy goods that are made to last. It’s tempting to spend only $15 on a cheap toaster to save a few bucks, but we all know it will be worn out in a year or two. Instead, spend a bit more for a trusted brand and product built to stand the test of time. Don’t try to save a few dollars only to pay twice! The EU has recently tabled new laws to end ‘throwaway culture’ on a number of items like phones, clothes, batteries, and packaging, and until Australia does the same it’s up to us as consumers to take action.

Third, buy pre-loved.

  • Fashion: is a great place to start.Globally the industry accounts for 10% of carbon emissions. Much of that is caused by ‘fast fashion’, our need for lots of new items we may never wear.There used to be 2 fashion seasons, spring/summer and autumn/winter, but now there are 52 micro-seasons – 1 for each week of the year! Next time you’re in need of a new look, head to Facebook Marketplace or specialty shop.
  • Cars: are another great example. New cars can drop in value by up to 10% after 1 month from purchase, and up to 20% after1 year. Talk about a bad investment. If you need wheels check carsales.com.auor equivalent. If you buy used from a dealer, often it comes with a warranty and fresh detailing.
  • Phones: lastly, how about something much dearer to all of us. Each year the major phone companies try to convince us they’ve just released the greatest technological advancement since a bread slicer – e.g. 4 cameras instead of 3! – but often it’s just marketing hype. If you’re looking to upgrade your phone game, why not try a refurbished phone. They’re cheaper, usually come with a 12-month warranty, and often are just as good as last year’s model.

Rent when possible. Much of what we buy we use only a few times, and leave it to collect dust at the back of the closet or shed most of the time. Next time we’re in need of something, why not rent it from someone nearby? Here are some great local options:

  • Glamcorner: we’ve mentioned this before as a great option for clothes rental
  • Gecko: rent everything from power tools,garden tools, furniture, camera equipment, and the list goes on
  • Carnextdoor.com.au: only need a car for an afternoon or quick IKEA run, then why not borrow a car from someone nearby
  • Library: why buy a book when your library will give it to you for free?

And don’t forget, for the all the things you already own,why not rent them out and make some money?!

look good, feel good, save money


Don’t worry about trying to incorporate all of this at once,it’s too much! Instead, focus on 1 or 2 that sound interesting and try them out for a week. If you enjoy, keep doing it and then add 1 or 2 new changes and see how you go. Before you know it, you’ll have saved a tonne of carbon, and importantly, a bucket-load of money!

Keep it clean, keep it green 🌱


Neil McVeigh