In our usual blog posts, we talk a lot about how companies can improve their operations to make them more sustainable. By using recycled byproducts as feedstock, environmentally friendlier energy sources, and finding creative, profitable ways to gain more value from their waste streams, businesses have a massive opportunity to reduce pollution and create a greener future.
However, in many ways, the ultimate reduction in harmful carbon emissions will have to occur on a personal level. This type of effort means that individuals, along with businesses, will need to make conscious decisions to use more sustainable energy and products and to take steps to reduce their own carbon footprint.
Because it is the holiday season, think of reducing your personal carbon footprint as giving a gift to the environment, as well as your fellow humans. In addition to taking small but important steps like recycling and choosing products from companies who practice sustainability, there are two major changes individuals can embrace to make a significant difference this holiday season and beyond.
Switch to renewable energy
In the United States, fossil fuels produce more than 60% of all electricity generated. Burning these types of fuels releases a variety of harmful gases and chemicals like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, mercury, and other potentially dangerous heavy metals. 31% of all greenhouse gases in the U.S. come from electricity production. For this reason, making the switch from fossil fuels to renewable electricity is one of the largest steps an individual can take to do their part to reduce these types of pollutants.
What are your options for giving the gift of clean energy?
Provided by our most important star, solar is a constant stream of available energy waiting to be captured. Solar panels do not require any fossil fuels in order to generate electricity and are one of the primary ways of reducing our dependence on traditional sources of energy. Solar energy in the United States currently counterbalances as much as 16.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, but there is still much more to be accomplished. For example, in the state of New York the average home uses 7,092 kWh of electricity annually. By choosing to buy solar panels, a single home could eliminate the same amount of carbon emissions that would result from burning around 5,200 pounds of coal each year. And that’s just one home!
Although not as direct as installing solar panels on your roof or in your yard, wind power is available in many regions and can help families greatly reduce their carbon footprint. As of 2019, wind accounted for 7.3% of total utility scale energy generation in the United States. There are hundreds of utility providers across the U.S. that offer green solutions, usually either wind or solar, and allow their customers to choose if they would prefer that option over fossil fuels. Frequently, there’s an additional charge for choosing clean energy in the range of 1 cent to 1.5 cents/KWh, which works out to be roughly $8 -$10/month for the average home, according to Puget Sound Energy. Because the energy from wind turbines avoided an estimated equivalent to carbon emissions from 42 million cars in 2019, the monthly charge is a small price to pay for many.
Your vehicle is a big contributor to pollutants
Other than making the switch to a renewable energy source for household electricity, the next step you can take to have the biggest impact possible on the environment is your vehicle. Research by the European Energy Agency found that even with electricity generation the carbon emissions of an electric car are around 17% to 30% lower than driving a gas or diesel car. The emissions from electricity generation are also dramatically improved when low carbon electricity is used.
Although fossil fuels are still involved in the production of electric vehicles and, possibly, in generating electricity used to power them, they still have a very positive effect on the environment. In fact, if half the cars on the road in 2050 were electric, that would cut carbon emissions by up to 1.5 metric gigatons per year, which is equivalent to the total current CO2 emissions for Russia in 2020!
Give the gift that keeps on giving this holiday season
The shift to a more sustainable future depends on all of us—on every family and every individual. The best gift any of us can give or the most impactful New Year’s resolution any of us can make is to commit to using renewable energy sources in our day to day lives. By switching to non-fossil fuel energy, we can ensure the environmental and economic viability of our society for countless generations and holidays to come.
At Veolia, we’re ready to help in this transition any way we can. Through our waste management, energy production, recycling, and circular economy efforts, we support the industries and companies that are creating the options for consumers to go green. We provide expert guidance to assist companies in becoming more sustainable which, in turn, makes it easier for individual consumers like you to do the same.