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How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Sustainability and climate change are hot topics these days. But you may wonder how much impact one person’s actions can have on the global environment. The answer? Plenty.

According to a recent United Nations report on climate change, individual actions to lower carbon emissions really do make a difference in fighting climate change. Minor adjustments to your daily lifestyle can result in significant positive results for the environment.

What Is a Carbon Footprint?

The term carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases and more — people produce on any given day. In the United States, the average carbon footprint per person is 16 metric tons — one of the highest rates in the world. In comparison, the worldwide average is about 4 metric tons.


Infographic titled What’s Equal to 16 Metric Tons? 16 two-passenger sports cars; 256 Liberty Bells; 52,480 cell phones; 144 pro basketball players; and 3,520 house cats

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, about 200 countries pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the rise in global temperature to 2C or less. To achieve that goal, everyone on Earth needs to reduce their average annual carbon footprint to 1.87 metric tons by 2050.

Here are some simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint and lead an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

The first step toward reducing your carbon footprint is to find out exactly how much greenhouse gas you’re producing. Lucky for you, it’s pretty simple to do with a carbon footprint calculator. The calculator considers where you live, how and what you eat, your average air travel mileage, how many miles to the gallon your vehicle gets, how much energy and water your home uses, and more.

Now that you’ve identified your current carbon footprint, let’s look at ways to decrease it!


Transportation is a major source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the U.S. Unless you live in a big city with several public transportation options, chances are you use a car to get around town. The average car produces about 5 metric tons of CO2 every year. Here are a few tips to reduce emissions when you’re out and about.


  • Get with other parents in your neighborhood to take turns driving kids to school.
  • Find co-workers who live close by and drive to work together.

Practice safe driving habits

  • Avoid aggressive driving, like unnecessary braking and sudden acceleration, which can result in 40% more fuel consumption.

Walk or bike

  • Bike, e-bike or walk to your destination when possible. Bonus — spending time outside can be great for your health!
Care for your car

Keeping your car in tip-top shape helps the environment.

  • Get your car serviced regularly to get the best gas mileage possible.
  • Keep your car tires properly inflated to increase fuel efficiency.
  • Combine errands to reduce driving.
  • Use cruise control on long trips to save gas.
  • Consider buying a hybrid or electric vehicle when it’s time to purchase a new one.

Fly less

If you often travel by air for work or pleasure, this activity may make up the biggest portion of your carbon footprint.

  • Consider driving if you’re not going too far — it may release fewer greenhouse gases. Plus, who doesn’t love a good road trip ?
  • Fly nonstop when possible — takeoffs and landings use more jet fuel, which means higher CO2 emissions.


Everybody needs to eat, but what we eat, and how we produce food and dispose of the waste are big contributors to your carbon footprint. But that doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to your favorite foods forever. Making small shifts in your eating habits can make a world of difference!

Eat less meat

While veganism is the best diet for the environment, that lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Skipping meat just one day every week for a year can:

  • Save 133 gallons of water per meal
  • Save the equivalent in emissions as driving 348 miles in a car

Before ordering your next quarter-pound beef burger, consider:

  • It takes a lot of animal feed, water and land to produce red meat.
  • Cows release methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.
  • Making that burger requires 425 gallons of water — that’s enough water to fill 10 bathtubs!
  • It also requires a lot of energy — the same amount needed to power an iPhone for six months.

What could you eat instead? If cutting down on your meat consumption or following a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan diet appeals to you, you’re in luck! Plant-based food options are growing fast, offering everything from burgers and chicken patties to tofu and soy-based sausage to jackfruit. And, they can be pretty tasty, too!

Reduce food waste

On average, Americans waste about 40 pounds of food every year. Here are a few ways you can reduce food waste.

  • Take inventory of what’s in your pantry and fridge before going to the store.
  • Be smart about buying in bulk — it’s not a great deal if the food goes bad before you eat it.
  • Freeze leftovers and other food when it makes sense.
  • Consider composting .

