The only carbon footprint you can change is you own

The only carbon footprint you can change is you own

Following some discussions with a group of New Zealand friends, I realised that

a) There are many small things people don’t know they can do to reduce their carbon footprint, and

b) There are limits in the system we live in that prevent us from doing more.


These are a few of my favorite things

There was a lot of talk about replacing reusable bags with plastic bags. This is a great first step, but look inside your reusable bags – they are still full of plastic packaging. Reusable bags are a potent symbol both of the

waste we produce, and the convenience we seek in our lives. I liken switching to reusable bags as the ‘gateway drug’ to m

ore sustainable living. Now that your hooked, here are a few of my favorite things….

 Refill containers

I refill dish-washing liquid at Commonsense Organics. An old 3 liter juice bottle is enough to refill 5 dish-washing liquid bottles. I bring all of these to the shop 3 or 4 times a year, so now I have a sustainable solution for this product, and produce zero plastic. We do this for all our cleaning products now: washing powder, spray and wipe concentrate, dishwasher powder, rinse aid, etc.

My family goes through 6 liters of milk per week. There is no mainstream way to avoid all this one-way plastic. That is why we need systems change to make it easy for the consumer to make the right choices.


We found Eketahuna Country Meats who delivered (it would have been better if we could have picked this up from a mainstream supermarket) and reduced our plastic waste by 1,062 litres worth of packaging.






Reduce packaging

I was 15 when I started my first environmental campaign – and successfully got deodorants using CFCs in my school – back in the 1980s. I had just started shaving, and decided to use a cake of shaving soap and a shaving brush. This has saved a lifetimes worth of shaving foam cans going into landfill. Also a simple cake of shaving soap is less energy intensive to manufacture, requiring no specalised machines, which themselves have a carbon footprint both to manufacture and run. As an unexpected bonus, my friend did the same. By influencing one person, you can double your impact. Influence ten people….

We use these paper and beeswax covers instead of plastic wrap. I was not convinced by them, but my wife ordered them, and in fact they are great. They look and feel nicer than plastic, and after a quick rinse under water they can be reused. Our set we got three years ago are still in good condition.


With all packaging, if you reduce the volume say by 25%, then you need 25% fewer trucks to transport it, 25% less warehouse space etc., so there are other multiplier effects.



Renewable Electricity

We drive a PHEV – a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle – and visit the petrol station every other month. All trips around town can be done on the 40km worth of battery, and any trips over that we have the petrol engine with regular range.

Its on a timer, and charges at night when the electricity is 25% cheaper (you need a smart meter, and a bit of persistence to get the power company to switch you onto the night rate).

We also have a timer on the hot water heater so it heats the whole cylinder overnight. Dishwasher, washing machine and dryer all have built in timers, so was also set them to run on off-peak electricity (11pm to 7am).

About 40% of our electricity usage is during these times, when in fact we are asleep. A frequent criticism of renewable fuels is that you always need conventional sources to meet the ‘base load’, when the wind is not blowing or the sun not shining. By maximising the electricity we use during off-peak times, we help make the entire electricity grid more efficient, and reduce the proportion of non-renewable capacity required. And reduce our power bill by 10%.

Systems Change

I feel I am already hitting the systems limits to live sustainability in New Zealand. Great I can keep a few dozen dish-washing bottles out of landfill each year – but what about the 6 liters of milk bottles I throw away every week? I want to buy reusable bottles, but none of the mainstream retailers sell them.

Limited Liability

For profit, limited liability companies are the fundamental driver of our economy, and they have no incentive to behave in a more sustainable way. As long as their ‘liability’ remains ‘limited’, they will not factor in the cost to their creditors, including the environment. We need a model of economic growth where the degree of impact on our environment becomes as strong a  business driver as profit. Then we will see a change in how our economy functions.

What else can I do?

Please leave a blog comment with tips for me to keep reducing my carbon footprint. Thanks.


1 thought on “The only carbon footprint you can change is you own

I hv found a love for preserving. We no longer buy jam. Tomato sauce. Pickles. We re use all jars and people bring them to us. We havent bought a plastic bottle of tomato sauce in years.


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