A Guide to Low Carbon Living.
Take 5 minutes to see how you could help.

Extreme weather brings CO2 into the news and we know that the power to make really big changes in CO2 emissions lies in the hands of governments and big business.

As individuals, we can lobby politicians, and move our custom between businesses, but if we want to put our own house in order, what changes would give the greatest benefit?

Fortunately, the more effective changes don't involve extra expense, and others would repay an initial outlay in lower running costs.

Depending on where you look, the average person in the UK generates between 6 and 9 metric tons of CO2 per year.

 Climate Stewards had the idea of representing  the average person's emissions like this:-
Duplo grahic by courtesy of Mark Hancock and Climate Stewards

So, What Could We Do?

Roughly in order of effectiveness:-

  1. Children:
    Taking the long term view, every extra child added to your family will  generate their own emissions, and probably go on to have children of their own. It has been calculated that if those emissions were totalled, and attributed to each year of your own life span, it would amount to 58.6 tons of
    CO2 per year. (!)

  2. Food: Perhaps the easiest thing to change.
    Food accounts for 20 - 30% of our annual carbon footprint. Eating less meat (especially beef & lamb), and less dairy saves around 1 ton of CO2 per year.

    Cows and sheep are singled out as worse than others, because in addition to the emissions derived from producing their foodstuffs, these animals are ruminants producing methane in their burps and farts, (and manure). Methane has about 25 times the global warming effect of CO2

    The BBC have compiled comparisons of several common food groups in their diet footprint calculator.  Here are the conclusions:-

  3. Choose Foods that Haven’t Travelled Far.
    Look at the labels before you buy.
    Highly perishable types of fruit and veg from outside the EU are likely to have flown. See list.
    But bananas, apples and oranges generally come by sea - incurring only about 1% of the CO2 emissions of air freight.

    Waste Less: WRAP estimate that 5 million tons of food are wasted each year in UK households. How?

    BBC on Food Emissions

  4. Air Travel

  5. Avoid Flying: Some people fly a lot, others not at all.

    Almost 80% of UK air passenger departures are for holidays, or to visit friends and relatives.
    Business travel accounts for less than 20%.

    A return flight from London to Malaga generates 320kg of CO2 .

    Taking a return flight from Heathrow to New York adds 0.9 tons –  and by putting the emissions directly into the upper atmosphere, the greenhouse effect is roughly doubled - to almost a quarter of your whole year’s emissions.

    We can choose to take different holidays, and use video calling for meetings.

    But if your flight is unavoidable, you can finance an equivalent saving of CO2 somewhere in the world by buying a voluntary Carbon Offset from properly accredited companies such as these:-

    If you accept that we have only 12 years to avert a climate tipping point, bear in mind that it takes about 15 years for tree planting schemes to become net CO2 absorbers. See Fig.10 page 10.

    For example:- The Woodland Trust offer to plant 25 square metres of trees, will absorb 1 ton of CO2 over 100 years, but less than 50kg over 10 years.

    Home Energy

  6. Heating: Lower Bills = Lower CO2 ;
    Heating the average UK home produces 2.34 tonnes of CO2 per year.

    Turning down the thermostat by one degree can save 300kg of CO2 per year .

    Insulating your house and hot water system generally pays back in a few years - but learn about the heating myths.

    Smart heating controls make it easy to heat your house only when you need.

    Replacing an old boiler could reduce your emissions immediately and repay its cost in 5-10 years.

    Heat Pumps treble or quadruple the amount of heat generated by each unit of electricity, but take 10-12 years to repay the cost.

  7. If you must burn anything, make it gas.
    Not coal, wood, oil, or garden bonfires.

    Replacing an open coal fire with an enclosed stove will reduce CO2 and fuel consumption for the same heat by 75% .

    Although wood is often claimed to be carbon neutral – this is controversial – largely because it will take 15-20 years for newly-planted trees to begin significant absorption of the CO2 emitted by trees burnt today – leading to a spike in CO2 at a time when we desperately need a dip.

    (A fast-growing tree can absorb about 22kg of CO2 per year)

    If you have a wood-burning stove the New Zealand government is promoting good advice about minimising emissions here.

Ground Travel

  1. Walk or Cycle instead of Driving.
    For minimal emissions, walking requires no equipment purchase (apart from appropriate clothing for the weather), and the running costs are limited to shoe wear.

    If you need to travel faster, the Bike to Work Scheme can save up to 39% off a new bike.

    If you are concerned about your fitness, electric bikes are available from as little as £450 , Raleigh have an extensive range, and Halfords offer a 48hr free trial.

    E-bikes make cycling a more practical alternative to car use for people who need to get somewhere quickly without expending too much energy. (They only amplify your effort - you still have to pedal -  but you're much less likely to break into a sweat, or run out of stamina).

    Macclesfield has a website that aims to assist people in using a bike around town.

  2. Use the Train instead of Car for inter-city trips.
    Travelling by train from London to Edinburgh and back generates about 70kg of CO2.
    Whereas, if you drive alone in a small car, it generates about 150kg. (A large car might generate 300kg.)

    Sites like make booking trains easy, and around 12 weeks in advance the fares can become absurdly cheap.

    The Guardian published a good article about planning European train journeys.

