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Reducing our personal carbon footprint

Sustainability By Tony Owens, Technical Director, Building Services – 31 March 2022

A lake with a shape of footprints in the middle of the forest


Tony Owens in the Cundall dubai office

Tony Owens

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As we settle into 2022 it is worth considering what COP26 delivered for the global community. Most of the scientific community would say that it did not go as far as it needed to go, but when vested interests and economic stability are at the forefront of the G20 agenda, this was always likely to result in a climate change-averse commitment. So, what can we do?

Climate change needs to be tackled from the bottom up. We must change the way we make decisions and force the suppliers of commodities, consumables, goods and fossil fuels, to respond to those demand changes. It all starts with decisions. This sounds simple but it requires strong and consistent commitment to force changes in the way suppliers respond to market trends. Below are some ideas on how we can all play our part in averting global warming.

The automobile industry

Let’s examine the automobile industry, Norway is one the leading countries in the world when it comes to phasing out internal combustion engines. Almost 65% of new passenger cars sold in Norway in 2021 were electric and 22% were plug-in hybrids. From a different perspective, only 14% of new cars were sold without a plug. We need to acknowledge that the Norwegian government provided incentives, but the purchaser made the decision to buy an electric vehicle (EV). If more people convert to EVs, the reliance on fossil fuels will be reduced. Now that fuel prices are rising, it makes more sense than ever to convert to EVs if they suit your lifestyle and the infrastructure is in place to support your decision. While some countries are more advanced in this respect, Norway shows us that it can be done.

International travel

International travel is responsible for 5% of emissions, with 2.4% of global CO2 emissions coming from aviation. This might not seem a big contribution, until you consider only a very small percentage of the world’s population flies frequently. Even in richer countries such as the UK and the USA around half of people fly in any given year, with just 12-15% being frequent fliers. When business travel is required, virtual meetings are a sustainable alternative that cannot be argued against. Arguably, this is not always possible, but the decision is about weighing up the necessity to travel.

Consumer goods

Consumer goods such as electrical products are a major contributor to global warming. Electronics are one of the most heavily imported commodity groups and shipping goods by air is the most energy-intensive method. As part of the upfront carbon emission, transportation adds on a great deal of upfront carbon emission for electronics. As globalisation and international trade continue to increase, alongside electronics consumption, it is likely that these will continue to play a dominant role in upfront carbon emissions on international trade.

Remember, electronics contain semi-conductors, a very carbon-intensive product. If possible, delay the decision to upgrade to the latest model of phone or vehicle. The embodied carbon in the major parts and components that electronic goods use to assemble computer products accounts for nearly 60% of its total analysed footprint. When purchasing white goods or electronic appliances, consider how long the product will last, if it can be repaired due to malfunction and how efficient is. Look for the energy rating of the appliance and preferably select A-rated appliances and energy-efficient models. Energy-efficient appliances generally cost a little more upfront, but the long-term savings are significant on both your energy bills and reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the lifetime of the products.

Fast fashion

The fast fashion trend refers to the mass production of clothing straight from the runway to local clothing stores. This allows fashionable clothing to be affordable to all consumers without being too pricey. Global clothing production has doubled in the past 15 years due to the rise in consumer demand and less than 1% of the material from disposed clothing is recycled. In order to make these clothes so cheap, unsafe and unsustainable, systems are utilised. Fast fashion may seem like a blooming business model, but at what cost? Making a purchasing decision should consider where the garment was sourced and what type of material it's made from, because if we can wear it for several years, it's a sustainable purchase.

Sustainable food choices

How do food choices impact your carbon footprint? Choosing locally produced food reduces transportation requirements and thus lower embodied carbon. Meat has a huge carbon footprint because of the intensive nature of large-scale farming methods - billions of animals must be fed every year, and all that feed must be grown, harvested and transported. Making space for grazing cattle is a leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest. What’s worse, all those animals release carbon in the form of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s significantly more effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere than CO2. Becoming vegetarian for just one day per week will reduce your carbon footprint more than eating exclusively local food.

If collectively we all consider our choices from a sustainable viewpoint and make decisions to avert climate change, we can influence the markets and change the way industries, producers and manufacturers view their customers. This will ultimately force them to change their offering to align with consumers’ demands.

No one said it would be easy, but our decisions will determine the future of climate change.