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How to go green: 15 ways you can reduce your carbon footprint in 2024

If all the net zero talk has inspired you to be more green at home, the good news is, it’s never too late to start. There are a lot more options than simply remembering your bag for life or choosing veggie sausages on a Monday, but these small steps, alongside larger ones, such as installing insulation or solar panels, will all help us to reach the 1.5C global warming target by 2050. And, with some of the latest UK government plans to achieve net zero facing criticism from environmental experts, you might be wondering what you can do independently to help the cause. 

Jodi Manning, VP, marketing and corporate partnerships at Cool Effect, a US-based nonprofit dedicated to fighting the climate crisis, tells us: “The good news is that there are easy changes people can make in order to make a difference and adopt climate-friendly habits”. This can include limiting waste, cutting back on plastic consumption and adopting the use of renewable energy sources. Here are 15 ways you can be more green.

1. Check your heating system’s efficiency

A healthy heating system is an eco-friendly one and ensuring yours runs using a low carbon fuel is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. If your boiler is 10 or more years old, it might be time to upgrade it to a modern ‘condensing’ boiler that can reach up to 90 per cent efficiency, or to consider alternatives like a heat pump or biomass boiler.

As of 2025, the installation of gas and oil boilers will be banned in new homes and looking ahead, the UK is likely to phase out traditional fossil fuel boilers altogether, over the course of the next few years. So, now is a good time to look for a more eco-friendly heating system alternative, especially with the Boiler Upgrade Scheme available to ease some of the financial strains this might induce.

2. Get clued up on heat pumps

Last year (2022) was a record breaking year for MCS-certified heat pump installations, second to solar. According to the European Heat Pump Association, thermally driven heat pumps may see a “Reduction in primary energy required compared to traditional heating technologies of up to 40 per cent”. 

Installing a ground source heat pump (GSHP) is costlier than a gas or oil boiler and, depending on the size of your home, can cost anywhere between £7,000 and £18,000. The technology is also not suitable for every UK home; you need outside space where you can dig a sizable trench or borehole,which, with one in eight UK homes having no garden access at all, it’s clearly not an option for everyone. Air source heat pumps (ASHP), on the other hand, while not quite as energy-efficient, are a cheaper alternative to GSHPs and many products can be positioned in place of your old boiler. Either choice will see bigger savings on energy bills, so worth considering if your home and budget allow for it.

A great place to start this new path is by researching the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which offers a free grant for heat pumps under the government. With up to £5,000 available for an ASHP and £6,000 for a GSHP when replacing your boiler, it could see you saving thousands of pounds on a clean energy upgrade.

3. Look for alternative energy sources

Solar energy and wind energy generation reached record levels in 2022, and will be a key driver in reducing emissions worldwide. The solar trade in the UK is booming, with 2022 seeing double the installation rate compared with 2021, following the energy crisis, and for good reason. Solar photovoltaic panels come with plenty of benefits to boost your eco-credentials and reduce household bills by generating energy using sunlight, which can then be used in a domestic setting. Thankfully, as they become a more mainstream option, they are becoming more affordable, giving us more of a chance to pick up the pace towards net zero.

4. Better conserve your heat and energy

Dr Paul Balcombe, senior lecturer in renewable energy at Queen Mary University of London, has noted insulation is an issue in the UK. He said the intention of insulating 300,000 out of 20 million homes “is clearly insufficient when we have such a poorly insulated housing stock.” A UK government publication also noted how 3.3 million homes in the UK had non-standard cavity walls and loft insulation, noting that it can cost between £470 and £3,300 per home to insulate non-standard cavity walls and loft. 

As a step further, installing internal or external wall insulation will make a home more airtight and thermally efficient, lowering your carbon footprint considerably. There is also an estimated yearly cost-saving of £540 for a gas-heated semi-detached home and an estimated carbon footprint saving of 910kg of carbon dioxide, so it’s worth looking into, if your budget allows. Conserving energy also means swapping old light bulbs for LEDs, turning off appliances at the socket and simply remembering to turn off lights as you leave – it all counts towards being greener.

