by Suzanne Wentley
With the start of any new year, I’m not alone in wanting to use the opportunity to make goals for my future self. Who do I want to become in 2023 and beyond?
I’m also not alone in having that sinking feeling that, oh my gosh, that’s such an overwhelming concept. Say you want to lose five pounds — how do you go about doing that? If you’ve tried and failed in the past, you may start to suspect that you’re too old or set in your ways to change. If you resign yourself to this, you are giving up on being a better person, however you define that.
The secret to change may be easier than you realize: To become the person you want to truly be, you only need to implement small, daily habits that serve as steps toward your goal. Any progress is still progress, whether that’s dropping a few pounds or reducing your carbon footprint.
But again, small steps are hard to track — unless, of course, you’re actually measuring them. A couple of years ago, I started a bullet journal to track my healthy habits. Every day, I note personal metrics. Did I exercise, meditate, connect with friends, play my ukulele, and write creatively? Did I rest, help someone else, avoid junk food, limit my social media scrolls, and stay away from alcohol?
By tracking my habits and behaviors, I can determine if I’m living my best life. I can also see how my actions are helping or hurting the world. There’s no better way to calculate that than through my own carbon footprint, the reduction of which is one of my 2023 resolutions.
What is a Carbon Footprint?
We all agree that climate change is real, right? We hold these truths to be inconvenient, but self-evident. A carbon footprint, then, is the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere due to our behaviors. The larger the carbon footprint, the more responsible we are for the manmade change in our climate.
According to The Nature Conservancy, the average American’s carbon footprint is 16 tons. That’s one of the highest in the world, in part because our culture makes convenience a priority over the environment in so many ways. The way we travel, the way we manage a household, what we eat, and how we shop are centered around convenience.
If we want to reduce our impact on the environment, we may need to take drastic measures. Personally, I’m not doing so well. I travel constantly, either in a gas-guzzling RV around the country or flying in airplanes to international destinations. (That’s bad.) But I’m also a vegetarian, rarely buy new things, strive toward a zero-waste lifestyle, and rely only on solar power for my household needs. That’s good, but not good enough to offset my travel.
This is where the “inconvenient” part comes in. I have a long way to go to reach the goal of a carbon footprint of just 2 tons. That’s what researchers have calculated is the maximum each person should have to prevent future climate change-related disasters like rising sea levels, destructive mega-storms, and extinctions.
Apps to Help Calculate Carbon Footprint
I’ve learned through my bullet journaling that the first step to change is to know my baseline. The only way we can reduce our impact on the Earth is to calculate our impact and learn ways to improve. Thankfully, there are plenty of apps to help. Here are a few to try:
Created by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology, the MyEarth app is designed to track energy usage on the go. Need motivation for using it? Well, the app shows how reducing your carbon footprint can help to save a virtual polar bear from drowning.
Like many of these apps, it relies on a diary-style format that requires you to input your activities. These break down into five categories: electricity, recycling, travel, food, and energy usage. You’ll see how simple things can make a difference and how big changes can make a big difference — especially to your polar bear friend.
The Capture app can be used alone or within a team, so it relies on the same positive peer pressure we experience through social media. It starts by calculating a personalized monthly target for carbon emissions and uses GPS tracking and a short quiz to determine how you’re doing.
I like the idea of working within a team to reduce carbon emissions since friendly competition is likely a better motivator than saving a cartoon polar bear. You can challenge others to use more public transportation, eat vegetarian meals, and reduce using single-use plastics. You’ll feel better about your impact on the Earth, and you’ll get bragging rights to boot.
This app is refreshingly sophisticated, meaning it doesn’t rely on gamification to encourage you to track and calculate your carbon footprint. Instead, Klima prompts you with a few clarifying questions to better understand your impact on the Earth and teaches you ways to offset the emission you simply can’t avoid. The app’s team picks projects that make a meaningful impact on climate change and encourages users to fund the work.
Once you understand your baseline, you can watch their Climate Class video series to learn ways to reduce your footprint. As you make changes, you can invite your friends into the cause. The app tracks how you and they are making a difference together.
Along with using free carbon footprint apps, there are some well-researched lifestyle choices you can make in 2023 and beyond that can add up to a substantial difference in how you are impacting the future of the Earth.
Go Vegan (at least part-time!)
You likely know the joke about cow farts, but there’s something to be said about the dramatic impact eating meat makes on climate change. Research shows that livestock agriculture contributes up to half of all manmade greenhouse gases in the world.
It isn’t easy going vegan — been there — but you can integrate more vegan meals to reduce your carbon footprint. If you love meat, your food choices can result in around 3.3 tons of carbon emissions compared to just 1.5 tons for vegans. Start by getting rid of red meats, which cause the highest emissions and aren’t healthy, either.
Save Energy at Home
Unless you’ve installed solar power (stay tuned for a future blog on this!), there are plenty of habits you can implement around the house to reduce your carbon footprint. These include:
Turning off the A/C
Switching off lights
Take shorter showers
Unplug electronics when not in use
Fill up the laundry machine
Hang your clean clothes to dry
Switch to all LED bulbs
Power down your computer when finished
Make Smart Travel Decisions
Note to self: Enough with the RV and one-way plane tickets! To really reduce my carbon footprint, I’m buying a EuroRail pass once I’m living in Europe instead of taking short flights. I also plan to take the bus whenever possible since that’s another great way to reduce carbon emissions while traveling. When flights are unavoidable, nonstop routes are the best bet.
Although I’ve spent the last few years traveling extensively around North America, I’m planning on staying put for the next few months. By limiting trips to nearby places, I’ll be making a dramatic reduction in my carbon footprint.
Since I’m no longer living on a sailboat using wind as fuel, I have to get creative about ways to live an adventurous, fun lifestyle without having such a negative impact on the Earth. I’m going to track it to see how I improve, and I hope you do too. When we all commit to doing this, we will see meaningful results.
Conscious Living is a Lifestyle. Download our guide with 25 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint