There are plenty of things we can do to lighten our individual footprint on our planet. But which are really best for the environment? Here are our top 10 planet-saving tips.
Following Glasgow’s hosting of the COP26 climate summit in 2021, the baton has now passed to Egypt for COP27 – underway this week in Sharm el-Sheikh. It is the 27th annual UN meeting on climate, with the focus still on trying to limit global temperature rises to below 1.5°C by cutting carbon emissions.
According to the UN’s climate scientists, global temperatures have already risen by 1.1°C above the levels recorded in the 1850s. If temperatures rise by 1.8°C, the IPCC estimates that half the word’s population could be exposed to life-threatening heat and humidity.
If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, it makes sense to focus on the actions that have the most impact.
In the UK, around three quarters of our personal carbon emissions come from just three things: how we heat and power our homes, the way we travel and the food we eat.
Making a sustainable swap in those top three areas – such as eating a mostly plant-based diet, getting rid of your petrol or diesel car, or switching to a low-carbon heating system – can make the biggest difference.
But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Making a collection of smaller changes to your lifestyle can really add up, and they might be easier to achieve (and stick to) than big ones.
Below, we’ve rounded up the 10 best ways to live sustainably in 2022 and beyond.
Live more sustainably – get our free Sustainability newsletter to make changes for you and the planet
Top 10 planet-saving tips
1. Be more energy efficient
Saving energy at home is a great place to start as it will also lower your bills. Draughtproofing and improving insulation will make your home cosier and cheaper to heat. Try to keep your thermostat at a maximum of 19°C, and choose LED lightbulbs and appliances with high efficiency ratings to keep your electricity consumption down.
Electrical appliances also make up a lot of your home’s energy use, so understanding how much it costs to run them and how you can make them more efficient can reduce your bills and your carbon footprint.
It’s not the right choice for everyone, but if you are in a position to, you could also consider switching to a low-carbon heating system such as a heat pump, especially if you already live off the gas grid.
2. Eat more plant-based food
Plant-based meals tend to have a lower carbon footprint than meat and dairy, and eating less meat is nearly always better than eating even the most sustainable meat.
In most cases, chicken, eggs, and pork have a lower footprint than beef and lamb.
To reduce your carbon footprint, replace some or all of the beef, lamb, and dairy in your diet with lower carbon alternatives. And where you do buy those products, look for farmers using sustainable methods.
Eat seasonally, cut food waste as far as possible and put what’s left in your compost heap or food waste collection bin, if you have one.
3. Travel sustainably
Choose to walk and cycle or take public transport rather than driving, at least some of the time. Make your next car an electric one, and consider joining a car club if you don’t need to use a car regularly.
Read more: the best electric cars for 2022
Minimise flying, especially long-haul, and choose holidays with a smaller carbon footprint. These five green travel resolutions are a good place to start.
4. Buy better
Avoid single-use and disposable items, and buy reusable products instead. Choose good-quality products that will last, use them for longer and try to repair before you replace.
We’ve added Eco Buys to our product reviews for fridge freezers, fridges, freezers, built-in ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, tumble dryers, washer dryers, printers and kettles. These products are ones that not only ace our tests but are also energy efficient and long-lasting, so you can be confident they are a more sustainable choice.
5. Recycle, resell, donate
When you’re tempted to throw something away, remember: there is no such thing as ‘away’. Most non-recycled waste goes to landfill or incineration, where it produces greenhouse gases and other environmental pollution. Sell or donate anything that still has a useful life, and recycle the rest.
6. Use what you already own
You may have heard about ‘shopping your wardrobe’ – creating outfits from clothing and accessories that you already own. But you can also make use of other unloved items you’d forgotten about, by repairing, upcycling and repurposing things you have stashed away.
If you do need something new, look for refurbished or second-hand goods instead of buying brand new. Borrow or hire rather than buying items that you don’t use often, like power tools or party decorations.
7. Invest wisely
Your savings, investments and pension could be financing fossil fuel companies and other industries that are harming the environment. Check where your money is going to see if you can shrink your financial footprint.
8. Grow a greener garden
If you have a patch of ground, however big or small, gardening sustainably is good for you and the planet, as it can help absorb carbon dioxide, support wildlife and reduce the risk of flooding.
To make your garden as green as it can be, see our tips for eco-friendly gardening.
9. Save water
Using less water is a good thing in itself, as it’s a precious resource. But at home we often also use energy to heat the water, such as boiling a kettle, taking a shower, and running the dishwasher or washing machine, so reducing hot water use cuts greenhouse gas emissions and saves money.
10. Be a savvy sustainable shopper
To make the right choices for the planet, people need to know what information they can trust, and what’s just ‘greenwashing’.
Hold companies to account by asking questions about sustainability, report misleading green claims, and avoid buying products that are unsustainable.
Head to our advice on how to spot greenwashing when you’re shopping.
How to calculate your carbon footprint
Every individual and household has a different carbon footprint depending on their needs and lifestyle. So to find out where you can make the biggest personal changes, it’s worth calculating your individual carbon footprint using an online tool. This can highlight your most carbon-intensive habits, and help you discover changes you might not have thought about.
Environmental consultants Carbon Footprint Ltd have a free online carbon calculator that uses detailed information about all the main areas of your household consumption to give an accurate, tailored picture of your usage. It takes a little while to complete, but should give you a comprehensive carbon footprint estimate using UK-based data.
If you prefer a quicker check-box quiz, try the WWF environmental footprint calculator instead. Answer a series of simple, multiple-choice questions to find out how you score. The calculator also gives tips to help you to reduce your carbon footprint.