Friday, 12 December 2014

How Many Planets Would We Need to Sustain Your Lifestyle? + 5 Tips for Lowering Your Carbon Footprint!

Apparently, if everyone in the world lived like I did, we would need 2.1 planets to support us all.

This is pretty devastating news for someone who cares about the environment and wants to help persuade people to act in "greener" ways and spend more time with nature. Yes, I sign Greenpeace petitions. Yes, I love walking in forests and by rivers. However, it seems that I could be doing a lot more.

The fact is, we've only got one planet - and with a rapidly increasing population, the number of planets we'd need is going to increase, too.

Try the Bioregional One Planet Challenge to see how you fare in terms of your impact on the planet.

What might surprise you is the amount of things you've never considered. For example, if you rent, you might not have a clue whether your home has thick loft insulation or cavity wall insulation. You might never have heard of a "hippo", which is a water-saving device for your toilet. I hadn't, either - so here you go.

The nice thing is that you're given an action plan at the end, to help you start to take steps to reduce your impact on the world. Here are some of my favourite starting points, because they sound pretty easy (although I'd already ticked that I did some of these already). I've expanded on them, too, to give you some ideas:

  • Set your thermostat to 18-21C. OK, that's not hard. If you're still cold, look at whether you could wear another layer of clothing - sitting around the house in your T-shirt and cranking up the heat isn't going to cut it any more! To heat up the house a little more, try something radical like this heater that uses plant pots and tea-light candles.
  • Switch to energy saving light bulbs. Yes, sometimes they take ages to reach the brightness you need, so if you just need to quickly turn on a light to find something, use your phone light or something. However, rumours have been circling the net for a while, saying that energy saving bulbs are toxic... this article clears up how this is a hoax (or so it seems!) and that the amount of mercury in the bulbs is too small to pose any health risk.
  • Take your own carrier bags shopping. Some places now charge 5p per bag, which does encourage people to bring their own. The hardest thing is remembering to bring them. Make sure you always have two plastic bags crumpled up in your handbag or pocket so you won't be caught short! 
  • Before buying something new, consider if you really need it - could you borrow or hire it instead? I love this tip. Imagine you need a ladder to do some quick painting, or a nice dress for a party. Ask your friends (including all those Facebook friends you've got) or try lovely websites like or, where you can reach out to strangers in your area for potential favours or free stuff! Also, check local Facebook groups for second-hand or even free items - you'll be surprised at what people give away sometimes.
  • Ordering draught beer from a barrel saves a lot of packaging compared to bottled beer. Yeah! Plus it usually tastes better. Mind you, check out The Food Babe to find out what some of your favourite beers may contain (note: if you like German or Czech beers, you're good to go - they can legally only contain natural ingredients). 
With my 2.1 planets, it's time for me to get my arse in gear and start working on reducing that footprint. However, there are a few issues with this tool - we don't really know how the scores are calculated, plus questions like "If you have a garden, do you use a water butt?" don't give any scope to say "I don't have a garden"  - it's a simple yes/no, so if I don't have a garden and I put "no", do my points get docked? Hmmm.

In the interests of checking its validity, I tried a couple of other calculators:

The WWF Footprint Calculator gave me the exact same score - 2.1! 

If you're in the U.S. you can use the Earth Day Network Footprint Calculator - actually, I recommend this one anyway because you get to make a little avatar and it's quite cute... it's also nice because you can score your answers on a sliding scale and choose how much detail you choose to give (e.g. you can answer about how much meat you eat in general, or you can narrow it down to types of meat). However, this one told me I needed 3.9 planets! Why? What did I do? I can only think my gas/electricity bill estimates didn't add up in the same way.

Of course, we could debate the accuracy of the tests and get into debates about their reliability and validity, but I think it's more important to look at these tests as a bit of fun - fun that can make you feel sh*t about yourself, but still ;) - the point is that the questions might make you think about things you never realised could have an impact on the environment, such as the amount of meat you eat or the jewellery you buy. 

I'll keep you updated on how things go for me under the tag One Planet Challenge! If you're committed to lowering your own impact on the environment, stay tuned and let me know how you're doing, too! 

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