10 Steps You Can Take to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

If you’ve been reading the papers, you’ve noticed that there’s been a recent barrage of climate science predicting the collapse of our global ecosystem within a few decades if dramatic measures are not taken to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases our society produces. And amidst all the articles about world leaders disputing the correct course of action, it can feel like there’s no place for individual action. Although the biggest thing you can do to help the planet is vote for politicians who will hold accountable the 100 companies producing 71% of world emissions, there are steps you can take to make a difference closer to home while also saving yourself some money. These tips come from this Washington Post article, modified to best help residents of Glacier Country.

#1: Change your commute 

Transportation accounts for the biggest share of the average American’s carbon footprint, and the required burning of fossil fuels leads to smog, acid rain, and global warming. Walking or biking to work generates no greenhouse gas emissions, and can help you save gas money while staying fit. Taking public transportation is another option, if you live in a larger city, and taking the bus is one of the best ways to reduce your emissions while keeping warm during the winter months.

#2: Drive electric

60% of transportation emissions come from passenger vehicles (airplanes only account for 9%), so choosing a hybrid or full-electric vehicle can go a long way towards reducing your personal carbon footprint. Although there are limited charging opportunities across Montana as a whole, the Flathead hosts plenty of charging stations to keep your car powered up. Check this map to find the location of charging stations in places like Kalispell, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, and Glacier National Park. Remember, if you’re in Whitefish you can charge your car for free at the City Hall Parking Garage, sponsored by Climate Smart Glacier Country! To free yourself from the range anxiety that comes with an all-electric car, try to make your next car a hybrid so you can reduce your driving emissions (and improve your gas mileage) while still having the option of using gas when you’re in a remote area. Or, if you work for a company or municipal office that maintains staff vehicles, encourage them to replace aging cars with hybrids or all-electric vehicles to save money and help the community.

#3: Make use of solar energy

Though it may seem unlikely in the depths of winter, Northwest Montana’s solar resource is actually 26% higher than the national average and 30% higher than that of Germany, the country with the most successful solar program in the world. As a result, installing solar panels on your roof or office building can lead to hundreds of dollars in savings during the summer and fall while providing emissions-free electricity. If you’re designing a new home, think about other ways to use the power of the sun such as solar thermal heating/cooling, which can provide hot and cold water with minimal wait times and with minimal burning of natural gas or wood. Here in the Flathead, much of our electricity comes from renewable hydropower resources, but it’s also always advisable to keep an eye on where your utility company is getting its energy. That way, you can ensure that the power you need isn’t coming at the expense of the environment. For more solar information, here’s a helpful resource guide.

#4: Caulk those cracks

When temperatures drop, properly insulating and winterizing your home can go a long way towards reducing your carbon footprint and saving you money. Walking around your house with a candle and seeing where it flickers can help you identify sources of air leaks and drafts–important to get rid of, since air leakage can account for 25-40% of the energy used in heating and cooling a house. Often, fireplaces and recessed lighting are the biggest problems, as it is hard to properly seal them. If you live in an older house, get an inspection done to make sure your house is still properly insulated. If you’re building a new house, look into alternative types of insulation like wood fiber that can keep your house warm in winter and cool in summer without racking up huge heating and cooling bills.

#5: Update your appliances

The more energy efficient an appliance is, the less it costs to operate. Appliances with the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star logo are significantly more energy efficient than comparable models, and state agencies and utility companies both offer rebates and installation tax credits to encourage purchasing energy efficient appliances.

#6: Wash clothes with cold water

Most laundry loads don’t need to be washed in hot water and dried on high heat–in fact, those washing conditions can end up damaging fabrics and contributing to shrinking and fading. Washing with cold or cool water and drying on low will both extend the life of your clothing and reduce the energy required by electricity-sucking laundry machines. In the summer when temperatures rise, air-drying your clothes on a rack or clothesline is another great option that will save you energy and dollars.

#7: Go vegetarian

Here in Montana gardens are plentiful, and with some planning home garden beds can be turned into year-round producers of fresh fruits and vegetables while avoiding the methane emissions and intense land and water usage required to raise cattle. During the spring, determine planting times and vegetable types that will allow you to continuously harvest food all summer long. Local companies like The Good Seed Co. are committed to providing heirloom seeds to the community, and events like Free the Seeds are a great resources for learning about and growing new fruits and veggies. During the fall, pickle and can anything you can’t eat to save it for winter. During the winter, look into ways of growing vegetables indoors–tomatoes tend to do well, and hydroponic systems are becoming cheaper to buy (or build) and easier to install. If you don’t have a garden of your own, try your best to buy local from farmers markets or farmers themselves, in order to eliminate the emissions required to ship your box of strawberries all the way from Chile.

#8: Switch out your lights

Old-fashioned incandescent bulbs are scheduled to be phased out nationally by 2020, so if you haven’t done so already get a jump on the movement by replacing any remaining incandescent bulbs in your home or office with LEDs. LEDs last for years, come in a wide array of colors, and use a fraction of the energy of incandescents.

#9: No more lawn!

With Montana summers promising to become ever-dryer and population growth trending steadily upwards, water conservation should be an issue at the forefront of everyone’s minds. One of the biggest things consumers can do to limit their water usage is replace their water-gulping lawns with water-sipping native plants that can subsist on just the region’s natural rainfall. By getting rid of your lawn, you’re not only saving water and reducing area pollution, you’re also providing homes for native animals and allowing more of Montana’s natural landscape to thrive.

#10: Become a native plant advocate

Advocate for your city or the state of Montana to use native plants on public land whenever possible. Using local flora rather than imported varieties can stop the spread of disease and invasive species, combat erosion and flooding, and limit the damage to wildlife caused by creating a new public space. Using native plants instead of grass in non-residential areas such as highway medians can also save water and limit the need for expensive long-term landscaping. Resources like the Center for Native Plants can help you figure out what plants are native to your area and best suit the needs of your yards and gardens.