in order to get an understandable 101 on carbon footprints, we asked Hitchin-resident Anni Sander, project manager at Cambridge Carbon Footprint and Community Lead for Plastic-Free Hitchin, to help us cut through all the carbon jargon and give us top tips on where to start and how we can really make a difference.
how would you define a carbon footprint / how should we think about it?
You could think of a carbon footprint as the total amount of greenhouse gas that is created by an activity, the creation of a product, a person or even a nation. For example when we talk about the carbon footprint of a typical UK resident, what we mean is the greenhouse gas emissions that are created because of this person's activities, like driving a car, taking a flight or consuming certain goods or foods. For some things it's rather easy to estimate or even measure the carbon footprint, like car journeys. You can just imagine putting a big balloon at the end of the exhaust of a car, capturing it's emissions and then weighing that. For other things, like the production of foods, this isn't quite as straight forward. Yes we know that it will create less greenhouse gas emissions to grow an apple than to rear and butcher a cow, but estimating exact numbers can be tricky.
how are we doing in UK compared to where we should be?
Many of us have heard of the Paris Agreement and how nations across the world have agreed to cut their emissions in order to limit global warming. The UK have set themselves the target to make the whole country carbon neutral (or 'Net Zero') by 2050. That means that by then we will not release any additional greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. At the moment every UK citizen produces somewhat over 5 MtCO2 per year, which is far above the global average. Even though the Government has made 'Net Zero' a binding target its current policies don't add up. Experts estimate that we would need to reduce our carbon footprint by a third in the next ten years to stay on track.
where to start & what's the target?
If we want to be carbon neutral by 2050 we need to start making changes not only on national level, like improving our infrastructure or invest in clean energy, we also in every household throughout the country. To do this, it's important to understand what parts of our lives create emissions and what changes would have the most effect. Websites like the WWF or in fact our own Cambridge Climate Change Charter help people to better understand their carbon footprints and identify workable solutions to improve them.
what are your top tips?
In a typical household in the east of England the worst offenders are typically heating, travel and food. Heating because our houses are generally very poorly insulated and waste a lot of energy. The very least everyone should do is put down a proper layer of insulation in their attic and fill any drafty gaps around their windows. Travel becomes very carbon intensive once we board an airplane. Every overseas flight creates about the same amount of carbon as a typical British car being driven for a year. Staying on the ground is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gasses, especially as a family. And when it comes to food, beef is one of the most carbon intense foods there is. Cutting out as much meat as possible is another hugely effective way to reduced your footprint.
where are you on your journey?
I remember two years ago hearing about a campaign to encourage people not to fly for 12 months and I thinking: "I'm an expat! We have to see our families. How is that supposed to work?!" I couldn't imagine not flying. Well, I boarded my last flight two months later and haven't flown since. As a family we make it work to travel in a different way, making the journey part of the adventure. Same goes for our car free lifestyle, I guess. My husband couldn't imagine not eating meat a couple of years ago, but he's not missing it now. We spend a lot of time and effort questioning our lifestyle choices and trying to do better ever since we had our first child. Generally I'd say we are doing pretty well.
what's the easiest way to measure / know the progress we're making individually?
There are pretty useful carbon footprint calculators available on the internet, for example our own Cambridge Carbon Footprint Calculator. Most of them make suggestions how you could reduce your footprint further. I usually do a calculation every year to see how I'm doing.
what bits of our footprint can't we control and what can we do about these?
Often when we talk about national averages of carbon footprints they include a certain baseline value that includes emissions that are created simply by living in a certain part of the world: the emissions that are created by heating our schools, by driving our fire engines, by building our roads or by broadcasting our television programmes. We can of course ask our councils and government to make these as efficient and carbon neutral as possible.
can I really make a difference?
YES! There has been a lot of research lately into individuals taking action on climate change. Whilst it is the governments and big business that seem to make the big decisions around investments and policy, each and every one of us helps to determine the direction of travel. By showing businesses what sort of services we want to buy, and governments what sort of policies we request, we are not only making our own lives more sustainable but also shape the bigger picture.
what is Cambridge Carbon Footprint and what impact do they have?
CCF has been around for 15 years. We are a local charity that focuses on helping Cambridgeshire residents and community groups in and around Cambridge to reduce their carbon emissions. Among other things we organise repair cafes, workshops on energy efficient houses, and host lots of useful information on carbon footprints on our website!
what is your role and why do you do it?
I'm managing projects that we deliver on behalf of the local councils in Cambridgeshire. Our current project, Net Zero Now, is a training programme for people in South Cambridgeshire that want to take action on carbon emissions in their local communities. I love how this work combines my passion for community work with my goal to create a more sustainable future.for more information about Cambridge Carbon Footprint go to their website and you can find their Carbon Footprint Calculator herefor more information about Plastic Free Hitchin, go to their Facebook Groupif you have any unanswered questions about carbon jargon or have specific questions about reducing your carbon footprint, please get in touch.