5. Turn down the heating a couple of degrees

According to an International Energy Agency report, in order to achieve net zero, pressure is on companies to make better steps towards being more carbon efficient but, as consumers, we have a part to play, too. Simply turning down your heating temperature set point by a couple of degrees can make a difference to the environment. In addition, you can reduce your boiler flow (the water temperature your boiler sends to radiators) to 60C, which could see you save £100 a year, as well as reduce your home’s energy consumption. Turning radiators off in rooms that aren’t in use and doing laundry at a slightly lower temperature are also good practices the whole family can adopt to see you saving significant amounts of energy (and cash) over the course of a year.

6. Upgrade your windows

Double-glazing windows are usually standard in new builds these days, but if you have a (draughty) period home with single glazing, new windows make a sound long-term investment to save energy, lowering bills in the process and allowing you to live a greener lifestyle. Your home’s temperature will be easier to regulate – staying warm in winter and comfortable in the summer – so you don’t have to rely on your heating or cooling system so much.

Triple glazing, while more expensive, also comes with many benefits including enhanced heat retention, more security and reduced condensation. Plus, the savings will pay for the initial outlay over time. However, if you’re not able to change single glazed windows, for instance if you live in a conservation area or a listed building, secondary glazing can be a good option to look into.

7. Get the best use out of appliances

Tighter rules were set in place by the UK government in 2021 to make new white goods more energy efficient and easier to repair, with more spare parts readily available by manufacturers. Taking advantage of these new rules by fixing a broken product or replacing it with a more efficient version will make a difference. 

Or, if you simply can’t stand the sight of your perfectly working toaster, consider selling it on. Websites such as eBay, Facebook Marketplace and PreLoved are simple to use and you’ll make a little cash as you feed your eco-cred. Then, if you choose to buy new, favour appliances that come with eco-friendly features, such as fridges that keep food fresher for longer and smart washing machines that wash clothes more effectively at lower temperatures using less water. Another way to be greener at home is to reconsider which appliances you’re using regularly and whether there are more energy-efficient alternatives. For example, an air fryer or microwave vs turning your oven on every night could be a better option.

8. Reduce shower time

According to the Energy Saving Trust, heating water makes up roughly 5 per cent of the UK’s total carbon dioxide emissions and the average UK household uses 145l per head, daily. Simply reducing shower times by a minute can see a difference in consumption, or, consider upgrading your showerhead, which could see a saving of 10l of water or more per minute.

9. Invest in a water butt

With experts already warning of a drought in 2023, it’s clear we’re still recovering from 2022’s dry summer. If you have the space, investing in a water butt can be a great way to conserve water for reuse in the garden all year round and especially if water restrictions come into force. Following an unprecedented dry spell in 2018, This Is Money noted the UK could save 4 billion litres of water each year if every home collected a water butt’s 160l capacity of water a year.

10 Reconsider flying

If you are a regular jetsetter, being more considerate with your air miles and reducing time up in the air will reduce your carbon footprint significantly. Jodi Manning of Cool Effect advises: “When travelling, find an airline that carries biofuels. Aeroplanes that run on biofuels produce 60 per cent fewer carbon emissions than regular jet fuel.” Also, travelling within the UK by rail, rather than taking a flight abroad, is becoming a more popular way to have a green holiday. Taking a train will emit 41g of CO2 per kilometre travelled (per passenger) vs 102g of CO2, plus 93g in secondary emissions, for a long-haul flight.

11. Change your daily commute

For those who drive to work because public transport is not available, consider a change in routine. Could you work from home a couple of days a week or organise a car share with people that live nearby? Some companies may even offer incentives for car sharing. Similarly, full transition to electric vehicles was highlighted as a priority for 2023 in a paper by the Climate Change Committee and, more recently, the government has noted the global target for new cars and vans being zero-emission models is 2040 so it’s a good time to take the leap into hybrid or electric vehicles. Or, if you have the right road conditions and journey time, you could even consider a bike – push or electric – for a quick health boost too.

