Low Carbon Behaviour

Where should you focus?

More than half of our carbon emissions are from energy use in buildings. Personal behaviour accounts for up to half of that half. And our behaviour is entirely responsible for emissions from transportation, food consumption and the goods we consume. So it is time to create a new, Low Carbon You.

All of the scientific research shows that if you put two different families into exactly the same buildings (such as a Passiv Haus), one family may end up consuming twice as much energy as the other. Put someone with wasteful behaviour in a Passiv Haus and you have a wasteful house. So getting your behaviour right is critical to reducing carbon, even with the best technologies adopted.

Behaviour change is a no-cost solution. To get started, focus on your needs, not on the way you have traditionally filled those needs. Not sure what this means? Here are examples related to reducing carbon emissions from buildings.

  • Warmth: What is your need if you are cold? The need is not to turn up the thermostat. The need is to be warm. You can do that by turning up the thermostat, or by dressing more appropriately. For each degree C you turn the thermostat down, you reduce your energy demand (and bills!) by 3 to 4 percent.

  • Light: You sit down to read a book. How do you meet the 'need to read' (apologies to Top Gun)? You could turn on the light. But the real need is to have a sufficient amount of light by which you can read. So assuming it is not dark out, move your chair closer to a window.

  • Cool: Are you feeling a bit uncomfortable in warm weather? Turn on an air conditioner. But the feeling of comfort in warm weather is as much due to air movement across the skin as it is to temperature. So, open the windows and use a fan to move the air. Open the windows at the top of your building so the hot air flows up and out. This meets the same need for comfort at a tenth the electricity consumed by an air conditioner.

  • Being away: An even easier strategy is to consider whether energy you are using is meeting any need at all. Are you going out of the house? Turn off the lights because they are serving no need. Consider the same reasoning for fans, televisions etc. After a week or two, turning things off when they serve no need becomes a force of habit.

  • Costs: Don't think only of purchase cost when buying appliances that consume energy. Both a high and low energy washing machine will meet the need of getting your clothing clean. But the low energy machine probably costs a bit more at first. Research shows that you will claw back this additional cost over the lifetime of the machine due to reduced energy bills.

  • Food: Make sure you buy food to fit the space of your fridge and freezer. Both are more efficient when used at near capacity without blocking air flow. Do you not have enough space in your fridge? Fill the need for having available food by buying more frequently and in smaller amounts. That smaller fridge will be sufficient for that. And while you are at it, adopt a more meat-free diet, as meat production (particularly beef) is a major source of global emissions.

  • Airflow: Keep air filters, fridge coils etc clean. Dust is the enemy of energy efficiency. Ensure your HVAC systems and appliances are giving you the full benefit of their designs. And be sure to clean around the vents so dust does not get sucked in and clog the filter.

  • Hot water: Consider how hot you want your water to be as it arrives at the tap. Too often, we have our water boilers turned up high, and then we mix in some cold water to make it bearable at the tap. Turn down the boiler temperature until the water coming out of the hot water tap is just right without mixing in cold water.

  • Fireplaces: Watch out for fireplace dampers that are open all of the time. If there is no fire, keeping the damper open wastes heat, serves no need, makes you colder, and requires your heating system to kick in more often. This comes with one caveat: be sure you do not need the damper open to prevent build up of water vapor in the home.

Is that all?

The ideas above apply only to your behaviour associated with your property. As mentioned, that is only about half of your carbon footprint. The rest is down to transport, food and the things you consume. All of these are targets for behavioural change. Travel to the Project You page to see a larger list of items in your 'carbon basket'.

You will need data

Building these new habits may require feedback to ensure your changes of behaviour are working. You might consider buying one of the many available energy monitors for your home, the ones that show how much energy you are using (and carbon you are emitting) at any moment. They provide the feedback needed to change behaviour, at least behaviour associated with your property. However, also be aware of the limitations to these. Research shows that people often forget about the meters after a few weeks and return to their old behaviours. The meters just become 'part of the furniture' and no longer attract your attention. So if you buy one, be prepared to note its readings regularly. It is like a diet: if you need to be on a diet, you probably need to be on it for life (we say that from personal experience).

Your target

Communities around the world are setting goals of zero carbon over the next 2 decades. So, what should you personally strive to achieve? Two tons per person per year is a reasonable and achievable target for a start if applied globally. Of this reduction:

  • 20% will be taken out of transportation

  • 20% out of the goods we consume

  • 30% out of energy efficiency in buildings

  • 30% out of reducing emissions from the national power grid, and switching to electricity for heating and cooling

It is clear that we will not achieve our target for reduction unless retrofits and the things we consumer (including food) play a central role in our thinking and actions.

See Project You to learn how you can calculate your current personal carbon footprint, and identify ways to reduce.

Moving forward

Are you finished considering behavioural changes? Move on to Priority 2: Low Carbon Buildings

Or if you have already committed to the first two priorities, move on to Priority 3: Low Carbon Energy