5 ways you are emitting carbon without realizing it

This article is part of our anniversary special for CliMates’ 5th birthday!

Article written by Tatiana Rinke

carbon_footprint_cartoonWe know we emit greenhouse gases every day and many of us already adopted habits that limit these emissions in an effort to reduce our personal carbon footprint. Ride your bike to work, insulate your house correctly, recycle, … Being aware of these emissions and actually acting upon it is one way to contribute to a greener, safer and more resilient planet. Unfortunately, we aren’t aware of all the ways we actually emit greenhouse gases in our daily life. We are going to present you 5 ways you emit GHG… (probably) without even realizing it!

1.Be a hopeless romantic

Whether it’s for your mum’s birthday or you just want to make a romantic gesture towards your partner, buying flowers can be pretty harmful to the environment.

Wait… what?!

The flowers you buy are, surprise, surprise, very probably grown either in hothouses (who use up a lot of energy!) or in some exotic country like Kenya or Ecuador. Most flowers in Europe, especially roses, are flown in from Kenya and most flowers in the US flown in from South America. As flowers are really delicate, once cut, they can’t stand temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius and they certainly will not survive being shipped in. In both cases, this means a lot of CO2 being emitted through the transport.

Additionally, to all the CO2 emitted during the transport, resources are not always managed in a sustainable way, as the scandal over the pesticides from flower farms polluting the Lake Naivasha a few years ago made clear.

So, what can I do to avoid these GHG emissions?

If you really, really want to buy flowers for your boyfriend because he just landed that awesome new job and really deserves them, try to buy flowers that are common to your climate (to avoid flowers grown in hothouses) and grown locally (or cut them from your own garden)! Ask your local flower shop where they source their flowers from and make them aware that buying locally is good not only for the environment but also for the local economy! You can also look up eco-friendly companies like this one (https://www.organicbouquet.com) which offset their carbon print and use resources in the most sustainable way possible to grow their flowers.

Or, alternatively, buy chocolates!

2.Be fashionable

Buying that hot new pair of jeans is bad not only for your wallet but also for the environment.

Wait… what?!

Setting aside all the social impacts of buying cheap clothes produced in countries where the labor force is exploited by big companies, producing jeans is a process that damages the environment and emits GHG. Denim is made out of cotton and cotton uses up a lot, and I mean A LOT of water to grow. More water, harmful chemicals, toxic dyes are used in the manufacturing process, especially if you are going for that ‘worn out’ look. All in all, over 33kg of CO21 are emitted during the lifecycle of one pair of jeans… how many do you have in your closet?

So, what can I do to avoid these GHG emissions?

Now, you can’t really go outside butt-naked, can you? You can, however, try to buy used jeans at second-hand shops instead of brand new ones and prefer brands that are environmentally friendly such as this one (http://sonasdenim.com). Buying plain jeans is a little better than the ones with the ‘worn-out’ look, as they require less sand-blasting and wash-cycles. Try to also wash your jeans as little as possible!

Wearing cotton pants doesn’t reduce the water used for growing cottons but it does reduce the water used during the manufacturing process and reduces the environmental and social impacts the manufacturing of jeans has, like sand-blasting them to get the ‘worn-out’ look.

3.Look at cute cat pictures

Looking at cute cat pictures in itself is not a problem but it does have an environmental impact if you do so online. Surfing the web, sending emails, watching Netflix… The more time you spend online, the more GHG you emit.

Wait… what?!

At first sight, the cloud seems to be environmental friendly: just think of all the reports and documents that don’t get printed out thanks to it, or all the flights that don’t take place because online-conferences are a thing. There is no denying that Internet is, indeed, necessary to our transition to a low-carbon world, for example thanks to its ability to transfer huge flows of data (and thus enabling us to create a smart grid to conduct our energy).

At second glance, however, it becomes clear that the internet also has a carbon footprint: anything that is in the cloud needs to be stored on huge servers which in turn need electricity to function and a cooling system to not overheat. Each computer/tablet/mobile phone also need electricity and have an additional environmental and social impact when being produced.

According to one report, the internet accounts for about 2% of GHG emissions2 in the world… a number that can only grow when one looks at the importance of internet in our daily lives, professionally and personally.

So, what can I do to avoid these GHG emissions?

Green IT is a growing trend and even if the biggest impact is made when huge companies such as Facebook or Google decide to reduce their GHG emissions, you can implement a few habits to reduce your own carbon footprint online.

Delete all the old emails you don’t need anymore, try to limit the amount of emails you send (don’t “reply all” systematically) and shut down your computer instead of putting it to sleep. Consider storing your data on the servers of a green cloud provider such as this one http://gogreencloud.com , some of which are run on renewable energy sources. For more advice, have a look at this awesome infographic [http://climatecare.org/infographic-the-carbon-footprint-of-the-internet/]!

4.Wake up in the morning

A hot cup of coffee in the morning is indispensable to your morning ritual? It may wake you up but it irritates your stomach… and the environment!

Wait… what?!

A pound of coffee (including actually preparing the coffee) produces about 11 pounds of CO2 throughout its life cycle: from growing the beans, processing and shipping them3.

If you like milk in your coffee (or are a fan of lattes), there is even more bad news for you: the carbon footprint of you cup of coffee nearly doubles when you add milk to it4.

So, what can I do to avoid these GHG emissions?

Drinking your coffee black instead of ordering a latte is a good start and you can try to cut down on your global coffee consumption. Try to look for substitutes and other ways to get an energy kick like drinking a glass of ice cold water.

Some companies also are certified ‘ecological’, which means they offset their GHG emissions. In any case, make sure your coffee is also fair-trade!

5.Enjoy a cold pint of beer

Unbeknown to most of us, brewing beer actually emits quite a lot of CO2: not only throughout the mere existence of breweries but also through the fermentation process in itself.

Wait… what?!

Brewing beer is a chemical process with different elements interacting and one of the waste products is CO2. As a rule of thumb, brewing 100g of beer produces about 6.22 g of CO25. That may not seem like much but seems more relevant when you realize that beer is the third-most popular drink in the world after water and tea. Every year, about 2 billion hectolitres of beers are produced worldwide.

To the natural brewing process, you need to add the functioning of big breweries which use up quite a lot of energy and, of course, the shipping of the beer bottles. Brands such as Heineken, Budweiser or Corona can be bought in virtually every bar in the world, which means they need to be transported halfway across the globe for you to enjoy that cold pint!

So, what can I do to avoid these GHG emissions?

Some craft breweries try to produce CO2-neutral beer, such as this one [http://upslopebrewing.com], which uses algae to neutralize its CO2 emissions. A lot of small craft breweries are trying out new, innovative ways to produce beers low in CO2, through their fermentation process, the way they source their prime materials and the way they run their installations.

As a general rule, you can consider that small breweries, as they tend to produce and sell locally, will have a smaller carbon footprint than any big brewing company.

RINKE_FotoAbout the author: Tatiana Rinke has been part of CliMates since 2011. She started as part of the German delegation before working in the « Indigenous Rights » research group. She now combs through the Internet to find the most interesting articles to share on Twitter and on Facebook as the Social Media Officer. She graduated from Sciences Po Paris with a Master in Environmental Policy in 2013 and now works as a CSR consultant in Brisbane, Australia.

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