9 ways to reduce your GHG footprint

By Asha Kerr-Wilson

Identifying specific Canadian GHG emission sources and what they contribute to Canada’s GHG footprint helps us understand the need for climate action across sectors. And knowing which of your daily choices produce GHG emissions is the first step in making climate-friendly habit changes (see What is a tonne of greenhouse gas emissions?). Once you have this information, the question becomes, how can you use it to reduce the impact and help drive Canada towards ambitious emissions reductions?

Here are some suggestions for how you can contribute to the reduction of Canada’s GHG footprint in seven key emitting areas.

1. Reduce Household Heating Emissions

There are two key areas of action to reduce home heating emissions. First, make your home energy efficient. Heat loss from walls, doors, and windows means you are using more energy than needed to keep your home warm; so improve insulation in walls and attics, and add weather sealing on doors and windows. Second, heat your house only when and where you need it; close heating vents in unused rooms and turn down the temperature at night and during the day when no one is home – for maximum ease install a programmable thermostat. Keeping the temperature at a modest 20⁰C when you are home during the heating season and wearing extra layers for warmth is an easy way to improve your energy efficiency.

2. Create an Energy Efficient Household

Energy efficient household appliances are an effective way to reduce emissions over the long term. If you’ve already switched (or if making the change is out of reach financially) there are smaller day-to-day things you can do to maximize household efficiency. Keep your fridge, freezer, and water heater at optimal efficiency temperatures, ensure full loads for dishwashers and washing machines, wash clothes cold and hang to dry1, and turn off and unplug small appliances, electronics, and chargers when not in use. If you have the means to make bigger changes, consider investing in an energy efficient water heating system; there are many options to choose from including solar systems that are efficient and effective in many regions.

3. Reduce Food Waste

Personal action can make a big difference when it comes to reducing GHG emissions from waste. Reducing your overall waste and sorting waste where possible can help cut back on waste emissions and impacts. To reduce GHG emissions, the biggest difference will come from reducing your food waste. Composting produces marginally less GHGs than sending it to a landfill, but minimizing all food waste can significantly reduce your household GHG emissions. Buy only what you can eat, store food properly to optimize it’s shelf life, and make a habit of eating leftovers.

4. Drive Less

Transportation is one of the largest sources of GHG emissions in Canada – second only to the oil and gas sector. Within the transportation sector, 53% of emissions are produced by personal vehicles. 4500 km – roughly the distance between Toronto and Vancouver or 40 hours of driving – produces one tonne of GHG emissions. In 2012 the Pembina Institute estimated that Canadians living in metro or suburban areas (the majority) commute an average of 45km a day for work.

One of the best ways to cut back on transportation emissions is to share the ride or cut it altogether! This may mean taking public transportation, carpooling, or choosing to walk or bike. Driving less is one of the biggest personal changes Canadians can make to reduce GHG emissions, not to mention the additional benefits of improved local air quality and the reduction in traffic and therefore commute time. If you only drive occasionally find a local car-share instead of buying your own. For those not ready to give up driving just yet, choose energy efficient, hybrid, or full electric* vehicles.

5. Vacation Closer to Home

A southern vacation for one from Canada produces between 0.3 and 2.1 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e) emissions. For a family of five that single vacation results in 1.5 to 10.5 Mt of CO₂e emissions in air travel alone. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, because most aircraft emissions are produced high in the atmosphere, their impact is 2-4 times greater than equivalent CO2 emitted at ground level.

6. Cut Back on Meat

In Canada, we consume a lot of beef and cheese which contributes to the high per capita GHG emissions. Cutting back on how much meat, especially red meat, you consume regularly is an easy way to reduce food related emissions. Eating less meat and choosing meat sources with lower emissions goes a long way, or for maximum impact, choose a vegan or vegetarian diet. The Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change+Health outlines the best meat and plant based protein choices to help you reduce your personal GHG footprint.

