A group hold placards in front of a mass gathering of G7 paddle-out protesters organised by the environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage, at Gyllyngvase Beach on June 12, 2021 in Falmouth, England.
Hugh Hastings | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Governments around the world have pledged to become carbon neutral in the coming decades and to help reduce the impact that our day-to-day activities are having on the environment.
But what can we do as individuals?
CNBC speaks to five experts who share their ideas on how we can improve our carbon footprints.
1. Ask questions
Nasreen Sheikh is an advocate against poverty and fast fashion. She was born in a small village located on the border of India and Nepal, and at around the age of 10 she ended up working at a sweatshop.
More than $127 billion worth of garments that are imported annually by G-20 nations are likely to come from modern slavery, according to the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index 2018 Report.
The core of the problem, according to Sheikh, is that “people don’t ask questions: where are my clothes from, where are chocolates from or where my coffee comes from.”
In order to live more sustainably, she suggests: “I think beyond the price tag, and I consider the people who make our clothes, I read the label and I ask questions: Who made my clothes? And I support only ethical, sustainable and Fairtrade brands.”
2. Your food
A plant-based diet “has benefits for all the planet and society and people as a whole,” Shireen Kassam, the co-founder of Plant Based Health Online, a group that educates health professionals and advocates for plant-based nutrition, told CNBC.
Beef is the most polluting food product in modern agriculture, emitting 99.48 kg of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food, according to Our World in Data. Lamb and mutton follow at 39.72kg per kilogram of food.
Kassam says: “The easy wins are getting rid of red and processed meat because both for health and the environment that is the biggest impact you can make as an individual.”
“And rather than thinking about it as taking foods out or avoiding foods or restricting, it is actually a diet that’s full of abundance — we have got thousands of edible plants,” she said.
3. Your energy
“Most of the energy we use in the home is for heating and hot water. Check, if you have got heating controls, that they are set to a comfortable level and that your heating is only coming on when you need it on. Because if it is on when you’re out, it is just wasting energy,” Laura McGadie, the group head of energy at the Energy Saving Trust, a British non-profit organization, said.
Our energy consumption plays a big part in our carbon footprint. In the U.K. alone, in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, it is estimated that carbon emissions from heating households and hot water will have to be cut by 95% over the next 30 years.
“Another thing you can do is making sure you don’t leave your appliances on standby,” she said, adding this could save you about £25 ($34.7) a year.
And when it comes to your mobile “as soon as it is 100% charged, you don’t want it charging any more. So unplug it and switch it off the wall, because you will feel that the plug for the phone charger often gets warm, if it is getting warm then that’s using energy,” McGadie also said.
4. Your waste
Plastic production has reportedly expanded from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons in 2015, according to data shared by National Geographic.
In addition, every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in our oceans, endangering biodiversity.
Melanie Fisher, the founder of Zero Waste Goods, a sustainable events company, said there are three parts to how she tackles her own plastic waste. The first one being due diligence on the products she buys.
“Then there is taking care of the products I already own, so if you can extend the life of something either by mending it or even giving it to charity … and then there is how do I recycle, what is the end of life of the products I am using?” she told CNBC.
“With my personal care products, I really slimmed down what I have used and the stuff that I do buy I try to make sure that there is zero packaging if possible,” Fisher added.
“With my beauty products I make sure I am buying from a brand that either you can go and get the products refilled, or they are entirely made of glass or tins so you make sure they can be recycled,” she added.
5. General consumption
The United States is the world’s largest consumer market, according to non-profit the Brookings Institution.
In 2020, American residents spent more than $3 billion in soft goods, such as cars, clothing and food, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis showed.
But 20 years prior, the consumption of goods in the U.S. was only half that level.
Elizabeth Teo, who has a double major in physical and environmental geography and environmental studies from the University of Toronto, told CNBC that everyone tackles sustainability differently.
“[It] depends on what comes easiest to you, what areas you have access to,” he said.
“Personally, for me, I just try to buy less in general, I think that’s really what everyone needs to do.”