Around the house

Here’s a quick review of at-home habits that reveal some ways to lend Mother Earth a helping hand.

What you eat on

  • Skip paper plates and plastic tableware. Washing items by hand or in a dishwasher is more environmentally friendly.
  • Buy compostable or biodegradable options if disposable dinnerware is a must.

Appliances, heat and lights

  • Switch to LED lights. They use up to 85% less energy and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent lights.
  • Unplug appliances, like can openers and toaster ovens, when they’re not in use.
  • Shut off the lights when you leave a room.
  • Purchase appliances bearing the Energy Star symbol.

Make your home more energy efficient

  • Add insulation.
  • Seal areas where heat and cool air can escape.
  • Invest in energy-efficient doors and windows.

Switch to renewables

  • Check with your local utility to see if renewable energy sources such as hydropower, wind power or solar power are available in your area.

What you buy

Simple changes to what you buy and where you buy it can help reduce your carbon footprint.

Carry reusable shopping bags

  • It’s estimated that using one reusable bag for a year can replace up to 500 single-use plastic bags.

Look for a fair trade logo

  • To be able to label their products as fair trade, farmers are required to improve soil and water quality, manage pests and waste, avoid using harmful chemicals, reduce their greenhouse gases and protect biodiversity.

Skip the packaging

  • Plastic packaging like that used for pre-cut fruits and veggies, bakery cupcakes and frozen meals often winds up in a landfill, so challenge yourself to find alternatives.

Shop at farmers markets

  • Shopping local for produce can help reduce carbon emissions since it typically costs less to transport the food. Plus, you’re supporting local farmers and putting money back into your community !

What you wear

Nearly 57% of all discarded clothing ends up in a landfill. The cheaper the clothing, the higher the cost to the environment. Try these tips to minimize your impact when you hit the stores.

Pass on fast fashion

  • Purchase quality clothing you’ll wear often and that won’t wear out quickly.

Buy vintage or recycled clothes

  • Scour thrift stores, consignment shops and vintage boutiques for clothes, shoes, bags and jewelry. Enjoy the thrill of the hunt!

Wash your clothes in cold water

  • About 90% of the energy expended when doing laundry goes to heating the water.
  • Using cold water can eliminate about 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide a year — plus, it minimizes fading and shrinking.

Line dry your clothes

  • Air-drying clothes can reduce the average household’s carbon footprint by about 1 metric ton a year! If you rent your home, make sure to review your lease to ensure you’re not breaking any rules before putting your clothes out to dry.

Recycle properly

Americans add about 139.6 million metric tons of waste to landfills every year, with the average person producing just under 5 pounds of trash every day!

Infographic that says, “Every year, Americans waste 30.63 million tons of food, 26.82 million tons of plastic, and 18.35 million tons of paper and paperboard.

How can you make sure your waste ends up in the right place? Try these tips.

  • Check for a triangle with a number inside it on plastic containers. It tells you if the container is recyclable in your state.
  • Empty and rinse recyclable food containers before putting them in the bin — a dirty container can ruin the entire batch of recyclables.
  • Make sure you only put recyclable materials in the recycling bin.

Ready to Make a Change?

Even the smallest changes to your daily habits can positively impact the environment. Simply paying closer attention to packaging, food waste, and recycling can reduce your carbon footprint and improve the environment's health.

At American Family Insurance, we share your passion for creating positive change in the environment. Our Sustainability and Climate Action Strategy outlines our long-term goals, objectives and actions for making a difference in the environment — like achieving zero waste by 2025, finding innovative ways to manage our diverse land resources and implementing centralized waste collection systems in our buildings to put the power of recycling in our employees’ hands.

We also developed our social impact resources collection, where you can find insight and ideas for everything from corporate social responsibility to how to find volunteer opportunities near you and so much more!

This article is for informational purposes only and includes information widely available through different sources.

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