12. Switch to an ethical bank account

Ben Hardman, creator and editor of Tiny Eco Home Life, tells us that switching to an ethical bank account is free and can have a profound impact on living a greener life. “Currently, trillions of dollars of everyday people’s money are still being used by banks to fund the fossil fuel industry. Switching to a bank with a good ethical and environmental policy means your money is not being used to fund environmentally harmful activities.” Triodos, Monzo and the Co-Op Bank have good ethical credentials and sustainability reports.

13. Stop supporting the fossil fuel industry

No matter if you’re buying a new tent or washing machine, choose brands carefully and look for their eco-credentials. Always keeping the planet in mind is a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint by simply not supporting companies that aren’t supporting the fight for climate change themselves.

It’s easy to be greenwashed nowadays so look for a company’s sustainability statement and see its efforts in using recycled materials (including packaging), repairing products and after care advice, as well as any other initiatives such as planting trees and supporting local charities and communities, for a clear overview of whether they are actually green or not. Check any certifications are real like B Corp, for example, and you can take a closer look at the UK government’s Green Claims Code initiative online, too.

14. Consider carbon offsets

While you make more green choices where you can, it’s hard to do everything, but you can actually purchase carbon offsets from companies such as Cool Effect to counterbalance any unavoidable emissions. Manning shares how it accounts for emissions that can’t be reduced through lifestyle shifts: “Start small, stay conscious, and reduce your impact!”

15. Be a picky eater

Manning notes: “Be mindful of the food you’re eating and how it impacts the planet. Eating locally produced food supports your local economy and it saves on carbon.” Shop at farmers markets where you can, reduce single-use plastic purchases and make use of zero-waste refill food stations for cupboard staples in reused glass jars.

Try to not overbuy and plan every meal so you avoid wasting food. If you do have food that you know will go to waste, apps like Olio let you donate food to neighbours. Also, try to eat with the seasons – this will not only taste better but also have less environmental impact than out-of-season mass-farming produce.

How can I be greener in life?

Tesco may have been the first to coin “every little helps”, but some actions really do when it comes to leading a green lifestyle – and saving money along the way. Ditch single use plastics; keep using your own reusable coffee cups; do smaller but more frequent food shops; and compost food waste. With good habits, you’ll significantly reduce your carbon footprint without even noticing. 

A more high cost change that Ben Hardman recommends is to install solar panels, heat pumps and insulation. “Moving away from fossil fuels for energy, this is the future of household renewable energy generation,” he says.

If you may feel less inclined to make big changes to your home or invest a large amount of money on insulation, solar panels or a heat pump, combining other more affordable methods like draught-proofing windows, lowering your thermostat and getting into greener transport habits can still all have a positive effect on your carbon footprint. 

If there are more long-term improvements that you’d like to make to your home and need some financial help, although the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is now closed for new applicants, the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme is available for those on benefits or income support to help tackle fuel poverty. The Smart Export Grant may also be available to you if you’re interested in installing solar panels or hydro power.  

Cam is an experienced writer and editor who has been creating content for more than 10 years. She studied English Language and Italian at The University of Manchester, where she started out blogging and copywriting on fashion and travel.

She’s worked for Groupon and its partnerships – including <em>The Guardian</em> UK and US, the <em>HuffPost</em>, and</i> – and has covered a plethora of topics, from kitchen design trends to the best ways to score a good deal on home insurance. S

Swifty tapping into her love for everything home decor-related, she moved into the interior design space and edited, part of Future plc, for three years, where she worked with a tonne of DIY and renovation experts.

She currently lives in North London and is passionate about helping others perfect their surroundings with stunning interiors and functional home additions, whether they own or rent.