How I cut a third off my carbon footprint in 6 months (it was actually fun!)
This journey starts in October, when I joined the On Purpose Associate Programme, started at my first placement at King’s College London and took the WWF carbon footprint test for the first time. Horrified, I learnt that annually I was using 200% of my share of the world’s resources.
That same month we were flooded with news of an upcoming climate catastrophe following the IPCC special report and changing jobs had left me with a new work-life balance, with both time and mental space to think about what it might be possible to change.
So I set myself a challenge: Every month for the next year I am going to change one lifestyle factor to be more sustainable, and I’m going to try and maintain (or grow) the change for the rest of the year, in what will hopefully be an exponential curve towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
Since then, I have made changes to how I get around, how I eat, how I supply my house with basic essentials and even how I dress. I’m healthier, happier and feel more connected to my local area. I’m also more informed about environmental issues and the incredible work being done to tackle them globally.
It’s now six months in and when I recently re-took the WWF carbon footprint test I got a score of 125%. I’d never have guessed it could be both fun and easy to make that scale of change.
This is what surprised me most: it doesn’t need to be hard, it doesn’t need to be a sacrifice. There are a growing number of social enterprises making sustainable decisions genuinely more convenient and more fun than their less-green alternatives, and I’ve shared some of the ones I’ve liked below.
The first thing I had to do was pick where to start. At a basic level, my criteria was:
1. What is easy?
2. What is high impact?
3. What is fun?
By focusing on things that are easy and fun, I’ve built momentum for the things that are harder, like divesting pensions, and looking for alternatives to short-haul flights. The easy stuff is a great place to start; there are so many things that you change once and they’re done for good.
Month 1: October & Commuting
Switching my commute from bus to bike: It’s now April and I’m still cycling every day!
I have saved at least £60 per month on bus fares; I have gained 30 mins per day in commute time because cycling is genuinely the quickest way for me to get to work; I have lost weight and feel far fitter than I’d anticipated from an additional 30 minutes of daily cycling; and finally, I feel a lot more connected to my local area, I notice new spaces as I cycle past them in a way I never did on the bus.
Verdict: Easy, high impact and fun!
Month 2: November & Home
Changing household habits and spending patterns, from energy providers to toiletries. This is one I’ve added to every month, and I’m still collecting recommendations: The full list of things I’ve tried and would recommend is below if you’re interested!
To highlight the real game changers:
Sanitary products switched to Thinx in a completely revolutionary move. They are elegant, machine washable and so comfortable, I genuinely feel like one of the roller skating, skydiving women in those awful ads!
Energy provider switched to Bulb, which has only ended up costing us 20p more per month for a fully renewable energy plan and some of my friends who switched are saving money.
We now have greener versions of bulky items like laundry detergent, washing up liquid and toilet paper delivered: It’s cheaper, more convenient and the Who Gives A Crap toilet paper for one is more fun!
And possibly my favourite sustainability tip of the year has been trying to wear a new outfit every day – without duplication – for as long as possible, to stretch and make you be a bit more creative with your wardrobe.
After 80 days and counting: I've rediscovered all kinds of stuff in the back of my wardrobe and found new combinations of things that work together, so I’m not remotely tempted to go shopping and buy more clothes. I've also been (I think!) dressing better, because I'm thinking about it not just throwing on any old thing. Finally, I've sketched my outfit each day, to make sure I don't duplicate, and so have the beginnings of a little outfits menu, which is nice and, who knows, might make me dress better in future!
Verdict: Varied, but on the whole easy, high impact and fun!
Month 3: December & Christmas
Reducing the impact of Christmas by minimising stuff and emphasising experiences in gifts.
Buying memberships and tickets to events rather than stuff is a great way to gift memories, while upcycling and crafting is a great way to create something meaningful and unique.
Our work Secret Santa this year was capped at £5 and had to come from a charity shop, and we couldn’t believe what amazing presents people found!
I also made homemade crackers: cheaper, more sustainable and genuinely made everyone happier - imagine getting a lovely silk scarf in your cracker rather than another plastic keyring?
Verdict: Definitely easy and fun
Month 4: January & Food
Thinking more sustainably about what I choose to eat, where I buy it from, what it’s packaged in and how much is wasted.
