Carbon offsetting is just one part of becoming more environmentally responsible. The step before that is reduction. The less carbon you produce the better, and the less that is left for you to offset.

Start with calculating your carbon footprint. Friends of the Earth Ireland has a good calculator for your personal footprint. The better you understand where your biggest carbon use is the better you can target your efforts for maximum effectiveness.

For example, if the majority of your carbon footprint comes from flying to Fiji twice per year then reducing those flights will have a much bigger impact than switching to LED lightbulbs.

You can still do both, or one or the other, but you will have a better understanding of where the big emissions are coming from.

Next, think about how you live your life and what you consume. Try to reduce or change what you consume so that you use fewer resources and therefore less carbon.

The following hierarchy is a good way of thinking about this:

Starting at the top, here are some ways you can avoid carbon-intensive activities –

  • Fly less – take trains, buses, or fuel-efficient cars and carpool if you need to be somewhere in person. Have a holiday closer to home to keep your flights shorter.
  • Travel less – try to avoid long trips if you can, make phone calls instead of visiting places in person, and find similar shops or services that are closer to you. If you really need to go somewhere, jump on public transport or your bicycle, or take a walk.
  • Ship less – use local suppliers rather than transporting goods from further away. If you need to order from overseas, try to find suppliers with good environmental practices. For example, buy from a local soap shop rather than somewhere on the other side of the world that gets shipped here by Amazon.
  • Go digital – get your newsletters and bank statements emailed to you rather than posted. Avoid printing things, and save the trees.
  • Work from home more – If you can, skip the whole commute (and all the carbon that comes with it) by working from home.
  • Go meatless – meat and animal products have a bigger carbon footprint than plant-based foods. Try to incorporate more vegetables into your meals, and either reduce your meat portions or skip them altogether. Try bringing in meatless Mondays, or even just quitting red meat (the highest carbon meat). There are plenty of options if you aren’t keen to go fully meat-free.
  • Turn everything off – make sure everything is turned off at the wall or unplugged. Unplug your phone charger when you unplug your phone in the morning. Unplug the TV when you turn it off. Turn the stove off at the wall when you aren’t using it. Unplug your laptop charger when you switch it off. And, obviously, turn off all the lights when you leave a room.
  • Buy less – every gadget, toy, magazine or piece of clothing has a carbon footprint from how it was made and shipped. Buying less stuff means avoiding that whole footprint. Make what you’ve already got last as long as you can before buying something new. Only buy things you really need. When you do need something, look for a second hand or sustainably made option.
  • Change banks – if your current bank is investing in fossil fuels then look for one that has green investment policies.
  • Choose reusables – look for alternatives to single-use items that are produced just to be thrown away. Take your reusable coffee cup with you. Get your sushi in your own container instead of a plastic one that you will throw away.
  • Line dry clothes – in less rainy months avoid using the tumble-drier. It will also help your clothes last longer.

Next, reduce the energy that you use for the things that you need to keep doing –

  • Buy local – local food and products will have a lower transport footprint.
  • Switch to LED lights and efficient heaters or air conditioners.
  • Moderate your temperatures – put on a jersey instead of turning up the heater. Open a window instead of using a fan.
  • Choose efficient – if you need to replace a fridge or heater, look for ones with good energy ratings.
  • Recycle – paper, glass and plastic, and also tech, furniture, clothing, and everything else you can. Recycled products use less energy than ones that use raw materials. Buy recycled products too so the cycle can continue.
  • Insulate – make your spaces hold heat or keep it out better so you waste less power. Insulate your attic and basement if you have them. Hang thermally backed curtains. Put a cover on your water heating system.
  • Simplify – see if there are any steps in your routines that you could cut out. Could you reduce the number of times you drive to the shop by planning meals better? Could you simplify your hair care routine to eliminate one of the products you use?
  • Shorter showers – heat less water and use less water.
  • Compost – instead of throwing your food waste into the bin, turn it into nutrients for the garden. This avoid the transport emissions of sending them to landfill and also the methane it would give off when it got there.

Then, replace high carbon energy sources with low carbon energy sources.

  • Switch – to an electricity provider who produces its electricity renewably.
  • Go electric – when it is time to replace your old petrol or diesel car – look for an electric one that you can run off your new renewable electricity.
  • More electric – if you use petrol-powered tools (lawnmowers, for example), see if you can switch those to electric too.
  • If you burn fuel – make sure it’s sustainable, like a managed forest wood (FSC wood) or scrap wood instead of peat or coal.

Finally, offset what is left with one of our Irish carbon offsetting projects.

Your personal actions all have an impact on your carbon footprint. It is important to make changes that reduce this, but it is also important to acknowledge that some of these things will be harder in certain areas. Some will also require an initial cost or may cost a bit more (others will save you money!).

These challenges arise because we live in a system that is not designed around sustainable living. One of the most impactful things you can do on your journey to living more sustainably is to engage with organisations and people in power to help change those systems.

If your area doesn’t have an easy and accessible recycling system then write to your local councillor and vote in council elections to change this. If you can’t afford to live closer to where you work then write to your local politicians to ask them to support better housing options. If you can’t find locally produced foods in your supermarket then talk to the business owner about stocking more sustainable options.

We all have the power to make a change, but some actions can make a wider change that will help others as well and create a society where being green is accessible and easy for everyone.

Watch this video for a few more ideas on some of the big impact actions you can take to reduce your carbon footprint: