Carbon reduction guide

Your “carbon footprint” is a measure of your personal contribution to global warming. That is, of the 50 billion tons of greenhouse gases emitted every year, how much of that is “yours”? It’s the same as saying “If I didn’t exist, how much less greenhouse gases would be emitted?”

How do I eliminate my carbon footprint?

It’s really just 3 steps:

Average carbon footprint per person

  1. Estimate your current carbon footprint. You need an actual number, so you know how much you need to eliminate.
  2. Reduce what you can. Take concrete actions (see below) to reduce as much of your own direct footprint as possible.
  3. Offset the rest. Pay or invest (see below) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere, until your net emissions are down to zero.

Your “net carbon footprint” is the sum of all your activities that increase emissions, minus the sum of all your activites that reduce emissions. If you get on a plane, you increase your net footprint. If you switch from fuel car to electric car you reduce your net footprint. The goal is to get your net emissions down to zero.

1. Estimate your current footprint

There are lots of climate footprint calculators out there, but here’s a simple way to get a rough estimate:

Statistically, your carbon footprint is somewhere in the range 3-18 tons CO2eq per year.

Average carbon footprint per person

This correlates pretty closely to income level. So if you have a relatively high income, you’re probably on the upper end of the spectrum, and vice versa.

The following factors put you on the upper end of the scale (there’s more, but these are the biggest factors for most people):

Think about it, and just pick a number that feels roughly right.

Now you have a concrete goal: get that number down to zero! (or less)

2. Reduce what you can

There are a lot of things you can do to reduce your direct footprint, but these things generally have the biggest impact:

You may have heard of other things like upgrading light bulbs, recycling, shutting off appliances, and hang-drying clothes. This can be good for many other reasons, but from a climate footprint perspective it makes very little difference - a few hundred kilograms at at best (source)

3. Offset the rest

You can never reduce your direct footprint to zero, since just being alive carries a carbon footprint. But if you combine reduction with offsetting, you can reach a net footprint of zero. Offsetting basically means paying or investing to reduce carbon emissions somewhere else, not directly related to your existence. A ton is a ton, no matter where it is reduced.

So how much have you reduced, and how much do you have left that needs to be offset?

Here are some websites offering you to pay to reduce carbon emissions.

Here are some websites offering you to invest to reduce carbon emissions. The difference is that here you can expect to get a return on investment (at the cost of slightly more admin).

“How I did it” stories

Here we’ll add links to stories from people who have reduced their carbon footprint to zero (or at least made good progress along the way).

Submit your own “How I did it” story