Steps to Lower Your Carbon Footprint
Small Changes Can Add Up to a Big Impact
Reducing one’s carbon footprint – the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are generated by one’s actions – can take many forms. Between how we design our homes and buildings, the equipment we use, and how we get from A to B, our individual actions can help power the clean energy transition, combat climate change, and inspire others to act.
How to Calculate Your Carbon Footprint
Whether at the individual, household, or organizational level, a carbon footprint is calculated as the sum of all the greenhouse gas emissions from daily activities and consumption. Understanding where your emissions come from is an important first step to identify opportunities for reducing your environmental impact.
While multiple greenhouse gases, including methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO₂), and nitrous oxide (N2O) contribute to climate change, one’s carbon footprint is generally measured in units of CO₂. The average person in the U.S. has a carbon footprint equivalent to 16 tons of CO₂, compared to 4 tons for the global average. To achieve the Paris Agreement goal of holding the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C, the average carbon footprint needs to dip below 2 tons by 2050 .
There are a variety of tools and software for calculating and measuring emissions. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Household Carbon Footprint Calculator can provide an estimate of your household carbon footprint, including a breakdown by source and comparison to the U.S. average. Alternatively, the Nature Conservancy’s carbon footprint calculator includes additional factors, such as air travel, diet, and spending habits to estimate emissions and provide tailored suggestions for a more climate-friendly lifestyle.
8 Steps to Lower Your Carbon Footprint
The size and makeup of your carbon footprint will depend on a variety of factors. However, most emissions fall into a few categories: household energy, transportation, waste, and consumption. With these activities in mind, here are eight strategies to reduce your carbon footprint.
1. Save Energy With Weatherization
Buildings, including homes, businesses, schools, and other public institutions account for around one-third of New York State’s greenhouse gas emissions . Weatherizing your home, business, or workplace by adding insulation, sealing air leaks, and upgrading windows and doors can translate to significant emissions savings.
Weatherized buildings are better able to retain heated and cooled air, helping heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems run more efficiently. These upgrades can cut HVAC energy use by up to 40%, providing a relatively short payback to property owners . Besides emissions and energy savings, weatherization also boosts comfort by reducing drafts and improving indoor air quality.
Learn More: How to Weatherize for Winter
2. Switch to Clean Heating and Cooling
Buildings that are heated with natural gas, propane, or oil, produce greenhouse gas emissions from the onsite combustion of these fossil fuels. Switching to clean heating and cooling technologies, such as air source or ground source heat pumps, can keep buildings comfortable year-round without the use of fossil fuels.
Heat pumps operate by transferring heat rather than generating it, making them more efficient than conventional heating systems. This technology also works for hot water, with heat pump water heaters providing two to three times the efficiency of an electric-resistance water heater .
New Yorkers who install an air source heat pump, ground source heat pump, or heat pump water heater in their home or business can qualify for NYS Clean Heat incentives and IRA tax credits. Note that ground source heat pumps also qualify for a New York State tax credit of up to $5,000 or 25% of the project cost.
Learn More: U.S. Heat Pump Sales Surpass Gas Furnaces
3. Tap Into Renewable Power
New York is transitioning to an electricity system powered by renewable sources like wind and solar. By 2030, 70% of electricity in New York State will be generated by renewables. But today’s electric grid still relies on a larger share of non-renewable energy sources.
There are several options for sourcing renewably generated electricity to reduce the carbon footprint of a home or building. Installing onsite solar lets you utilize your rooftop or property for clean energy production, enhancing resilience to power outages and delivering long-term savings. New York State incentives and IRA tax credits are available to lower the upfront installation costs for residential, commercial, and tax-exempt customers, such as municipalities and non-profits.
With community solar, New Yorkers can access the benefits of solar energy without installing panels on their property. Community solar projects generate clean energy for multiple customers, who pay for their share of electricity as a monthly subscription – usually at a discounted rate. New York is the nation’s leader in community solar, with two gigawatts of community solar installed as of 2023.
4. Opt for Low-Carbon Transport
New York’s transportation system accounted for approximately 28% of statewide greenhouse gas emission in 2019, with road transportation representing the largest source of emission . Trading in a gas-powered vehicle for a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV), utilizing public transportation, or traveling more frequently by foot or bicycle can significantly curtail one’s carbon footprint.
