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10 Simple Tips for a Low-Carbon Lifestyle

If you saw Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, then you’re probably aware of the greenhouse-gas-producing impact that some of your everyday activities are having on the environment—the dreaded carbon footprint. Among the most important things that you can do to shrink your shoe size is vote to support legislation that lowers U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, reducing every American’s carbon footprint (like it or not).

But there are also the obvious lifestyle changes: choosing to walk instead of driving, switching to compact fluorescents, and driving a car that gets good mileage. When you’re done checking those off your to-do list, here are a few more things that you might not have considered yet:

  1. Slay Vampires: Unplug electronic devices such as cell phone chargers and other gadgets when you're not using them. They may look innocent, but they can suck small amounts of electricity, called “phantom loads,” that really add up over time. Appliances in standby and off-mode in the average American household constantly draw about 50 watts of electricity, adding up to 440 kilowatt-hours—or about $35 worth–of electricity per year.
  1. Stop the Pane Drain: No sense paying to heat the outdoors, but with single pane windows that may be just what you’re doing. If possible, install double-paned windows in your house to minimize energy loss. It takes some initial investment, but you will save money on energy bills over time, especially if you live in a cold climate. Depending on the windows you install and where you live, your investment should pay off in 15-25 years.
  1. Sip Slowly: There’s nothing more relaxing than curling up with a cup of tea. But if pangs of guilt about power bills interrupt your reverie, keep in mind that you can reduce the energy you need to kick back: Next time you boil a cup of tea, put only as much water in the kettle as you need. 
  1. Play Outside: Save time and fuel by exercising near your home rather than driving to a gym. Go for a run or brisk walk on local trails or try some yoga in the park. Sure, you might miss out on wiping off those sweaty gym machines, but chances are you’ll still encounter some fit jocks and joggers.
  1. Grow Your Own: On average, the components of an American meal travel around 1,500 miles from where they were grown or produced. If you have the space, why not try your hand at gardening? Growing some of your own tomatoes or lettuce reduces your reliance on food transported from far away lands.
  1. Fill ‘er Up: No, not your gas tank. Your dishwasher. Rather than running a cycle with a half empty load of dishes, fill up the dishwasher before running it. A typical dishwasher consumes more than $40 worth of electricity each year.  Another dishwasher related tip: if your dishwasher has its own water heater, you can decrease your home’s water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  1. Dial Down: Staying cool in the summer can be tough, and it’s often tempting to crank up the cool. But turning off air conditioners when you leave the house and keeping the settings at a reasonable level while you’re at home—around 78 degrees Fahrenheit or higher—conserves energy and keeps you comfortable. To cool down without turning on the air conditioning, open the windows at night and circulate air with an energy-efficient ceiling fan.
  1. Punch the Clock: Turning off your computer when you leave work saves energy. The Department of Energy recommends switching off your monitor if you are away from the computer for 20 minutes or more and powering down the computer altogether if you aren’t using it for more than 2 hours. Also, try not to print unnecessarily—an estimated 10 to 70 times more electricity goes into making a piece of paper than it takes to print on that paper.
  1. Give it Away: Instead of throwing out old clothes or furniture that are still in good condition, consider donating them to charities. You will be saving the items from being trucked to a landfill and helping someone out too.
  1. Hang Out: Drying clothes in the dryer uses a lot of unnecessary energy—30 to 60 cents worth per load (nearly a thousand kilowatt-hours a year using a typical electric dryer). In fact, drying clothes accounts for as much as five percent of the electricity used in the home. Instead, hang your clothes out to dry on a clothesline or on a drying rack. If you do use a dryer, do as many loads in a row as possible to make the most of air that has already been heated.


For additional tips, visit:

-National Audubon Society: Be Part of the Solution

-Rocky Mountain Institute: energy and climate research, education, guides and much more.

-Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

-A Consumer’s Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: contains consumer information about curbing energy use in the home, workplace, and vehicle; also includes guides for finding energy efficient products and services, resources describing types of renewable energy, links to energy calculators and software for homes, vehicles, and more.

-Energy Savers: tips for saving energy and money in your home, brought to you by EERE. includes a calculator to determine your carbon footprint as well as tips for reducing and offsetting carbon emissions. a handy calculator for looking at how much carbon—and cash—you could save by increasing your energy efficiency.


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