10 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

By the ACE-Naperville Environmental Team


Convert your home to renewable energy sources

The cost of solar has come way down. Almost all renewable energy has state and federal incentives for installation and over time as it is used (called RECs or renewable energy credits). Conversion to solar energy is even possible with zero investment upfront with new leasing options. Check out the state and federal incentive programs here. You can also contact your village to switch to green energy vs. brown energy, although programs can vary by municipality.

Make your household energy efficient

ComEd, Nicor, and Peoples Gas customers have opportunities to reduce energy usage with a free energy assessment that includes free and discounted products for your home, including Energy Star certified LEDs, power strips, programmable thermostats, water-saving shower heads/faucet aerators, and hot water pipe insulation.

Call 888-652-2955 to schedule a free assessment for your home. Increase your home’s value and save further by getting a full energy audit for $99, which includes information on rebates, incentives, and financing for larger investments.

Use a programmable thermostat so that you aren’t heating/cooling your home when you are not there. Turn your thermostat up in the summer and down three degrees in the winter, especially at night. Use a heating blanket to warm your bed or sofa for five minutes before relaxing/sleeping.

Buy appliances with the Energy Star label

One of today’s energy-efficient refrigerators uses less than half the energy of a model that’s twelve years old or older. The more energy efficient they are, the more money they’ll save you in the long run, and the lower their CO2 impact will be. In most cases, the “payback period” – the difference in cost on a high versus low efficiency appliance and the long-term savings in lower electricity or water bills—is only a matter of a few months to a few years. After that, you are laughing all the way to the bank. Unplug electrical devices when not in use.

Replace light bulbs with super-efficient LEDs

Save money by replacing any incandescent or halogen light bulbs (especially those used more than two hours per day) with Energy Star-certified LEDs. Today’s LED light bulbs are 90% more efficient. They can operate 24/7 for 20+ years without replacement on about $8 per year in electricity. Obviously, if you don’t leave them on 24 hours a day, every day, they cost practically nothing and may last your lifetime.

Reduce, re-use and recycle. Avoid useless purchases

Minimize consumerism in general. Learn to live with less. Repurpose or donate items when original use is over. All products have a carbon footprint of some sort. Do we really need to acquire more useless stuff? Try using Craigslist to sell items for re-use. Get a tax deduction by donating items to Goodwill or nicer items your local hospital resale shop, like the Gingham Tree at Good Samaritan in Downers Grove, which uses proceeds to offset people’s medical bills. Eliminate or recycle single-use plastics by taking your own bags to the grocery store for shopping. Avoid straws and Styrofoam. Carry a reusable beverage container rather than buying bottled water.

Walk, cycle and use public transport more often

Drive an EV or hybrid. Avoid flying. Air travel has an extremely high carbon footprint. Don’t take unnecessary flights. Try to telecommute or teleconference when possible. Do you need to be in the office every week day, or can you work from home occasionally?

Make your next vehicle a fuel-efficient hybrid. Or, even better, get an electric vehicle, like any Tesla or a Nissan Leaf, which have zero-emissions and never need any gas or an oil changes. They have fewer moving parts since they don’t have an engine (they have a rechargeable battery in the floor); so, they typically cost about one-third of what a gas-burning car costs to operate. And, they can last years longer. Drive less, and take public transportation or carpool more.

Reduce meat and dairy consumption

Not only does livestock production have a huge carbon footprint, it can cause or exacerbate some of the nation’s biggest health problems, like chronic heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Try getting started by going meatless one day per week. Consider joining the global Meatless Monday movement. A recent United Nations report warns that rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gas emissions than driving cars. Americans eat four times as much meat as the world average.

Buy local, organic produce

If you food has to be transported from far away, it will inherently have a higher carbon footprint. It’s also important to support sustainable farmers who are using more environmentally-friendly agricultural practices, such as less pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and antibiotics. Organic farming repairs soil and produces carbon sinks (storage) which mitigate/counteract climate change.

If you do eat animal products, like meat and dairy, try to purchase products produced locally, sustainably, and ethically. Whole Foods has a rating system that can help educate consumers on the issues involved.

Plant trees and stop using leaf blowers

Plant leafy, native, drought-resistant trees and shrubs around your house and air conditioner to provide wind breaks and summer shade. The average yard tree cleans 330 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year. It also absorbs an extra ten pounds of pollutants like ozone and particulates from the air each year. Trees and plants offset your carbon footprint and are great carbon sinks. Gas-powered leaf blowers can generate as much emissions in one hour as driving a car 350 miles.

Make climate-conscious political decisions and participate in government

In Illinois, call your U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, as well as your district’s congressional representatives, about federal issues. Call your Illinois state senator and state representative about state policies. Let your voice be heard. Put your elected representatives’ telephone numbers on your phone and call them regularly. Get involved in every election. Vote for officials that put your health and that of our shared home (the planet) above polluter monies.