Besides the motivation to reduce emissions, drivers are increasingly choosing EVs for lower maintenance and operational costs. New Yorkers can receive Drive Clean Rebates and IRA tax credits, worth up to $9,500 combined, on the lease or purchase of eligible new electric vehicles. Used electric vehicles may also qualify for an IRA tax credit of $4,000 if the model year is at least two years old and the sale price is $25,000 or less.
Learn More: How New York is Preparing for an EV Future
5. Upgrade to Efficient, All-Electric Appliances
After HVAC systems, appliances can be one of the leading energy hogs in a home or building. Whether in the kitchen, office, or laundry room, various appliances and equipment are integral to daily life.
Using efficient, all-electric appliances in place of outdated or fossil fuel-powered models can considerably reduce energy use and emissions. For example, heat pump dryers use around 28% less energy than conventional electric dryers. Meanwhile, induction stoves provide a more efficient, emission-free, and healthier way to cook without sacrificing performance and convenience.
With any appliance or equipment purchase, keep an eye out for ENERGY STAR® certification to ensure you’re choosing an energy-efficient model.
Learn More: The Buyer’s Guide to Induction Cooktops
6. Electrify Yard Equipment
Gas-powered yard equipment, including lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and the like, emit greenhouse gases and pollutants that contribute to climate change and poor air quality. Since these ubiquitous landscaping tools run on small, inefficient motors lacking catalytic converters, their environmental impact is more severe than vehicles in a gallon-to-gallon comparison.
For context, running a commercial lawn mower for one hour produces the equivalent air pollution of driving a new gas-powered vehicle for roughly 300 miles .
Using electric, battery-powered lawn equipment instead can forgo these emissions and pollution. Many models are competitive in price with gas-powered versions and provide ample battery charge for about an hour of mowing. Their motors also run quieter and cleaner for a more enjoyable and healthier user experience.
All-electric commercial mowers are eligible for IRA tax credits of up to 30%, capped at $7,500 per lawn mower. Additionally, local governments that utilize electric landscaping equipment can earn points towards Clean Energy Communities designation and grant funding.
7. Landscape With Native Plants
In addition to decarbonizing lawn equipment, creating more sustainable landscapes can help remove CO₂ from the atmosphere. If you have a lawn or outdoor space, growing native plant species [PDF] can support carbon sequestration while reducing energy and water consumption by reducing the need for mowing and irrigation. Native plants also enhance biodiversity by providing food and habitat for animals and insects.
8. Reduce and Compost Food Waste
The average New York resident produces 1,850 pounds of municipal solid waste – 19% of which is recycled or composted, with the remainder going to the landfill or combustion facilities . Reducing waste and increasing the rate of recycling and composting can significantly reduce one’s carbon footprint.
Discarding food and organic waste in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 26 times the warming potential of CO₂. Alternatively, composting cuts the emission from organic material by more than 50% while providing a sustainable soil amendment for gardening and agriculture production .
More on Climate Action
Continue reading about opportunities for taking climate action in your own life and New York’s plans for combatting the climate crisis.
- Climate Action Council Scoping Plan : Learn about New York’s framework for reducing greenhouse gas emission, achieving net-zero emissions, and ensuring all communities equitably benefit in the clean energy transition.
- NYS Guide to Inflation Reduction Act Savings: Find out how to combine IRA tax credits and New York State incentives to lower the cost of clean energy equipment and upgrades to your home or business.
- Protecting New Yorkers from Extreme Heat: Learn about resources and initiatives underway to make homes, communities, and energy systems more resilient to the impacts of climate change and extreme heat.
- What is your carbon footprint?. The Nature Conservancy. (n.d.). https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/ . Back to content
- New York State Climate Action Council. 2022. “New York State Climate Action Council Scoping Plan.” https://climate.ny.gov/Resources/Scoping-Plan . Back to content
- Zirnhelt, H. (2022, March 11). Airtightness in buildings: Don’t let it slip through the cracks! RMI. https://rmi.org/airtightness-buildings-dont-let-slip-cracks . Back to content
- Department of Energy. (n.d.). Heat Pump Water Heaters. Energy.gov. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/heat-pump-water-heaters . Back to content
- California Air Resources Board. SORE - Small Engine Fact Sheet | California Air Resources Board. (n.d.). https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/resources/fact-sheets/sore-small-engine-fact-sheet . Back to content
- Hottle, T., Valencia, M., Daya, T., Gorman, M. R., & Frischmann, C. (2023, July 26). Composting. Project Drawdown. https://drawdown.org/solutions/composting . Back to content
Sign Up For News
Stay up to date on energy-saving programs and incentives, best practices, and more.Stay Connected