Taking steps to reduce your carbon footprint


One of the things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint this Earth Day is ride your bike instead of drive. (Rick Runion/Lakeland Ledger/file)

Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 11:26 a.m.

Earth Day is April 22, which is the day many are reminded of the impact — positive or negative — their actions have on the environment.

That is the idea behind one's carbon footprint, said Michael Amish, program assistant for the University of Florida Office of Sustainability.

A carbon footprint, measured in tons, is the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced in everyday activities.

Organizations, events and products also have a carbon footprint, he said. When people burn fossil fuels, release methane or other potentially heat-trapping gases through seemingly harmless everyday activities, they create different levels of global warming, Amish said.

"We can calculate these ‘footprints' based on our knowledge of the activities and the energies consumed in the process," Amish said. "Once we know the areas where energy is wasted, we can begin to create strategies to reduce the consumption and waste."

Amish said China, the United States and the European Union, in that order, are the top contributors of global carbon emissions. Amish said he believes people are becoming more aware of the impact their actions have on the environment.

"Many companies and institutions such as the University of Florida are assessing their contribution to the global problem and are finding creative ways to mitigate and reduce their carbon footprints," he said.

Here are some things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint this Earth Day:

1. Install and set a programmable thermostat.

Save an estimated 10 percent a year on heating and cooling costs by installing a programmable thermostat and setting it to 68 degrees during the day in the winter and 10 to 15 degrees lower when you are asleep or are away from home, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In the summer, set your thermostat to 78 when you're home and warmer when you are away.

Heating and cooling account for half of all energy use in homes, and small changes such as these can have a large impact on your energy bill.

2. Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.

New fluorescent bulbs use 60 percent less energy compared to incandescent bulbs, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Science. Each bulb can save $40 or more over its lifetime. Handle fluorescent bulbs with caution because they contain small amounts of mercury.

3. Use cold water whenever possible.

Using hot water can consume a lot of unnecessary energy. Try installing a low-flow shower head and washing your clothes and dishes in cold or warm water instead of hot. Save water by turning off water faucets when brushing your teeth or shaving. These simple changes can save millions of gallons of water each year.

4. Use power strips to plug in electrical appliances and devices rather than using standard electrical sockets.

Devices plugged into standard electrical sockets continue to consume energy even when not in use. A power strip can be used to turn off appliances and other devices when no one is home, or when they are not being used.

5. Buy organic or locally-grown food.

Food often travels long distances to reach your neighborhood grocery store. This means extensive use of fuel, which is usually in the form of gasoline or diesel, and considerable emissions of carbon dioxide.

Organic or fair trade food items are more likely to have been grown or produced in an economically friendly way. Eating locally-grown, seasonal or organic foods supports local producers.

6. Reduce your junk mail.

To produce and process 4 million tons of junk mail a year, 100 million trees are destroyed and 28 billion gallons of water is wasted. And global warming gases equivalent to 9 million cars are produced, according to 41pounds.org.

The nonprofit organization contacts direct mail, catalog and other companies to remove the names of everyone in a household from mailing lists for five years for a $41 fee.

You can opt out of catalog mailing lists at www.catalogchoice.org and Yellow Page directories at www.yellowpagesoptout.com/ for free.

7. Consider options before printing.

Vast amounts of paper is wasted every day when someone hits the print button. So next time try saving a file on your computer, on a flash drive or emailing it. Remember to print on both sides to save paper if printing is the only option.

8. Avoid buying products with excessive packaging.

Stop buying bottled water and instead opt for tap water or purchase a reusable bottle.

Plastics are fossil fuel by-products and are responsible for carbon emissions. You can reduce your carbon footprint by 10 percent by avoiding products with excessive packaging.

9. Schedule a home audit.

Utility services can analyze a customer's home, provide energy-saving devices for free and can offer energy-saving suggestions, giving homeowners a head start on becoming more environmentally friendly.

10. Try different means of transportation.

Walk, bike, carpool with friends and use public transportation to reduce your carbon footprint. In the process, you'll spend time with friends, get some exercise and forgo traffic jams. Combine several errands into one trip to save time and money.

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