Carbon Footprint FAQ

We’re all keen to reduce our energy bills and the good news is that we cut our carbon footprint at the same time – as the following answers to some of the most commonly asked questions will show.


What’s Energy Saving Got to do With Carbon Footprints?

Saving energy is well established as one of the most effective ways we can all reduce our carbon footprint. With traditional fuels and conventional forms of electrical generation dependent on carbon-rich fossil fuels, the less energy we consume, the smaller our carbon footprint becomes.

In the long run, energy saving and minimising your carbon footprint are two sides of exactly the same coin.

Do Our Homes Really Have Such a Big Carbon Footprint?

According to studies, the UK’s average carbon footprint per household is just over ten tonnes – about 4.5 tonnes for every one of us – and figures from the Carbon Trust suggest that our homes account for more than a quarter of the country’s total annual CO2 emissions. With findings like that, it’s pretty clear that they do!

What Exactly is “Fossil Carbon” Anyway and Why is it so Important?

Most of our traditional energy sources – coal, gas and oil – were formed from organic deposits laid down millions of years ago; those deposits contain the carbon which once formed prehistoric trees, plants and other living things. When we burn these “fossil fuels” they produce carbon dioxide and this “ancient” carbon gets released back into our “modern” atmosphere – adding to the overall amount of CO2 in the air.

What’s All This Talk About “Secondary Carbon”?

When we think about carbon footprints we tend to concentrate on how much energy we use directly – in our homes or travelling around. This makes up our primary carbon footprint, but our environmental impact doesn’t stop there. Although it has a big bearing on our carbon emissions, there are other things too which add to the overall effect, such as food miles and recycling which produce a secondary carbon footprint.

Choosing over-packaged items or products with high embedded energy, and food which is brought over large distances when equivalent produce is available locally, all add to our secondary carbon contribution. Saving energy – and lowering our carbon emissions – isn’t only about changing light bulbs and switching appliances off!

So Where Can I Make a Reduction?

First off, take a good look at the way you use energy. If you haven’t already, change your light bulbs for low energy ones, turn your central heating thermostat down a degree or two, check your insulation is up to scratch – especially in the loft and walls – and think about replacing any ageing appliances with energy efficient ones. Choose the most suitable means of transport for your journeys – and if you have to take the car, practice “eco-driving” to reduce your energy consumption.

Addressing your secondary carbon impact – by buying local produce, recycling and composting wherever you can, for example – will also help to cut your overall carbon footprint.

What Else Can I Do to Reduce My Family’s Carbon Footprint?

Once you have maximised your energy efficiency and reduced unnecessary food miles, wastage and the like, the next step is to think about the source of the energy you use. Even if your choices are limited – living in a remote area where gas is not available, for instance – there are still things you can do. Most energy suppliers have green tariffs and installing low carbon renewable energy systems has never been easier – particularly since projects such as the government’s Low Carbon Building Programme has extensive grants to help offset the cost!

Can Homes Really Become Carbon Neutral?

According to the government’s Code for Sustainable Homes, by 2016, all new British homes will have to be carbon zero – with no net emissions resulting from their use of energy. It is an ambitious target and it’s not without its critics, not least because the costs involved are likely to be considerable – not an attractive option in the current credit and housing crunch – and there is some doubt over the availability of the necessary technology.

For the private householder, it’s probably a lot more sensible to look on carbon neutrality as a target to aim for and do your best to get as close as you can, rather than beat yourself up because you didn’t manage to go all the way!