Each year, the average New Zealander’s carbon footprint is around 8.6 tonnes, with three-quarters of that being generated as we consume goods and services.
To help you understand that figure, the World Health Organisation calls for a target limit of approximately 2 tonnes per person per year. So if the average household has 4 people, we are currently emitting more CO2 than recommended.
These figures help highlight something we've known for a while - a reduction in the consumption of energy at an individual level is necessary to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. It is the collective efforts of ALL of us to reduce our carbon footprint by changing behaviours, altering methods of transportation and patterns of consumption that will make it happen.
How can you live more sustainably at home?
The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority is a government agency mobilising New Zealanders towards clean energy use and leading the push to become world leaders in sustainability. Their initiative Gen Less is an online resource dedicated to helping individuals better understand the role they play in affecting climate change. It's an educational resource packed full of useful tips and ideas for reducing energy consumption across multiple aspects of your daily life.
We've pulled together some of their top suggestions, and combined them with our own knowledge and experience in living sustainably to bring you these 11 ways you can make your home more sustainable.
Think about what you buy
When making purchasing decisions you should consider what products are made of and how they are made, as well as how they get to you. Think to yourself, "are there more efficient options" and "do I really need this"?
A good place to start this way of thinking is with the clothes you wear. While it's easy to understand the impact of things like transportation and single-use plastic bags, the effects of the clothing industry are not so obvious.
According to a UN report the clothing industry produces 8% of manmade carbon emissions and 20% of the wastewater. It is also the second biggest user of freshwater - just 1 pair of jeans requires as much as 7,500 litres of water to produce.
These statistics are exaggerated by the fact that people are buying 60% more garments than they were 15 years ago and keeping them half as long. Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned.
Another issue is the use of polyesters and other acrylic fibres. When they are washed small fragments end up in the water and accumulate in the food chain. A big chunk of the plastic in the oceans are microplastics from clothing.
But it's not all doom-and-gloom as many companies who operate in this 'fast fashion' industry are waking up to the reality of how they do business and seeking to make changes. Examples include the global clothing chain H&M, which has a garment collection scheme; jeans manufacturer Guess, which is involved in a wardrobe recycling programme; and outdoor clothing company Patagonia, which produces jackets using polyester from recycled bottles.
So what does all this mean for you, the consumer?
The first thing you need to do is take the time to learn about how your favourite clothing brands opreate. Are they sustainable, or are they adding to the problem?
Also look to extend the life of your garments, rather than throwing them away. Can they be donated to charity, or to a friend or family member? Can you use them around the house as rags before they are disposed of?
A huge trend, particularly amongst millenials and Gen X is to purchase recycled clothing. Now, this isn't an option for everybody, but if you are open to the idea of improving sustainability with your clothing choices than buying used rather than new is a great way to lower your impact.
Minimise energy use
Most of our electricity comes from renewable sources so choose electricity over other forms of energy and avoid waste.
Also take the time to examine your home and see where you can minimise energy use in other ways. Installing insulation, double glazing, and low energy lighting are changes you can make to your home reduce energy use.
Time to buy a new applicance? Prioritise energy efficiency as a purchase factor and shop around. If at all possible, try to buy a high efficiency, second-hand appliance.
There are also lots of behavioural changes you can make to reduce your energy use - turn off applicances at the wall when not in use; turn lights off in empty rooms; close windows and doors when heating or cooling a room.
Grow your own food.
Ever wanted to start your own garden? Well here's another reason you should - it's great for the environment.
Think about it - not only do you know exactly what is going on your family's dinner table each night, you are also helping to reduce transport-related GHG emissions. Having your own food-producing trees and a vegetable garden cuts down your reliance on food that has to be transported across the country.
Food makes up 10-30% of household carbon emissions, and many of us could do with making some smarter decisions when it comes to what we eat.
How it is produced and where it comes from, and how it gets to our local store is important. Airfreight has a footprint hundreds of times higher per kilogram than sea-freight.
Another great option is to reduce the amount of meat consumed each week. Eating one vegetarian meal a week can cut emissions by 7%.
Finally, plan in advance, only buy what you need and be sure to eat everything you cook. New Zealanders throw away over 75,000 tonnes of food each year – that’s 32kg each – worth $560 per household.
Change your water habits
We wash everything too much. We waste a lot of water when we bathe, do the laundry or wash dishes. Around 30% of the energy used by the average household flows into hot water.
So not only are we wasting water, we are consuming a lot of energy to heat it.
Here are some great tips directly from Gen Less:
Wash your clothes in cold water. A hot water wash can use 10 times more electricity than a cold wash.
Turn off the tap. Fill the sink with hot water instead of leaving the tap running when doing things like shaving.
Shower rather than bath. It typically uses only half as much water and energy.
Keep your showers short. Use a timer if you tend to lose track of time.
Run full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine. Use the eco setting on your dishwasher if it has one.
Pre-rinse dishes if required, in cold water.
Also, think about what you send down the drain. Use biodegradable cleaners or make your own natural cleaners - vinegar and water will clean most surfaces.
Since the 1950s we have increased the waste per person and much ends up in landfill. Make an effort to reduce, repurpose, recycle. This includes food waste, so compost what you can or make sure it goes to green waste.
Buy high-quality products
When you do need to make a new purchase, always focus on quality, even if it comes with a higher price tag. Good quality products tend to last longer, and the higher price tag will usually make you more likely to repair rather than replace.
Bonus Tips for Everyday Life
While making changes at home is great, there are lots of other ways you can live a more sustainable life:
Offset your emissions
You've probably seen the option to offset your carbon footprint when purchasing a plane ticket.
While it's true that this cost does nothing to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted during your flight, the airline actually takes this fee and puts it towards a sustainability initiative they run, or donate it to projects such as preserving forests, increasing biodiversity, recovering methane from landfills and building renewable energy.
If you want to learn more about offsetting carbon from flying check out Ekos' online calculator to see how much carbon a flight emits and what can be done with your offsetting fee.
Travel less (or change your mode of transport)
A great way to lower your CO2 emissions to choose to holiday at home rather than abroad. Not only do you support local businesses and economies, but you are also helping reduce travel-related CO2.
Leave your car at home
When it comes to reducing our carbon footprint, opting for alternate modes of transport, especially for work, is a great option available to everybody.
Here are some great tips:
Walk or ride to work once a week
Catch public transport wherever possible
Rideshare with a colleague
Work from home once a week
Drive smoother - heavy braking and accelerating uses more fuel
Choose a fuel efficient car
Switch to an electric vehicle
The choices we make in our everyday lives have the capacity to drive real, significant change. By taking the time to understand the not-so-obvious impacts we set ourselves down a path of sustainability and start to build a better tomorrow.