  3. Take a Bus or Tube:

    Often cheaper and quicker. Choose the Transit option in Google Maps on your phone, and it will guide you to the nearest bus or train stop, and calculate all your connections.

    It makes public transport easy for a visitor to a strange city.

  4. Pick the smaller car:
    If you have two cars in your household, try to use the cleaner one most often – probably the smaller or newer. It can halve the emissions from 230g per kilometre to 120g/km, saving 1.4 tons of CO2 over an average 8,000 miles per year.

    Filling up with 40 litres of fuel, will lead to about 100kg of CO2 .

  5. Is it worth buying a newer car?
    Remember that vehicle excise duty varies from £570 per year to zero, depending on the car’s emissions statistics.

    Replacing a 30mpg car with a 50mpg car would save about £600 per year in fuel cost (average 8,000 miles @ £1.25/Litre). 

    See the comparison site, Next Green Car

    The manufacture of a new car produces about 6 tons of CO2 .
    Electric cars produce more during manufacture, but lifetime emissions are about 5 tons less overall.

  6. Add Passengers to your car:
    Sharing a car journey divides the emissions.
    Could you share with a colleague, or start a more formal car-sharing scheme at work?
    See Nottingham City's Scheme .

  7. Don’t let your car or van idle when stationary:
    It is a (little known) fixed penalty offence to leave a vehicle unattended with the engine running.

    When driving in traffic, if your car has ‘Autostart’, let it do its job; put the car in neutral when stopped at junctions. (Don’t leave it in gear with your foot on the clutch.)

    Smaller Savings

  8. Go Electric.
    All renewable energy is distributed in the form of electricity. Avoid gas heaters and cookers. Use electric heaters, and electric power tools rather than petrol.

  9.  Buy LED lighting.
    It seems wasteful, but don't wait until your old bulbs fail. An energy saving bulb can save up to 170kg of CO2 and up to £60 over its lifetime.
    They used to be dim, but not any more, and now only £1.00 each from Wickes.

  10. Use a Green Energy Supplier?
    This will not directly save any CO2 , since there is already more than enough renewable electricity being produced to meet the needs of all Green Tariff customers (possibly double) - and the surplus is being supplied to 'ordinary' customers.

    Only when demand for green electricity rises to match the capacity, will pressure be applied to add more green generating capacity. You can be a part of that trend - but it will take time to have an effect on  CO2 .

  11. Solar Panels: A 4Kw installation could save 1 ton of CO2 per year and pay back its installation cost in about 12 years.

  12. Don't Discount Nuclear Energy:
    France generates 80% of its electricity from nuclear. It's the only non-renewable source with zero COemissions. If properly managed, it may yet prove the least bad option. The Guardian article.

    Also see 'Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air', and
    the May 2019 IEA report on Nuclear Energy .

  13. Clothes: Buy less; wear more.
    Fashion accounts for 10% of global CO2 emissions.

    Wash clothes at 30°C, less often, and dry them outdoors. (The tumble drier costs £30/yr).
    See also clothes washing and microplastics.

  14. Be a Supporter:
    If you aren't able to make much change to your own lifestyle, you could financially support organisations that are working for change with businesses and politicians on regional, national, and international levels:-

  15. Calculate your Footprint:
    There is a quick guide table here, or you can make a detailed calculation here

  16. CO2 or CO2e? - For simplicity we have used units of CO2.  This should more properly be CO2e . Emissions are often a cocktail of several gases including CO2 and methane, each with a different Global Warming Potential.  CO2e  is the equivalent amount of CO2 that would have the same warming potential.

    Hasn’t the UK done enough; emissions down by 43% since 1990?

    It sounds good, but most of this has been achieved by changing from coal to gas-fired power stations to comply with EU regulations, and the success of the Feed in Tariff in encouraging solar and wind power.

    Our stats have also been reduced by the trend towards importing manufactured goods (inc. £44bn from China alone in 2018) – which has the ‘advantage’ that the manufacturing emissions are attributed to another country.

    Take away 'Power' and 'Industry' from the graph below, and not much has changed:-

    If we took 'ownership' of the emissions from the manufacture of items we import (the so-called 'embedded emissions') then our figure would almost double.

    Greta Thunberg pointed to research by Manchester University’s Tyndall Centre; the big omission our official stats, is that international air travel, and emissions by sea freight generated by our imports, are not included. details

    Adding those emissions reduces our savings to only about 10% over 27 years, or 0.4% reduction per year. So there is still work to be done. Source.

    Who exports the most of its emissions?

    Isn’t this a problem that only China and the USA need to work at?

    Well, if you are speaking to the leaders of those countries, yes.

    But if you are speaking to a Chinese person, you couldn't give them quite such a hard time; a Chinese person produces only 10% more emissions than a UK citizen, (some of which derive from products made in China for us to import); has on average a much lower standard of living - and has endured many years of the one child policy.

    Unequivocally, the worst performers are Canada, USA, Australia (!), and Saudi Arabia.

    In 2019, France's low score was assisted by generating 70% of its electricity from nuclear and 0.3% from coal.
    Germany scores highly because it burns lignite to generate 20% of its electricity, and from turning away from nuclear power after Fukushima.
    Australia depends heavily on coal power generation.

    Feedback: Happy to hear of any errors or omissions in the above.


If you are also interested in plastic pollution see

This page is privately edited and published by Colin Townend.