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HOW CAN I CUT BACK ON MY CARBON EMISSIONS?

Frightened about your footprint? These are Tropic’s five low carbon commandments to help you cut back and calm your conscience.

Since the dawn of discussion around the issue of our precarious climate, we’ve been raised on terms like ‘carbon footprint’, ‘greenhouse gas’ and ‘carbon neutral’. With those terms, however, come questions. How many people know what each of them really means? How can we size down when it comes to our carbon footprint? Is there anything we can do as consumers, or is it all down to big business and the government? Instead of being caught up on shifting those few inches round the waist, why don’t we focus on cutting down our carbon consumption? A low carb diet, if you will.

Carbon itself is not the problem. It is, and always has been, everywhere; in the air, in the earth, in our food and drink and yes, even inside our bodies. This kind of carbon – the one that makes its way in and out of our lungs – is the form we need to focus on. That’s CO2 to me and you.

‘Greenhouse gas’ is an umbrella term encompassing this cumbersome carbon culprit, but the term also refers to any gases that work to trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Methane, nitrous oxide and all fluorinated gases are guilty of generating a greenhouse effect too.

And carbon neutral? Well this one’s pretty simple – it essentially means that a person, organisation or event manages to offset at least the same amount of carbon that it releases into the atmosphere through its operations. You can usually tell when a brand is CarbonNeutral® certified, as they’ll display the logo on their relevant website or product packaging. At Tropic, we double offset all our carbon emissions, meaning that as a business, through environmental initiatives such as replanting parts of the Amazon rainforest, we actually remove twice the amount of carbon that we emit. 

So, what can you do to help?

1. KNOW WHAT NEEDS TO GO

The first step towards leaving a smaller footprint in the sand is to understand. Work out where you might be totting up CO2 by finding a carbon calculator. I tried a few out for size and found that this one worked best for me, but anyone with a more accurate understanding of their carbon usage – for instance, if you use a green meter in your home – may find others a little easier to navigate. The first step to positive change is always knowing where you’re going wrong.

2. MEAT ME HALFWAY

For many, meat is a staple in their cooking repertoire. Whether it be our parents, grandparents, friends or family members, we all know someone that can’t go a day without a meat-and-two-veg meal. But is this the way it has to be? Well, before I get carried away, it’s important to note that those who are lumbered with lunchbox prep or dinner duties don’t tend to be particularly time-rich. As free time is a valuable commodity often afforded only to those with – for want of a better phrase – lots of money, it’s hard to tell anyone to give up on meat entirely when it means threatening the ease of those cooking-with-your-eyes-closed recipes, or even just giving up something you like.

That being said, farming meat on such a large scale as we now do produces colossal amounts of carbon, as so much land is taken up by methane-producing cows, pigs and sheep, who need huge amounts of food, grain and water to survive. Eating locally-sourced produce from small-scale farms can help, although it's not as effective as even slightly reducing your meat consumption. In fact, if every family in the UK removed the meat from just one meal a week, it would have the same environmental impact as taking 16 million cars off the road, so cutting down really doesn't have to be all or nothing.

To put it into perspective (according to data from the US) a meat lover's diet generates 3.3 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, a vegetarian's carbon footprint from food is around half of that, and a vegan diet generates the lowest carbon footprint at just 1.5 tons CO2e (Carbon Dioxide Equivalent). You can reduce your 'foodprint' by a quarter just by cutting down on red meats such as beef and lamb.

So, if you’re concerned about your carbon consumption, try eating less meat and fish and shop local where you can. If you need some veggie recipe inspiration, you’ll find plenty on our blog!

3. FIGHT THE GOOD FLIGHT

There’s no such thing as a sustainable plane journey, but there are ways your flight can make less of a mark on the state of the planet. You can offset the carbon you use on each flight you take, but again, this only applies to those who can afford to do so. If you do need to take a plane somewhere and other modes of transport aren’t floating your boat, remember that according to a study by the World Bank, flying business or first class creates around three times the carbon footprint of flying in standard class. 

Another thing you can do to control your carbon travel print is to speak to your airline directly about whether offsetting options might be in your budget. To calculate the emissions that your flight will create, use this calculator. If you’re flying for business, ask yourself whether the meeting could be done over a video call. If you’re taking a long-haul flight for pleasure, we’ve heard rumours that Scotland’s lovely in the summer!

4. EAT MORE RAW

Although live fires are, naturally, a trend that feels intrinsic to modern eating, the carbon that those balmy (ish) British barbecues create is just the tip of the ozone iceberg when it comes to fortifying our food prep choices. Not only is it important to watch exactly what we’re putting in our mouths, we need to think about how we’re preparing it too. A gas oven only uses about 6 per cent of its energy to cook, and an electric isn’t much better at 12 per cent – the rest of this energy is heating up the room and ultimately getting wasted. If you do need to cook your food, use the stove top whenever possible, opting for the microwave and the electric kettle where you can. If oven baking is mandatory, try not to preheat for too long, pack lots of things in at once and turn off the heat as soon as you can.

5. DRESS TO CARBON LESS

How often do you think (and I mean REALLY think) before you buy an item of clothing? I’ve grown up in an era of fighting fast fashion and sticking it to the man when it comes to low paid workers – I get the same cheap thrill from finding a good fitting garment in a charity shop that some might get from solving a maths equation or stumbling across the perfect bowl of porridge, for instance. And even still, I’m a sucker for a sale – if I allowed my purchase-hungry mouse to click on all the ads my computer tries to feed it, I’d be impulse buying left, right and centre. 

Even taking the first step in shopping more slowly by doing a little research about the brand or store you’re buying from can make a difference. Learn a little about their ethics – do they ferry fast fashion garments on flights across the globe without giving a second’s thought to offsetting their emissions? Do they make clothes using unsustainable equipment, paying workers unfair wages in huge, industrial factories? Take a look at Fashion Revolution’s transparency index as a place to start, and be sure to put your money where your morals are when it comes to curating your wardrobe.

LESSON LEARNED?

As I was listening to the radio the other morning, I heard teenage activist Greta Thunberg discussing something David Attenborough had once said to her; “personal interest must be a thing of the past, collective interest is the future.” As much as we get gratification from living in big houses, eating exotic foods in foreign countries and buying cheap clothes, it’s time to think about what’s more important – eating meat at every meal or making the planet inhabitable for our children, grandchildren, and generations to come. This is your cue. Cutting carbon starts with you. 

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