It’s hard to believe, but it’s been exactly a year since the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, on March 11 2020.
For most of us, especially those of us not carrying out essential roles in health and other sectors, the past 12 months have generally meant being stuck at home with huge restrictions on our day-to-day lives. It’s meant navigating school or office work from the kitchen table or being on furlough, and it’s been frustrating, boring, and worrying all at once.
But with the extra time afforded through repeated lockdowns some people have been prompted to change their lifestyle in a way they simply didn’t feel they could before, whether that’s led to moving out of the big city or changing careers.
Along those lines, it does seem like now is the perfect time to reassess our priorities and try new things.
And there are definitely some ways to stave off the boredom of lockdown life and use the spare time wisely. One strategy could be figuring out all the ways you can live more sustainably now and for when COVID-19 restrictions finally lift. A bit like spring cleaning but with one eye on your carbon footprint.
Here are some idea for ways to get started.
1. Find out your carbon footprint
Before you start reducing your carbon footprint it would be helpful to know how big it is.
There are a lot of carbon footprint calculators and apps out there which are free and easy to use. They can help give you some indication on how your lifestyle is contributing to carbon emissions — and often include useful tips for reductions, too.
The WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) can help with its straightforward questionnaire, or you can head to carbonfootprint.com which goes into detail on each mode of transport you use and your household.
Or you could download an app like Giki Zero, which helps by breaking down lifestyle changes into achievable steps, and even comes with an app you can use to scan barcodes of products in shops to see their sustainability rating.
2. Take stock of the stuff you have
The time-poor lifestyles of the “before-times” created the perfect conditions for over-buying and making rushed purchases. Now, there is considerably less pressure to buy things last minute, so why not rejoice in that a little?
Take this opportunity to clean out wardrobes and drawers, and discover that laptop cable you thought you’d lost or that amazing jacket you’d forgotten about.
Clothes are one area where more of a “reduce, reuse, recycle” mindset could really lower your carbon footprint. The fashion industry is second only to the petroleum industry for its carbon footprint, and is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions — more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
To achieve a #NetZero future, we need to accelerate the shift to a global #CircularEconomy. We must dramatically increase the amount of material that is re-used or recycled. Our five-year plan sets out how we will do this. https://t.co/6Pgx9Uw3pJpic.twitter.com/wOjTeKjoUo— WRAP (@WRAP_UK) March 9, 2021
“Remember, the most sustainable choice you can make are the clothes you already have,” Mikaela Loach, a student climate activist and 2020’s Global Citizen Prize: UK’s Hero Award nominee, told Global Citizen in an interview about breaking up with fast fashion. She also has some great tips on restyling clothes to make them look fresh.
If you’ve done a clear out and do need to get rid of some items, consider giving them a second home through forums like Freecycle or Facebook Marketplace, or donate them to a charity or thrift shop if they’re in a wearable condition, before heading to a recycling center.
3. Practice home-cooking and reduce food waste
Another part of day-to-day life that it was hard to find the time for in our pre-pandemic hectic lifestyles was cooking. Lockdown has been bad news for sandwich chains, but good news for the people who have finally had the chance to hone their skills in the kitchen.
Home-cooking was on the decline before the pandemic in countries like the US, UK, and Australia, writes Fiona Lavelle, a researcher at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast.
Now, however, numerous consumer trends reports have pointed to an increase in confidence and creativity in home-cooking — 75% of Americans feel more confident cooking at home, a survey from marketing firm Hunter found last year, and 7 out of 10 plan to continue.
A survey by Lavelle found that the lockdowns in the UK, US, Ireland, and New Zealand led to a surge in what is labelled “organizational food practices” — meaning planning meals ahead, using a shopping list, and keeping store cupboard food.
All of these steps help to cut down food waste — which is great because 1 billion tons of food are wasted globally every year according to the latest United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on food waste.
Often this food ends up in landfills and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. The UNEP estimated that 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed.
4. Get familiar with plant-based recipes
Meanwhile, research by the Vegan Society from August last year found that 20% of Brits had reduced their meat intake in lockdown, while 15% had reduced their dairy and egg intake, accompanying an increased interest in plant-based diets.
This is a great direction to be going in, as eating less meat is one of the best things people can do to reduce the pressure on the world’s resources, according to the UN.