7. Buy Ready-Built

It may be challenging for individual Canadians to make emissions reductions directly in the area of construction, but you can use your buying power to support lowering emissions. The LEED program offers environmental certification for buildings and includes tools and guidelines for reducing construction emissions, for example by reducing high emitting cement in new projects via recycled materials. LEED certification can be applied to commercial and residential construction so if you are building or buying a new home, consider including LEED certification in your decision. And remember, as LEED states, “the greenest building is one that is already built.” Buying a home that is already built cuts any emissions related to building a new one and reduces overall demand for emissions intensive cement production.

8. Divest from Fossil Fuel Companies

Extracting oil from the ground produces emissions even before it is refined, transported, and used. The Canadian oil and gas sector produces 1.6 billion barrels of oil a year which is estimated to produce 104 Mt of CO₂e emissions at the point of extraction. These emissions are then multiplied as oil-based energy or products (which includes many daily-use household items) are manufactured and consumed. Divesting savings from fossil fuel companies and reinvesting in renewables sends important market and political signals about the values and priorities of Canadians.

9. Advocate for Action

Personal action to reduce the emissions produced by oil extraction may seem impossible, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. As a Canadian citizen, your voice matters in the push for climate action from the government. One of the only effective and substantial ways to ensure reduced emissions from the oil and gas sector is for government regulation, and incentives to transition away from this GHG intensive energy source in Canada. By voicing your concern for the emissions produced and your support for a just transition to a cleaner economy you are advocating for a healthy climate and a greener future for all.

Taking action on climate change doesn’t have to mean flipping your life upside down to become 100% emissions free overnight. Climate action can be starting with the little things to reduce your impact. If every Canadian made a couple of changes every year, our collective footprint would decrease. So start where you are, begin with the small changes, and go from there. And remember that significant reductions require government action, so speak up and make advocacy part of your personal action to reduce emissions. It’s when we all come together around this critical issue that our national emissions will be dramatically reduced.

*note: The effective reduction of emissions from choosing an electric car depends on your local source of electricity; be sure your electricity comes from a non-emitting source.

  • Asha Kerr-Wilson

    ​Asha has been interested in environmental and social issues for many years, but became especially interested in the places in which the two areas intersect early in her university career. While doing her B.A. in Environmental Studies with a minor in Justice Studies at the University of Regina she found that the two issues were strongly connected inciting a passion for ecological and climate justice issues. This led her to get more involved in addressing these issues in her community including joining the Board of Directors of the university’s on-campus environmental and social justice non-profit organization. Raised and active in the Anglican Church, Asha became involved with the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development organization, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), in 2014. Through her volunteer work with PWRDF she seeks to live out the commandment to “love thy neighbor” with a global reach by sitting on the organization’s Youth Council and Board of Directors. Having lived in many parts of Canada growing up, Asha is pleased to be living in the nation’s capital and working to influence positive change around national ecological justice issues.

3 thoughts on “9 ways to reduce your GHG footprint”

  1. I will quibble slightly with your suggestion that going vegetarian or vegan is the most virtuous diet carbon-foot-print-wise. The person who buys their meat, root vegetables, pulses, grains from a local farmer probably has a lower food footprint than the vegan who’s importing almond milk and avocados and all manner of highly processed ersatz food.
    For example, in Drawdown, Paul Hawken writes that properly managed grazing significantly improves carbon sequestration in soil.
    It’s probably unfair to say there is one right diet choice — besides preference, dietary needs and geography are important factors in what makes for sustainable eating — but I do think it’s fair to say a less meat diet with locally sourced organically grown meat is probably at least as virtuous as a vegetarian or vegan diet and might even be more so than some.

  2. May I add additional ways ways to reduce GHGs? In Ontario, BC, and Quebec, switch from natural gas heat to electric heating. In those provinces, electricity is produced primarily from renewable resources (hydro) or nuclear. Also, advocate your faith community to convert their building to electric heat. Ask your municipal government to put a hefly surcharge on new homes that are to be heated with natural gas, to foster use of 100% efficient electric heat.


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