Environmental solutions from home! Seven ways to reduce your impact today.

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To celebrate Earth Hour this very strange year, here are some environmental solutions that you can complete from the comfort of your home. Most of us are social distancing or in isolation now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reduce our carbon footprint. With the blessings of technology we can make a few changes that will really make a difference.

Whether you’re doing this for your household or your business, please take some time to research these ideas and action what you can. With less emissions now that we’re grounded AND active work to support better options environmentally, we have a real chance to emerge from coronavirus with the Earth in a much healthier place this year.

Switch to Ecosia: a better web browser

In a nutshell, Ecosia is a search tool that plants trees with the profits of our internet browsing. It doesn’t cost you anything except a few minutes of your time to switch over, and yet you’ll contribute to reforestation projects that help sequester CO2, provide animal habitats and support communities with fair employment.

To date they’ve planted over 60 million trees in 18 different countries, with partners who are still being supported throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the projects have slowed or stopped at present, but their trees will still be planted once the pandemic is over, and Ecosia continues to pay their partners as promised.

Other things I like are that the company is a certified B-Corporation, they’re powered 100% by renewable energy, and they don’t sell our data to advertisers (which means no ads targeting you as soon as you’ve searched for something). Hooray for a less creepy online experience! And finally, their management is transparent and they publish each financial report to the public.

My Ecosia screenshot.

My Ecosia search page. Note how many trees I’ve planted so far!

How to switch to Ecosia

You can download their app on the App Store or Google Play. For your laptop or PC, download the extension for your browser from their website.

Divesting: using your choices to support ethical corporations

Divestment from banks, superannuation funds, and insurance companies who use your money in fossil fuel projects is a powerful way to work on climate change. Many of these institutions support industries that destroy the environment, and many also have other unethical investments such as firearm production, gambling, and even slavery. This means that your money is actively supporting things that you probably wish to abolish, not contribute towards. It also carries increasing risk as the world moves away from old technologies.

I realise that this is a tricky time financially for many people, and I’m not qualified to give you financial advice. But if this issue is important to you and you have some spare time now, you can do some research about changing your bank, super fund, investment portfolio, health insurance and car/home insurance, and action it when things are more stable again.

I’ve personally divested my superannuation fund to one that has no fossil fuel investments, but who does invest in renewable energy solutions, sustainable products, fair trade and ethical animal treatment, and positive social initiatives.

We’re also in the process of changing banks, as all of the major banks in Australia are not fossil fuel free. Many better options are available and I’ll be using this time to find the best option for us, too. Unfortunately, there aren’t any 100% ethical house and car insurance companies here yet, I’ve researched and been disappointed several times.

How to divest your money

I mostly use the independent organisation Market Forces who work on this issue tirelessly. They’re an affiliate of Friends of the Earth Australia and a member of the international organisation BankTrack, and they provide updated information about institutions as well as forms to allow you to easily contact yours and ask them to do better. They also have resources to help you change if you’re ready to do it.

Also, the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia can get you in touch with fund managers for ethical superannuation and other investment consulting.

If you’re not in Australia, I’d first recommend contacting your provider or searching on their website for details about their climate change policies and investments.

Here are some other resources that might help:

How to start a divestment movement for your university, faith group, local council, township or large organisation

Fossil Free is a project of 350.org who have been leaders in raising awareness about emissions and climate change for over a decade. The Fossil Free website has many resources to help you connect with others in your community and start a divestment campaign, which I’ll also be using this year with my local 350 group. I’ll update this page with my learnings once we’ve started our movement to divest our local council and health insurance provider.

Clean up your trail: remove unnecessary files from the cloud

You may not have ever thought about this one! The ‘cloud’ is not some ethereal place that hovers in the sky: all of your photos and files are actually stored on hardware somewhere. And storing them uses a lot of energy: much more than storing them on our own devices.

Assessments vary from 3.1 kWh to 7kWh per gigabyte to transfer and store data. (a GB stores about an hour of video or 200 high-res photos). It’s been calculated using the lower assessment that saving 100GB per year in the cloud results in a carbon footprint of 0.2 tonnes of CO2. That’s a fair bit for some photos!

In comparison, a personal hard drive uses far less energy, about 0.000005 kWh per GB. But having said that, some companies are turning to renewable energy to power their data centres, reducing the footprint of their cloud storage.

Microsoft has been experimenting with submerging data centres underwater for years now. Keeping them cool is the main energy guzzler, so they sank shipping container-sized centres in the ocean to see if it would help. You can even check it out on webcam!

I know cloud access is helpful and ensures you don’t lose important stuff, so I’m not saying we need to stop using it altogether. But we can have better habits in place to reduce our personal footprint.

"Clouds are in the sky. Your documents and files are not!"

How to lower your cloud storage footprint

First, research your storage provider to see whether they use or are moving towards clean energy. If they don’t, please consider switching to one who takes it seriously.

I recommend buying an external hard drive even if they are conscious of their environmental footprint, to store your important files and photos as a back-up. Then you can still access them if the internet is down or something happens to your provider. I have two drives, one for everyday access and one for back-up, and this means I don’t use the cloud very much.

Finally, take some time to go through what you’ve already saved to the cloud, and delete anything you don’t need. It’s so easy to have millions of photos of the same thing these days, which is such a waste of energy and storage space! Even if your provider is doing the right thing, you can help reduce energy needs even more by ensuring you don’t have unnecessary files saved with them.

Got some spare time? Clean up your cloud storage files to easily reduce your carbon footprint! Click To Tweet

Choose to reuse or DIY: decreasing your impact AND increasing your self-reliance

Now is the time that many of us are seeing even greater value in reusable gear and knowing how to make things ourselves. Packaged food and disposable items can sell out, but reusables are yours for many years, and your skills can be used forever. You can count on them even when the world’s in upheaval, and feel great that you’re more self-reliant as well as eco-friendly.

