Welcome to Second Nature, a Q+A series with Jute founder, Ali Davin, that explores all things healthy living, with a fond emphasis on that thing she does best—interior design.
Climate change is real. Over the last 150 years, increased greenhouse gas emissions—particularly carbon dioxide—have trapped heat in the atmosphere and made the planet gradually warmer. The number-one source of these emissions: burning fossil fuels for energy.
While small changes like recycling and eating a plant-based diet can add up, the most significant way we can have an impact is by reducing our fossil fuel consumption. Here’s how to lower your carbon footprint in a more meaningful way.
Basically, we’ve come to rely on burning fossil fuels for heat, electricity, and transportation. Together, that accounts for over three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. So if you drive a car and use gas and/or electricity in your home, you are contributing to that. And while we’re moving toward more renewable energy sources like water, wind, and solar, those make up less than 20% of the electricity generated in this country—the rest is mostly gas and coal. Until we can clean up our energy, using more electricity really isn’t going to help. We need to consume less overall.
In residential buildings, heating is the biggest culprit in terms of carbon emissions. The easiest thing to do is just use less heat—only turn it on when you need it, and don’t turn it all the way up to 72 degrees. Wear a few more layers and pile some blankets onto your bed—you’ll sleep better when it’s cool anyway. But if you’re in a position to renovate, hot-water radiant heat is the most sustainable way to heat your home.
It uses way less energy than forced-air heating. It’s more expensive to install, but once you do, your bill is next to nothing. It’s the most efficient system for heating your entire home because water retains heat- so it uses little electricity while maintaining a consistent temperature. What is less efficient is electrical radiant heat, which is prohibitively expensive for heating an entire house and is solely reliant on electricity. Again, using more electricity is not the solution.
Installing solar panels on your roof is great, but unless you have a substantial amount of land for a complex system, you’re not going to be able to go totally off the grid. Solar panels can be expensive to install and while they significantly reduce your bill, they don’t 100% fix your electricity consumption. Solar panels in conjunction with less energy consumption is moving in the right direction.
They’re far better than gas-powered cars, but until we can power our electrical grid in a more sustainable way, they’re still impacting our carbon emissions. The solution should be to drive less, period. Instead of spending an hour and a half in the car every day driving your kids to school and to work and around to all your activities, think about consolidating your life into a smaller radius. That goes for your home as well.
In theory, yes. You shouldn’t be living in more square footage than you truly need, because the bigger your house, the more energy you’re consuming. Bigger homes also contribute to loss of green space and air pollution. Plus, the more space you have, the more you tend to consume in terms of goods and materials.
Manufacturing is responsible for a large chunk of carbon emissions in the U.S., so when you’re selecting materials—kitchen countertops, for example—consider whether it was made in a factory through a process that burned a ton of fossil fuels and created waste or if it’s a natural material that came from the earth. And before you rip out everything in your house and renovate, ask yourself if there’s anything you can repurpose instead. Keeping waste out of the landfill should be your goal, because when it rots, it creates methane, which is even worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.
Don’t think of anything as disposable. Whatever you are buying—furniture, lighting, tile, hardware—buy it once and don’t throw it away. Even better, reuse and repurpose what you already have, and if something breaks, fix it instead of buying something new.
Lower your energy consumption to reduce carbon emissions in a more impactful way.