Twelve Steps to Help You Kick the CO2 Habit
Whether you are an individual, an organization, a business or a government, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce your carbon emissions, the total of which is described as your carbon footprint. You may think you don’t know where to begin, but by reading this, you have already begun.
If consumers, manufacturers and lawmakers all think ‘low carbon’ and ‘climate friendly’ savings in carbon emissions will multiply. Take packaging as an example. US retail giant Wal-Mart worked with one of their toy suppliers to reduce packaging on just 16 items. The toy suppliers saved on packaging costs while Wal-Mart used 230 fewer shipping containers to distribute their products, saving about 356 barrels of oil and 1,300 trees. By broadening this initiative to 255 items, the company believes it can save 1,000 barrels of oil, 3,800 trees, and millions of dollars in transportation costs.
Another example: you can buy paper or wood products that adhere to internationally certified standards. The Forestry Stewardship Council (www.fsc.org), for example, is an international non-profit organisation promoting responsible management of the world’s forests. The FSC trademark is increasingly recognised as an international standard for responsible forest management. More than 90 million hectares in more than 70 countries have been certified according to FSC standards while several thousand products are produced using FSC certified wood and carrying the FSC trademark. Switching to recycled or sustainably sourced paper can also lead to considerable savings, reducing both landfill use and carbon emissions. Using recycled paper can save 1.4 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of paper and cardboard.
Other ways of reducing your carbon footprint include wasting less time and energy on travel. Cities can improve public transport options, companies can encourage low carbon habits (by ceasing to subsidize parking or investing in hybrid technology company vehicles), and individuals can car pool or use public transport. Sometimes simple actions can produce a shift. Secure bicycle storage and changing and shower facilities, for example, are often inexpensive compared to other parking structures but create a strong incentive for those who can commute by bicycle. In larger cities with adequate public transport, a monthly or yearly pass can be offered instead of parking facilities. Paris and Vienna, for example, offer a public bicycle system that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion.
Very simple measures can lead to immediate savings. Just turning off unused lights, motors, computers and heating can substantially reduce wasted energy—and money. Generally, laptop computers use less energy than desktop computers and LCD monitors use less energy than CRT screens. Also consider what to do with equipment when its useful life is finished. Some manufacturers offer take-back or recycling. Also look for energy efficiency standards. For appliances, the Energy Star rating is a way to describe efficiency. For many brands now, the highest energy efficiency rating does not cost any more than less efficient products. Originally from the United States, Energy Star is now applicable in Europe.
Think about your travel. Advanced web and video conferencing technology mean the time is rapidly approaching when the need to travel will be substantially diminished. A two-day trip to attend a meeting 1,000 km (600 miles) away can cost about US$2,000 per person when accommodation, travel and meals are included, while a video conference may cost as little as US$200. The savings are US$1,800 and about half a tonne of carbon. Telecommuting is also increasingly an option for many. A study by the Telework Coalition (www.telcoa.org) found that if 32 million Americans who could telecommute did so one day a week, they would drive 2 billion kilometres less, save 300 million litres of fuel and gain the equivalent of 32 million extra hours every week for leisure, family or work.
Lighting can account for 15-20 per cent of total electricity use. Converting coal at the power plant into incandescent light is only three per cent efficient. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) have evolved rapidly in the past decade. They now last between six and 15 years and reduce electricity use by a minimum of 75 per cent compared to a standard incandescent bulb. The advantages of CFLs and other high efficiency lighting have prompted legislation to ban incandescent bulbs. In 2007, Australia was the first country to mandate that no incandescent bulbs will be sold by 2012, a move that will reduce emissions by four million tonnes and cut power bills for lighting by up to 66 per cent.
Larger users can even build their own lower emission energy systems, using solar power or lower carbon technologies such as generators powered by natural gas. A Global Environment Facility project in eastern and southern Africa is promoting small scale hydro schemes in the tea industry and cogeneration using agricultural waste from the sugar industry to generate electricity for industry use and to feed into national grids. In the United Kingdom, the Body Shop bought a 25 per cent stake in a large modern wind generator to provide renewable energy for its UK operations. Other companies installing their own renewable energy plant include 3M, DuPont, General Motors, IBM, Johnson & Johnson and Staples.
At the small business or household level, tax breaks and incentives can make solar photovoltaic systems and other renewable energy technologies cost effective. Rooftop solar electric panels can provide energy over time, reduce electricity costs and provide a buffer against price fluctuations. UNEP is helping promote such schemes in southern India and North Africa.
The transport sector is responsible for 25 per cent of total energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning petrol and diesel. Various options exist for kicking the carbon habit. Hybrid engines that combine electricity and conventional petrol or diesel engines can offer substantial fuel savings while reducing emissions. Vehicles can also run on a range of alternative fuels that can offer both cost and environmental benefits, although they also often require an additional investment that take some time to pay back. These include compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), liquefied natural gas (LNG) and biofuels.
Biodiesel and bioethanol are biofuels made from crops, such as wheat, soy, corn and sugar cane. They are often blended with petrol or diesel, and almost all vehicles can run on blends up to 10 per cent without modification. Specially enabled biofuel cars can run on higher blends, such as a mix of 85 per cent bioethanol and 15 per cent petrol. In many parts of the world, biofuels are becoming more popular and easier to find commercially and in various blends. For companies with automotive fleets, biofuels can be a cost-effective low-carbon alternative.
The average price for carbon offsets is US$15 per tonne, but costs range from US$5-50 per tonne. To purchase offsets, individuals or businesses pay an offset company to implement and manage projects that avoid, reduce or absorb greenhouse gases. Climate change is a global problem, so carbon reductions will have the same impact no matter where they are implemented. Carbon credits can be generated by emission-free energy generation, reduced demand, including energy efficiency, or sequestration in the form of underground and forestry storage.
According to one report, the highest quality offsets are generated from the flaring of methane from landfills, since methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Green Gas International (www.greengas.net) is a company that generates carbon credits by converting waste gas to clean energy through partnerships with mines, landfills and biogas producers. The worldwide benefits of such projects include 125 megawatts (MW) of power, saving four million tonnes of CO2.
A more systematic approach comes from the field of ‘design for sustainability’, which includes life cycle design and environmentally conscious design and manufacturing. This new approach considers environmental aspects at all stages of development to create products with the lowest environmental impact throughout the product life cycle. Ecodesign is an important strategy for small and medium sized companies both in developed and developing countries to improve the environmental performance of their products, reduce waste and improve their competitive position on the market.
Similarly, local and national governments are seeking opportunities to partner with business on delivering low carbon solutions. In countries such as Canada, government institutions and power utilities supported the setting up of Energy Service Companies (ESCos). In the United States, the federal Environmental Protection Agency started the Energy Star program (www.energystar.gov) in 1992 as a voluntary partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through increased energy efficiency. In 2006, American businesses and consumers saved US$14 billion on energy bills with the help of Energy Star saved and reduced greenhouse gas emissions equal to 25 million vehicles annually.