7 ways to reduce your carbon footprint

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A. Sue Weisler

RIT appointed Enid Cardinal senior sustainability advisor for the university in 2011. Cardinal is a LEED-accredited professional with a background in socially responsible investing and environmental policy. Cardinal previously served as director of the Office of Sustainability at Illinois State University. To watch her meRIT webinar, scan the QR code in the tree below with your smartphone or go to http://bit.ly/1mDLZ3a.

Sustainability is a high priority at RIT. As a university with more than 22,000 faculty, staff and students, we recognize that individual actions are as important as our institutional efforts. But as the buzz around sustainability and green products increases, it can be hard for individuals to know where to start. Here are seven simple steps that will get you well on your way without breaking the bank.

1. Get rid of vampires—They are fine on TV, but energy vampires (or phantom energy loads) drain your wallet. The average U.S. household wastes $100 per year in “standby” electricity consumed by devices that are off but plugged in. An easy solution is to plug your computer, peripherals and home electronics into power strips and shut them off when not in use.

2. Invest in clean energy—The cleanest energy is energy you don’t use. A home energy audit will help you to identify energy-saving projects around your house and the payback associated with each one. Once you have exhausted your conservation opportunities, it may be time to start investing the money you are saving in renewable energy. In addition to federal tax incentives, financial support is available through many state and local governments for these types of projects. If you are willing to pay a small premium for electricity, you can also request green “e” certified energy through your local utility provider.

3. Don’t be idle—According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, passenger vehicles account for 43 percent of all transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. So skip the treadmill or exercise bike (which use electricity) and get your workout by using more active modes of transportation like walking, biking or even public transit. When you do drive, try carpooling; you can share expenses and reduce the wear and tear on your car. Lastly, avoid idling whenever possible—it gets zero miles per gallon. In fact, idling for one hour uses approximately one gallon of gas. In other words, a vehicle that idles for 10 minutes each day wastes more than a gallon of gas a week.

4. Try a low carbon diet—Your diet impacts more than just your waistline. For average Americans, red meat makes up 11 percent of the calories in their diet, but a whopping 25 percent of the carbon emissions. Ruminants like cattle and sheep release methane during their digestive processes, and their manure releases methane as it decomposes. As a result, red meat and other animal products are considerably more carbon intensive per calorie than grains or vegetables. Going meatless once a week will reduce your risk of preventable chronic health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, as well as your carbon footprint. In fact, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eaters Guide, if everyone in the U.S. avoided meat or cheese once a week, it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

5. Reduce, reuse, recycle—Greenhouse gas emissions result from the production and disposal of materials, and oftentimes the easiest actions are overlooked. Simple things like opting for reusable bags, having your morning cup of coffee in a reusable mug rather than a disposable one, or carrying a reusable water bottle can add up. Recently, RIT switched to reusable to-go containers in Gracie’s dining facility, and in so doing avoided having to purchase 94,000 single-use to-go containers that would end up in a landfill.

6. Be a conscious consumer— Many businesses, large and small, are actively working to reduce their carbon footprint. Support those companies by choosing their products for your purchasing needs over less conscious competitors. It will enable them to continue to advance their efforts and may encourage their competitors to follow suit.

7. Magnify your impact—I often hear the comment: “I’m just one person, how big of an impact can I really have?” My answer: a huge impact. Beyond your personal actions, think about the organizations you are involved with. Perhaps your workplace, church or child’s school could use your help/advocacy in advancing their sustainability efforts. The ideas above apply to organizations, too.