If you have some extra time and want to replace an item in your household with a reusable alternative, you can either buy it or make it yourself. There are millions of tutorials online to guide you through sewing, mixing, blending and shaking.

If you have some spare fabric and a sewing machine, you can whip up some washable wipes or reusable tea bags! You can also DIY food wraps, kitchen and bathroom essentials, coasters, nursing pads and much more.

Or, you can experiment with making your own foods like homemade bread, oat milk, muesli, vegetable soups, potato chips, fruit cake, biscuits and ice cream. Or get into making your own cleaners, sanitisers, cosmetics, moisturisers and toothpaste!

How to start reusing more and making things yourself

Choose an item in your household that you use often, for which you know there are alternatives that will reduce your waste and be easy to make or access. Do you use a lot of cling wrap? Buy some wax or silicone wraps, or sew some fabric food covers to replace it. Do you go through a box of dishwasher powder each week? Grab some cleaning basics and essential oils and make up a big batch for much less!

And here are some of my detailed posts about reusables:

Consider offsetting: neutralising the impact of your business, lifestyle or travels

Have you ever calculated the emissions you generate by your daily commute, your business or your travels? It might surprise you!

Carbon offsetting is one way to cancel out your emissions, by purchasing credits towards a project that removes that amount of CO2 equivalent from the atmosphere. They’re often for tree-planting but can take other forms, too, like contributing to renewable energy projects.

Offsetting is criticised somewhat because it can be used as a way to appease guilt rather than make lifestyle changes, and I agree with that. You still generate emissions first. But if you’re conscious of generating as little as you can, and then offset what you do produce, I believe it’s a good way to lower your impact: provided you choose a reputable company to offset with.

How to offset your emissions 

The company I chose is certified with the Gold Standard Foundation, which is an international certification body for carbon projects.

You can choose any industry you want to support with your offsetting, but do some research to ensure that they’re credible and preferably transparent with their projects. Their website will usually have an emissions calculator that you can use to work out what to pay.

This page shows who we offset with and how much it cost to offset our two big travel experiences.

How to move your business to becoming carbon neutral

It’s a bit more involved than purchasing offset credits, though they’re a good start. There are many ways a business can reduce emissions, to minimise their impact as they provide their goods or services.

Visit the following environmental consulting organisations for information and advice on becoming carbon neutral:

This graphic shows how a dairy in South Africa became carbon neutral:

Get clear about transport: can you change your mode or usual route?

If offsetting is a cost you can’t justify, perhaps you can use those emissions calculators a little differently. Have you ever researched a different route to get to work or school, or a different mode of transport to go where you need to go?

You might’ve ages ago but perhaps new options have presented now. Perhaps you’re just taking the car because it’s easiest, but public transport would be much less expensive — you’ve just never worked out the logistics. Or now with time to think about it, you might realise you know someone who you could offer or ask for a ride!

One good thing to come from having more time available is that you can look into your options now, and you’ll be all ready to start once life’s back to normal again. You might find that you can be up a little earlier to make it to the train, and I hope if you do, you enjoy the peacefulness of being able to relax on your way to work rather than be stuck in traffic. It’s a win-win-win as far as I can see, when you pay less and contribute less CO2, too!

If you’re planning a holiday after all this is over, taking the time to research overland travel rather than many short flights will also save you a lot in both emissions and transport costs. Most emissions are created in take-off and landing, so if you can find direct flights to get there and back and choose overland travel for the rest of the trip, you’ll significantly reduce the impact of your trip.

How to calculate your transport emissions

This carbon footprint calculator is free to use and allows you to calculate emissions from flights, bus, rail, car and motorbike use, as well as household and other emissions.

Measure your distances, think about your fuel use and get calculating!

Eat more plants: for the planet and your own health

I don’t believe you have to become 100% vegan, but it’s a fact that consuming less red meat will reduce your environmental impact. And especially if you eat a lot of processed and fatty meats, reducing them is very beneficial for your health, as is consuming less grains in favour of fresh fruit and vegetables.

So what better time to try new, less expensive, and healthier food options than now!

Vegetarian proteins are healthy and in most cases, require less environmental degradation that animal products. There are plenty of plant-based options in the supermarkets now — many of which don’t taste any different to meat — and buying cans of beans and chickpeas is far less expensive than steak and chops. They’re also nutritious and just as satisfying as beef or lamb.

Fresh produce is in abundant supply here too, which is good news as they have essential vitamins and minerals that we really need. If you have a reluctant eater at home, it’s pretty convincing to get them to eat more veggies when there isn’t much more available, or because they’re a simple yet powerful way to keep immune systems strong.

Also, growing your own produce now might be a way to connect kids with the food cycle, and get them more interested in eating things they’ve helped to nurture.

Vegetables in basket with shopping list

Eat, grow and share more produce for your own health and the planet!

How to add more plants to your diet

It’s exciting to learn new ideas and try new recipes, so please remember to have fun with it! It doesn’t have to be a source of stress. With access to fresh foods we really are lucky, so if you don’t feel excited about it but need to try something new at this point, perhaps practicing gratitude will work instead.

Have a read of these non-judgemental articles to find out more:

Documentaries about the food industry

If you want to research further about eating well for the environment and/or your health, there are heaps of docos you could check out, including:

I hope you’re now motivated to action some or all of these environmental solutions from home! Feel free to let me know how you go, suggest more ideas or leave some feedback below.

Thanks as always for reading my work, and please pin or share this post if you found it helpful. 

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Seven ways you can reduce your environmental impact from the comfort of you home!

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