Love to sing in the shower? Might be best to wait until afterwards to save a lot of water and energy. Photo: Thinkstock

Seven tips to cut your CO2 emissions

NTNU research can help you decide what measures will help cut your CO2 emissions the most. Reducing your shower time is one of them.

CLIMATE ADVICE: It’s no wonder we may powerless as the UN climate summit—or COP21—opens in Paris this week, where nearly 200 heads of state and governments are striving to craft a common climate agreement within two weeks. What can we as individuals really do for the environment, and what should we do about all the expert, but sometimes conflicting, advice that’s out there?

Bilfri dag er ett av syv anbefalte tiltak som monner, og da er sykkelen god å ha, mener Kjartan Steen-Olsen. Foto: NTNU/Maren Agdestein

A car-free day is one of seven actions that can make a difference in your personal carbon footprint, but if you go without a car it can be good to have a bike, says Kjartan Steen-Olsen. Photo: NTNU/Maren Agdestein

Researcher Kjartan Steen-Olsen of NTNU’s Industrial Ecology Programme is working on a project that relates to Norwegian households’ CO2 emissions. The Research Council of Norway is funding it through the People’s Climate Research programme.

On Wednesday, 25 November 2015, Steen-Olsen presented seven consumer-level climate mitigation measures, on the Norwegian TV programme ‘Forbrukerinspektørene’ (The Consumer Inspectors).

“These are voluntary measures for individuals who are already environmentally conscious but don’t know exactly what steps they can take. It isn’t always easy to assess what makes a difference and what doesn’t. We hear about a lot of ‘green’ measures, like installing energy-saving bulbs, but we don’t know their relative importance,” says Steen-Olsen.

Last year the Research Council of Norway announced the funding for the People’s Climate Research, with the aim of increasing people’s interest in research in general and climate research in particular. The supported NTNU project is twofold: on the one hand, researchers will examine and compare Norwegian consumers’ carbon footprint when they shop for everything from food and clothing to homes and cars, and on the other hand, they will examine how people themselves gauge their ability to reduce their carbon footprint.

Steen-Olsen recommends seven measures to make our daily life climate friendlier:

1.Make one day meat free

Set aside one day a week where you don’t consume meat or meat products, with the exception of fish.

Kjøttfri dag. Ill.: Thinkstock

A meat-free day. Illustration: Thinkstock

Fish is excluded since one fully vegetarian day a week may seem like a big step for many people. Fish-related emissions are relatively small compared with those for red meat, and health authorities also recommend that people eat more fish. Fruits, vegetables and bread/grains replace meat intake, so the calorie intake remains the same, and their additional carbon footprint is deducted in the calculations.

2.Reduce your indoor temperature

Reduce your indoor temperature by 1 ° C.

A typical Norwegian private household, defined as a three-room apartment of 71 m2, in which electricity covers 80% of the heating requirements, was used as the baseline for measurement.

Reduser innetemperaturen. Ill.: Thinkstock

You won’t notice that much if you drop your indoor temperature by 1 degree C, but it will make a difference. Illustration: Thinkstock

On average, we assume that the energy saving potential is 8 kWh/year/m2 per degree that the temperature is lowered. Other assumptions are that the home is only heated in winter and that often several people live in one household. The average household consists of about 2.1 persons, so the energy savings are divided by 2.1 to get the average energy savings per person.

3. Cut one airline round-trip a year

This measure is defined as cutting one overseas holiday trip a year.

Kutt ut én flyreise i året. Ill.: Thinkstock

Cut back your air travel by one round-trip flight per year. Illustration: Thinkstock

A trip is defined as two flights: one from your departure airport to your destination abroad and one from your destination airport back to your departure city. Emissions from any additional flights that are not from or to a Norwegian airport are not included because of missing and uncertain data.

On average, a trip like this, i.e. two flights, results in 268 kg CO2 equivalents per passenger. In 2014, 1,440,000 Norwegians took two or more such trips, meaning that there is a lot of room to cut emissions in this area.

4. Make one day a week a car-free day

This is defined as leaving your car at home one day a week over a period of a year.

Whether or not you do this on a weekday or weekend day isn’t specified, but the savings is calculated as an average. In practice, this means reducing your annual car use by one seventh. “Car use” in this context means both as a driver and passenger. The emissions calculations assume that several people ride in the car (with an average of 1.7 people), and the emissions are calculated on a per person basis.

5. Reduce food waste

This applies to the disposal of food that otherwise could have been eaten, and that comes directly from households.

Reduser matavfall. Ill.: Thinkstock

Waste less food. Illustration: Thinkstock

Again, the average annual food consumption and food waste are based on Norwegian households, and divided by 2.12 people in an average household to obtain per-person figures.

6. Eliminate standby energy use

Many of our electrical and electronic appliances use power as long as they’re plugged in, even if they aren’t actually in direct use.

Eliminer standbyforbruk. Foto: Thinkstock

It’s not off unless it is REALLY off! Why pay for electricity you aren’t using? Photo: Thinkstock

These include TV sets that are only switched off by remote control and not on the appliance itself.

Here there is some uncertainty in the figures, and it’s estimated that 10% of electricity consumption in a typical household is spent on this kind of standby consumption.

7. Shower efficiently

Hot water accounts for 15-20% of our electricity consumption, and a lot of that hot water goes to showering. Our example assumes the following:

Effektiv dusjing. Ill.: Thinkstock

Shower shorter and smarter.Illustration: Thinkstock

1.        The household has installed a water-saving shower head that uses of 10 litres of water per minute. If you have not yet installed a water-saving showerhead, this should be your first step. Otherwise, you may end up using twice as much water as necessary!

2.        We assume that a person showers an average of once a day. Many people who participate in sports or exercise may shower more often than this, and others may shower less.

3.       Assuming a typical shower lasts ten minutes, and that this can be shortened to five minutes (i.e. time with running water), that would save 50 litres of water per person per day. Simply being more efficient in the shower can shorten the time. Wait to philosophize until afterwards, maybe turn off the water while lathering up, and so on.

4.       In addition, it’s conceivable that we could do the following to reduce hot water consumption (but these measures are not included in the calculations here):

a. Shower only every other day, and take a sponge bath the other days.

b. Lower the shower head pressure instead of turning it on full blast. This can easily reduce water usage to 5 litres per minute.

c. Reduce the water temperature slightly.

How much can you save?

So how much can one person save, per year, by implementing these measures in their daily lives?

Steen-Olsen has estimated that with the definitions and assumptions made above, a person can reduce their carbon footprint by 780 kg CO2 equivalents!

By comparison, the total annual carbon footprint for Norwegian household consumption comes to 10.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per person. [1]

“Where you can cut the most? That would be on long flights, where enormous emissions occur in a very short time. If you take a weekend trip to New York, or go on a Thailand tour during the year, those trips will overshadow most of your emissions for the rest of the year,” says Steen-Olsen.

The math

Steen-Olsen’s calculations look like this:

Action Emissions cuts Percentage of total carbon footprint
kg CO2-equivalent/person/year
Halve your food waste 43 0,40 %
Cutting your indoor temperature 44 0.40 %
Meat-free day one day a week 53 0,50 %
Eliminate standby electricity use 62 0.60 %
Car-free day once a week 150 1.40 %
Showering efficiently 160 1.50 %
Drop a trip 268 2.50 %
Total reduction 780 4.00 %

Reference [1]: Steen-Olsen, K., R. Wood, and EG Hertwich (forthcoming article) The carbon footprint of Norwegian household consumption 1999-2012. Journal of Industrial Ecology.