Ecotricity explains: How to be sustainable at home
Everything we do has an impact on the world around us.
Take an average day in winter. You wake up, the heating’s already on. You take a hot shower, using treated water that’s then sent back to the sewerage system. You make a cup of coffee – just think about the processing, transportation, and packaging involved in getting it to your house. Then, even in Covid times, you may have to go to the office by a fossil fuel powered car, bus or train. And that’s before you’ve even started your day!
We do so many small things that affect the world around us, that it can be impossible to know where to start if we want to live more sustainably.
Here at Ecotricity, we’re both passionate and knowledgeable about this kind of stuff. We spoke to Gary Thomas, our Sustainability Lead, about what individuals can do to be more sustainable – as well as the areas we should all target to make the biggest positive impact.
Hi, Gary – first of all, what does sustainability mean to you?
There’s a quote from Dale Vince, Founder of Ecotricity, that I really like:
“Sustainability is often taken to mean environmentally, but it’s a broader concept than that. It’s about the environment, economy (jobs and stuff) and fairness to people – it’s a potent combo.”
This sums up my approach to sustainability quite nicely. We should avoid getting bogged down in trying to quantify everything with spreadsheets and graphs. Sustainability stretches much further than that – it needs to be something we're thinking about as a natural part of our lives.
Why is it so important for individuals to be more sustainable?
As households – you, me, us – we're responsible for about 40% of the carbon footprint of the UK. We can all make changes. And we can start now and lower our impact on the environment – and reduce those carbon emissions.
A typical carbon footprint for a household in the UK is dominated by energy and transport, as well as the things we buy and the food we eat. Some changes you can go away and do today. They're easy and they're little, and they don't cost a thing. Other things might take a little bit longer and a little bit more thought.
What’s the first thing we should look at?
Green energy. Your energy supplier can do the hard work for you – after all, not everyone can go off-grid and start building turbines and solar panels in their back gardens.
It’s about more than buying green energy, though. If you can save energy, you save money – and you also leave more green energy in the system for other households, so overall there’s less fossil fuel being used.
How can we save energy on heating our homes?
In the colder months, think about the timer on your heating. How early does it really need to come on? And how long does it stay on once you once you've gone off to work? If the heating turns off the moment you leave the house, that's a pity because buildings take time to cool down. Try setting the heating to switch off half an hour before you leave in the morning.
If you could save 30 minutes in the morning, and in the evening by turning it off 30 minutes before you go to bed, you're saving an hour's worth of heating a day. Over the course of a week that's seven hours. If you've got the heating on for 30 weeks a year, that's about 200 hours of heating you can save just by fiddling around with the timers at home.
Similarly, set your thermostats to different temperatures – your corridors don’t need to be as warm as your lounge, for instance. You can save about 10% of your energy bill just by turning your thermostat down one degree.
Insulation is incredibly important. It’s not just the obvious things like walls and your loft. Tackle those gaps between your floorboards, under skirtings, letterbox openings, keyholes, chimneys – heat can escape from all those areas.
Do you have any other energy saving tips?
You can turn stuff off! We’re all guilty of this – how often do you touch a phone charger and realise it’s warm because it's using energy or walked into a room when there’s already a light on? For external lights, think about getting motion sensors so they’re not accidentally left on for days.
Cooking uses a lot of energy. Use lids on your pans to keep the heat in and warm up your food faster. It also stops steam rising and causing condensation problems in your house. Think about cooking more than you need and freezing some batches. You can save yourself time as well as saving energy and the impact on the environment.
Talking about food, can changing our diet help?
The UN reckon that about 20-25% of global carbon emissions are down to agriculture and forestry, and about 15-18% of them come from livestock. You can go vegetarian, vegan or try switching a few meals each week, because even that will make a difference.
Consider where your food's coming from, how far is it travelling? Can you reduce the number of food miles associated with your diet? Buying local also supports the local economy and it won’t need as much packaging, because it's not travelling as far.
What other quick and easy changes can we make to be more sustainable?
Think about how you can reduce the amount of water you use. There are a lot of resources used in treating and pumping water into your home, so cutting back will lower your impact on the environment. Take shallower baths or shorter showers and think about whether you really need to flush the toilet every time you go.
Get to know your appliances – pick the most eco-friendly setting for your washing machine or dishwasher and make sure they’re full when you use them.
In the garden, water in the evening if it’s hot, so you lose less from evaporation. If you can, install water butts to capture rainwater and use that for your plants.
Can you do more to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill from your home? Take a look in your bin – what’s the major thing that you're throwing away week by week? You might be able to cut that rubbish out completely by buying an alternative product. Or check your local council’s website to see if there’s a way to recycle it.
Finally, what’s the single most important thing we should think about?
Just get the basic stuff done first. Think about saving energy or water and creating less waste. There's often a perception that you're not really sustainable unless you’re a vegan with solar panels who walks everywhere. That’s fantastic but lots of people aren’t there yet. In fact, it's better for the environment if 60 million people get on board and make a few simple, significant changes rather than getting a small group of people to go all in.
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