So, now is the time to get creative, try ingredients you might not have before, and experiment with cutting down on meat. It might just be something that sticks when the lockdown lifts, as you’ll find you have a roster of meals you’ve already learned how to cook without too much fuss.
WOW, what a campaign! Today we release the final figures for our 2021 Veganuary campaign & the results are astounding! 582,538 people signed-up, compared to 400,000 in 2020, far exceeding this year's target of 500,000 🤩— Veganuary (@veganuary) February 1, 2021
READ our full press release here - https://t.co/aOTHizVEwZpic.twitter.com/LbkWdhcvKF
5. Plan a walking or cycling route
With gyms closed and public transport carrying the risk of spreading infectious disease, the COVID-19 lockdown has led to millions of people taking the chance to explore their city or local area on foot.
“Active travel” has become a buzz-word in the transport world in the meantime — as city planners the world over look to find ways to encourage walking and cycling for public health reasons. In doing so, policies end up cutting carbon emissions too.
The pressure is on to make sure the public’s new habits stick. In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a £2 billion plan for improvements to infrastructure for walking and cycling last July, with transport minister Grant Shapps describing the pandemic as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to get more people walking and reducing the number of polluting car journeys overall.
You might not have many journeys to make during lockdown, but now is the perfect time to gain confidence at cycling, for example, or to think about how you might get to work or university when things reopen. It might be easier than you think to ditch the car.
6. Rewild your garden
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden then you’ve likely already reaped the benefits during the pandemic, and perhaps have already started to experiment with a spot of planting.
Gardening with wildlife in mind has become more popular in recent years, according to the charity Rewilding Britain, as the environmental benefits have become more well-known.
Allowing our natural spaces to grow wild helps reverse biodiversity loss, prevents soil erosion, and on a large scale even helps tackle climate change — as plants and trees store carbon dioxide and we need more of them for carbon capture. But it is something that you can embrace on a small scale in your own little wild oasis too.
This biodiversity hotspot in Yorkshire has seen wildlife move in at a remarkable rate. Woodmeadows could be the answer to many of the UK's declining wildlife species, helping mammals, birds, insects, reptiles & amphibians.https://t.co/lRRa9v7Irw#conservation#habitats#naturepic.twitter.com/oQlTzKVqhv— Little Green Space 🐝💙 (@LGSpace) January 22, 2021
According to Rewilding Britain, 15 easy ways to rewild your garden include planting trees, allowing different types of plants to grow, embracing scrub and mess, and even adding ponds to attract birds and aquatic creatures. Soon you might find you’re attracting more wildlife, such as hedgehogs, to your backyard.
7. Make your home more energy efficient
Why not use this time to do an energy audit? It will save you money in the long term and lower your carbon footprint at the same time.
There are plenty of small fixes you can make to your house or apartment to reduce emissions. Things like turning off appliances when you’re not using them, using a smart thermostat to prevent unnecessary central heating turning on, or switching light bulbs to LED ones, which use 85% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lights.
If you want to take things a step further, and you have the means, the down time during COVID-19 could be an opportunity to do renovations that cut carbon and save money in the long-run. For example, you could look for drafts around your house and seal them, or consider replacing doors and windows that are not up to energy saving standards.
Planting shrubs and trees around your house can act as a natural windbreaker for the colder months or provide shade in hot weather too, according to the Landscape for Life initiative in the US.
A properly landscaped area around a home can actually cut bills spent on heating and cooling by up to 40%, the organization explains.
8. Suss out sustainable options for future purchases
Decorating with second-hand furniture or scouring websites for the perfect second-hand outfit are rewarding activities – but they both mean investing a little more time than is sometimes available.
Similarly, taking the extra time to research a brand’s background and commitment to sustainability is something that we all had less time to do before — whereas now there’s no excuse.
There has been some indication that the pandemic and greater public awareness of climate change has led to an increasing interest in making more ethical purchases, studies suggest.
For example, a global study by management consultancy Accenture, found that 60% of consumers were reporting making more environmentally-friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases in 2020.
"It's clear that consumption is looking very different than it did [before COVID-19]," Oliver Wright, global lead of consumer goods and services at Accenture, told the BBC in January.
"This is a black swan event [meaning a surprise occurrence that has a major, lasting impact]. It is making people think more about balancing what they buy, and how they spend their time, with global issues of sustainability,” Wright continued.
This suggests that lockdown is actually proving to be a great opportunity to reconfigure shopping habits in a way that will hopefully continue in future.