Trying to eat more seasonally, with fortnightly Oddbox deliveries of fruit and vegetables, sourced from local farms from the ‘wonky’ produce otherwise wasted because it’s not ‘perfect’ enough to be sold to supermarkets. Wonky fruit and veg are genuinely charming: Favourites so far include three pronged kiwis, a cauliflower the size of a football, and a slightly small but entirely delicious pineapple.
Moving all dried produce (rice, grains, pasta, nuts) into jars, beautifying my kitchen cupboards and laying the groundwork for buying plastic free from local bulk refill stores. Zero waste lifestyle blogs are full of great resources, including this handy searchable map of refill shops where you can buy food unpackaged to bring home in your own containers. My local shop is a community run food coop, which sells at cost price and encourages shoppers to volunteer – amazing!
This one is definitely a journey but there’s so much reward in being thoughtful about food. Some things I’m still working on include: bringing in lunch to work from home consistently, pushing my vegetarianism a bit closer to veganism, which I’ve started by treating cheese as more of a delicious treat than a daily staple, and just cooking better food: Anna Jones has been a great help here on seasonal recipes especially!
Verdict: High impact and mostly fun!
Month 5: February & Finance
Looking into switching my pension to more ethical funds. This has been a daunting and opaque process for me, but I’ve been lucky in the support of some very knowledgeable friends.
Verdict: Definitely high impact but so far neither easy nor especially fun.
Month 6: March & Networks
The Network Effect: Sharing ideas, starting conversations and hopefully getting more people thinking about the small things they can change.
One of the challenges I’ve always had with this stuff is even if I am able to live completely carbon neutral with negligible environmental impact, I’m just one person on a planet of billions. But that’s what stories are for, so I’ve written this post in the hopes that a few of you will get something useful out of my experiences, and maybe between us we’ll have more of an impact.
What could you change within your own lifestyle, which might be easy, impactful and fun?
And on that vein, it helps to think about your network:
Where are you connected, where do you have influence, who do you know who can change things?
Last month I ran a workshop for my division at King’s to map our ongoing work against the UN Sustainable Development Goals, so we can amplify and celebrate positive contributions and reflect on how to reduce negative impacts. The output is an ambitious sustainability plan encompassing the work of about 50 people and the workshop is now ready to be rolled out across university – exciting stuff!
Sometimes all it takes is asking the right person the right question at the right time. Our office fruit is delivered by Oddbox, this year graduations went paperless, our last teambuilding afternoon was a Good Gym walk to volunteer at a foodbank.
What could your workplace switch, and can you help make it happen?
Verdict: Relatively easy, pretty fun, and impact… well, you tell me!
Links and tips
- Energy provider: Switching to Bulb has only ended up costing us 20p more per month. (If you sign up using the link above we both get £50 credit.)
2. Laundry and washing up liquid switched to Ecover’s 15L refill boxes:
- More convenient, as it’s delivered to your home and much, much slower to run out
- Cheaper per litre
- Fewer plastic bottles thrown away
3. Sanitary products: Switching to Thinx.
- They ship from America, so watch out for customs fees if you buy direct; alternatively you can now find them on ASOS
- They also sell reusable tampon applicators
4. Toilet paper by Who Gives A Crap.
- I've recently switched to these guys and now get toilet paper delivered (so convenient) in plastic free packaging (which is colourful and lovely), made from recycled office paper (no trees harmed in the making).
- It's quite a bit more expensive per roll, but the rolls are double the length, so from my initial experiment I think it's pretty much cost neutral. And they donate half their profits to sanitation projects around the world!
- Eco friendly deodorant by Nuud
- Lush shampoo and conditioner bars, in reusable metal tins
- Investing in a metal safety razor, rather than using plastic ones
- Bamboo toothbrushes: I have one of these at the moment, but it’s a growing market with loads to pick from!
6. Food and kitchen:
- Beeswax wraps are a great alternative to cling film, and it’s easy (and cheap!) to make your own
- Oddbox deliveries of seasonal fruit and vegetables, sourced from local farms from the ‘wonky’ produce otherwise wasted because it’s not ‘perfect’ enough to be sold to supermarkets.
- Buy plastic free from local bulk refill stores.
7. Little habits:
- “Landfill Bin” is now written on the top of my kitchen bin, reminding us all to think twice about whether something is recyclable - this has had a bigger impact than I expected it to!
- Make sure you're using smile.amazon.co.uk if you use Amazon; they'll donate a (tiny) portion of the profit from your purchases to a charity of your choosing