Size up your carbon footprint, and take steps to shrink it

Estimating your household emissions, can help reduce their impact, says David Prosser
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The Independent Online

Would you cut your carbon dioxide emissions by almost two thirds? And what would it cost to do it? Environment secretary David Miliband has unveiled plans to cut Britain's carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. A very large part of the reduction will have to come from the business sector, particularly the worst polluters, but individuals will have to do their bit too - it may even be that people will be given their own personal carbon allowances.

While increasing numbers of people are much more aware of their impact on the environment, very few know exactly what they are responsible for in terms of emissions. But it is possible to calculate your carbon footprint quite precisely - and doing so enables you to identify how to reduce its size.

Our survey will help: click here to take the test ). It is based on work done by Quaker Green Action, a group set up to promote sustainable living. Once you've completed the survey, you should have a much more accurate picture of how different parts of your life contribute to your total carbon emissions - and be in a much better position to reduce your impact.

Start by assessing how you compare with the average person in the UK, who emits around 13,000kg of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases during the course of a year. This is an individual total, so if you base some of your answers in the survey on your household consumption patterns, you will need to divide these figures by the number of members of your household.

Don't be too smug if you find that your carbon footprint is smaller than the average. For one thing, the global average is just 5,800kg. In developing countries such as India, the figure is closer to 1,300kg.

Moreover, however low your current figure, you will almost certainly need to cut it further in order to contribute to the 60 per cent reduction we need by 2050. For individuals, the cut would imply getting your total carbon emissions figure down to around 5,200kg.

Some areas of your life are easier to target than others. For example, one part of the survey requires you to add to your total figure if you live in a house built less than 50 years ago. This is because the provision of materials to build housing is a major contribution to carbon emissions.

On the other hand, fitting energy-saving light bulbs in your home could not be simpler. Stepping up your recycling efforts should also be relatively easy. And many people will not find it too challenging to reduce the amount of time they spend driving large, polluting cars.

The story on costs is similarly mixed. As the story below explains, there are all sorts of simple steps you can take around the home that will not only have a dramatic effect on your carbon emissions total, but will also save you hundreds of pounds each year.

Moving on to the next step, however, may prove expensive. While installing renewable energy systems, such as solar panels or wind turbines, will bring down your carbon emissions further, this sort of kit can be expensive. Even with limited government grants available, it may be some years before lower energy bills repay your initial investment.

Similarly, while organic food reduces your carbon emissions, it is generally more expensive. If you live on a tight budget, it may not always be practical.

That said, it's worth remembering that there are also costs involved in not reducing your emissions. Drivers of larger cars, for example, already pay higher road taxes. Air passenger duty on flights was increased sharply last year and may rise again soon. And in time, there may be taxation penalties for people who exceed their personal carbon allowances.

Simple ways to reduce your footprint and save money

* Turning your thermostat down by 1C could cut your heating bills by up to 10 per cent, saving you about £40 per year.

* Is your water too hot? Your cylinder thermostat shouldn't need to be set higher than 60C/140F.

* Close your curtains at dusk to stop heat escaping through your windows.

* Always turn off the lights when you leave a room.

* Don't leave appliances on standby and remember not to leave appliances on charge for an unnecessary time.

* If you're not completely filling up the washing machine, tumble dryer or dishwasher, use the appliance's half-load or economy programme.

* Only boil as much water as you need (but remember to cover the elements if you're using an electric kettle).

* A dripping hot water tap wastes energy and in one week wastes enough hot water to fill half a bath, so fix leaking taps and make sure they're fully turned off.

* Replace your light bulbs with energy-saving recommended ones: just one can reduce your lighting costs by up to £100 over the lifetime of the bulb - and they last up to 12 times longer than ordinary, old-style light bulbs.

* Do a home energy check. The online test at www.est.org.uk/myhome, asks you simple questions about your home and promises you a free report telling you how you can save up to £300 a year on your household energy bills.

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