Reducing our footprint

As we learned last week, we all have a carbon footprint influenced by the decisions we make every day, like how we travel, what we eat,and how we dress. For the average Australian, our carbon footprint is about 21tonnes of CO2.

Leading scientists say we need to get to 3.5 tonnes if we want to minimise the effects of climate change to something that is livable for many of us. Getting from 21 tonnes down to 3.5 tonnes is a big gap to bridge! On the surface it seems unachievable.

But great news, it’s not!

Thankfully, there’s a proven plan on how to reduce our carbon footprint, and it’s called the carbon mitigation hierarchy. It probably makes a little more sense when visualised, so here it is:


Don’t worry, it’s no pyramid scheme!  It makes total sense once we delve a little deeper.

The first and most impactful thing we can do is at the top is to stop or reduce our consumption. I know, not exactly what we all want to hear but don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds (more below).

But let’s face it, we all need power for our homes, clothe ourselves, travel and eat. So the next best thing to do is use products and services that are powered by clean energy, or were produced using clean energy during their manufacturing.  Think solar energy for your home or electric vehicles powered by renewable energy when travelling.  Such good and services are carbon neutral, and don’t add to your footprint.

Finally, where there are no carbon neutral, clean energy powered substitutes for the things we need today (e.g. flights), we should buy carbon offsets which reduce or remove the carbon that was emitted when producing these goods.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Eliminate or reduce consumption

We live in a world of over-consumption, and consumption is the key contributor to climate change. Consumption can take many forms, such as a dress we don’t need but bought on a whim, an extra-large meal we thought we were hungry for but didn't finish, or a new iPhone when our current one still takes amazing selfies.

The key thing to realise here is we don’t need to stop using the things we love, or buying new new things. But if we can stop consuming what we don't need, we eliminate the carbon intensive energy required to manufacture these unnecessary products.

For example, the carbon footprint of a $200 dress is about 27kg (the weight of a large dog). Let’s assume you wear it 5 times over the next year and then firmly place it at the back of the closet for the rest of its days. That works out to about $40 and 5 kg per wear. Now we wall want a new dress, but how about one of these great options:

  1. Repair or repurpose: patch those torn jeans, which no one will notice.
  2. Clothes rental: top fashion labels can now be rented. Keep your look fresh, save money, and the planet. Glam Corner is a local Sydney option.
  3. Buy pre-loved: many people buy clothes and never wear them, seriously! Check out Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, or even your local Vinnies for premium labels or vintage options.

Coming back to our food example, next time you’re eating out order a little bit less than what you had originally planned - you'll still be full, you'll save some money, calories, and there won't be anything headed for the bin.


Use products powered by, or manufactured with clean energy

One of Australia's energy experts, Simon Holmes a Court recently summed it up perfectly. "The first 70% of decarbonisation is straightforward. We electrify everything we can, and power these things with renewables".

While there aren't electric alternatives for everything we use today, there are plenty. Let's just make sure we're powering them with clean, renewable energy.

It is often similarly priced, and in some instances even cheaper than dirty coal-fired energy. Whether it's putting some solar on your roof, or switching to leading green energy providers, both of these options can reduce your carbon footprint dramatically.

Once you're home is powered with clean, renewable energy...

  • use electric garden tools instead of petrol ones
  • use an electric jug instead of boiling water over the gas stove
  • next time your renovating the kitchen, by an electric stove top
  • and yes, next time you upgrade your car, consider an electric vehicle

If there is something in particular you’re looking to replace with a green option, give it a Google search. No luck, let us know - we’re here to help!

Switching to renewable energy is one of the most impactful things we can do

Offset the rest

Unfortunately, there are still many things we buy and use today that just aren’t carbon neutral, and there is unlikely to be a green option for a while, for example:

  • Flights: whether for work, to visit family, or just explore, most of us fly. In the future we may have electric planes, but don't hold your breath
  • Public transit: most cars, buses and trains aren't yet electric. Few of us want to walk 10km to work each day, or feel safe on a bicycle
  • Food: whether you're a vegan or a carnivore, your diet is responsible for a large chunk of your footprint
  • Clothes: the only outfit we have that's carbon neutral is our "birthday suit", and not always an appropriate look

So what can we do?

Carbon offsets (aka carbon credits) are programs or projects that reduce, or even remove, carbon emissions from the atmosphere. An easy example is tree planting. As a tree grows, it sucks up carbon from the atmosphere and turns it into wood or puts it into the soil. There are organisations that plant trees, calculate how much carbon they will pull out of the air over the coming years, and then sell carbon offsets to people looking to reduce their footprint.

For example, the emissions from a return flight from Sydney to Singapore is about 1 tonne of carbon. On average, it takes about 10-15 trees to suck 1 tonne of carbon from the air each year. So for your flight offset you purchase a 1 tonne carbon offset from an organisation that has planted and protected 10-15 trees on your behalf. Next year, those same trees will suck another 1 tonne from the air, and so another 1 tonne carbon offset is created for someone else to use. This is a just a simple example – we’ll dive deeper into carbon offsetting later.

As we can see, reducing our carbon footprint is going to require a combination of habit change, substitution/technology, and rejuvenation. But don’t fret, like most things the best way to get started is to start small. This week, downsize one of your meals. Next week, switch to green energy. By next month, who knows what you'll be doing, but its likely it will be better than doing nothing.

Once you start you’ll realise how easy and rewarding it can be. And before we know it we'll all have our our footprints down to where they need to be!


Keep it clean, keep it green 🌱


Neil McVeigh