Skip to main content
Blog Post 18 February 2021

A decade of change: the path to reducing my carbon footprint

by Stuart Dainton, head of content

The challenges in addressing a climate emergency are huge, and they may seem to be only for governments and businesses – but we are all involved, and we can all act collectively. Even the smallest steps, when taken together, can make a huge difference.

I’d like to share my own story of change on the path to reducing my carbon footprint to help play my part in addressing both the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis. These two crises are connected. In my lifetime and through my career, I have been incredibly fortunate to have seen the very best and worst of the world. As a former Royal Air Force logistics officer, I travelled the globe, but my work regrettably had an enormous carbon footprint. After seeing this impact, I decided to study the environment and to act to give something back and change careers.

I made the decision to leave the military and begin a new career in the environmental and sustainability sector. Now within Energy Saving Trust, working to deliver our powerful mission, I feel privileged to be helping to be part of the solution. However, for me, just working in the sector isn’t enough, and so I have taken on the challenge of reducing my personal carbon footprint and impact as much as possible.

My choices towards a lower carbon footprint

Affordability is often a considerable barrier to making choices and changes. However, even the smallest steps can make a difference. Here, I’ve laid out some of the elements of change on my carbon journey – although I still have a long way to go! For example, my biggest problem remains removing plastic from our lives, but I have set out a plan for the next decade ahead. This is my carbon footprint journey so far.

Calculate

An important first step was to calculate my environmental footprint to give an indication of the scale of my carbon impact. There are now many calculators available, ranging from detailed calculations by Carbon Footprint to top level indications of your impact using the WWF calculator.

Action

Taking action and having your voice heard is very important. I email politicians and businesses regularly with ‘green’ ideas. I try to buy solely from responsible and sustainable businesses.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

I have considerably reduced my consumption of consumer goods, particularly clothing. Where possible, I buy sustainable products, while I also reuse, pass on or repurpose items when finished. Recycling has become a way of life, with everything from paper, plastic, cans, bottles and food now recycled or composted – I have completely changed my thinking to consider waste as a resource.

Building

I have undertaken several home improvements to help improve my home’s Environmental Performance Certificate (EPC) rating. We have changed all our lights to energy efficient LED lighting, upgraded our windows to double glazing, improved insulation, installed solar panels, improved water storage for the garden, and replaced our oil-fired heating system with biogas.

Organic

Where possible, I buy local organic produce and grow some of my own food. I have also changed my diet and now do not eat meat. I still buy meat for my family, but I buy organic and from a local butcher. Eating more vegetables and less meat can help significantly to reduce your individual carbon footprint.

Neutral

I set a challenge – known in our family as ‘Dad’s Green Challenge’ – to be carbon neutral and reduce our environmental impact. The challenge was incentivised, with family members rewarded for good actions – any financial savings made were reinvested in the rewards. I started with monitoring my carbon impact – including travel miles, energy consumption, and considering where products were sourced, seeking out products with low carbon miles. Two of the challenge’s biggest wins were eliminating food waste and reducing energy bills. Tackling food waste was easy with a weekly meal planner. Energy reduction was also transformational – using an energy meter to highlight the impact with appliances changed the family’s behaviour. I now challenge myself to have a lower carbon footprint every year – aiming towards net zero and having a carbon positive impact.

Finance

Finance and choosing where money is invested is critical to the future of our planet. I changed my bank to one that supported environmental projects and recently have changed again to one that does not invest in oil and supports an ethical and environmental investment portfolio. I also asked my pension provider where my pension was invested and requested only ethical and environmental investments.

Oil

I live in a rural community and my heating was originally an oil-fired boiler. I challenged myself to avoid using oil and oil-based products. I changed the boiler to a condensing biogas fuelled boiler. I also implemented greener travel options, reduced my commuting miles (with lockdown that has been transformed to nil) and set about trying to avoid plastic, wherever possible. A ground source heat pump or immersion heating system using entirely renewable energy was my initial goal when making the decision to switch away from oil, and it remains my goal as soon as I can afford to make another change.

Organisations

Supporting environmental charities is very important to me to help conservation and give something back to our planet. I support a range of charities, from WWF animal adoptions to local wildlife, nature and marine reserves. Supporting such areas of habitat are not only good for wildlife, but they also make great carbon sinks.

Travel

I drastically cut my carbon miles when I decided to stop flying seven years ago. I am sure I will fly again in the future, and I don’t advocate a flight ban, as travel is so enriching. However, responsible travel is essential. It can provide vital tourism income and support eco-tourism that is so valuable to economies. I do support reducing flying, wherever possible, and I believe every flight’s carbon must be fully mitigated, with an additional net positive environmental levy imposed as well.

Products

This is a true passion of mine and I am constantly trying to seek out sustainable products. Sustainability in production, as well as the lifecycle costs of a product, are important to me. Additionally, when you finish with a product, its ability to be reused by someone else, or repurposed, recycled or passed on, is also so important.

Renewable energy

Several years ago, I changed to a 100% renewable supplier, and also fitted solar panels to become a generator of electricity.

Insulation

‘Insulate, insulate, insulate’ is a well-known mantra at Energy Saving Trust. I upgraded the insulation in my house, and during a refurbishment project also improved the wall and floor insulation. The increased warmth in my home in the refurbished areas is so noticeable, compared with the previously ‘leaky’ 1950s construction.

Nature

I have sought to improve nature, even in my garden. I have created nature friendly areas, including small wild spaces. Our garden is mainly bounded by hedge lines, which support a variety of birds and nature and act as a further carbon sink.

Trees

Trees are a great for storing carbon. Protecting, restoring forests and planting trees around the globe – making sure they’re the right trees, in the right places – is critical in the fight against climate change. From tropical forests to mangroves to urban trees, they’re all important to us in so many areas. To help maintain forests, I now support the protection and restoration of forests with carbon projects. This allows me to give something back and contribute to sequestering more carbon than I emit each year. I support projects, as mitigation for the carbon emissions I can’t yet get rid of, and it has helped to ensure I have a positive carbon balance.

The chart below shows my personal carbon balance over the last decade.

The graph tracks the overall trajectory of my carbon footprint. There have been short upward spikes at times, for example, when undertaking home refurbishments. For over a decade, I have completely ‘offset’ my carbon footprint with tree planting. I did not start recording the tree impact until 2015, when I got down to 5.2 tonnes of carbon a year, but could not do much more at the time without mitigation. I decided to include the data from that date to show that a positive impact can still be achieved. Currently, without additional mitigation, further reductions below five tonnes of carbon is very challenging. However, a ‘build back better’ agenda will hopefully bring technology to the fore, helping to lower carbon in many more areas .

These are just some of the actions I have taken, and over the next decade I need to go much further. Through collaboration and working together I believe we can build back better, address the climate emergency, and create a greener, healthier planet. Our choices matter.