We need to lower our carbon footprint! This is something that we hear a lot, but what does it mean and how do we do it? Our carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the actions we take, writes Natalie Sweeney. This includes everything from commuting to work, the food we eat and the things we buy. The footprint is calculated by adding up all the carbon emissions into the atmosphere from every single stage of an action. For example buying a tomato which starts with growing, transport to shop, cooking into the meal it’s being used in etc. I have recently started being a young leader for the 2050 Climate Group which is an organisation that runs a young leaders development programme to raise awareness about and action against climate change. This has been really useful in understanding how we can make small, personal actions to lower out carbon footprint.

Food alone is responsible for 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions and the rising population means that food demand is also rising. The higher income a household has tends to mean a higher demand for animal products such as meat and dairy which have a higher carbon footprint than most food because the growing and preparation of it produces a lot of emissions. We can lower this by buying seasonal foods, even if they are not grown in this country. Often we may be put off to see foods in our supermarkets that are grown from another country rather than the UK but actually, as long as the food is in season and is transported slowly to this country i.e. by ship rather than plane, then the carbon footprint of the food is actually very low. What we can do to lower our carbon footprint with food is to eat seasonal food, avoid unnecessary packaging, recycle packaging, eat less meat and dairy and buy food with a shorter shelf life if you know you’ll be eating it that day anyway rather than reaching for the food at the back. These are obvious and simple little things that make a big difference.

It isn’t all about reducing our carbon footprint, it is also about improving our carbon handprint. The handprint is how much we have saved or counteracted any negative actions. We can start growing some of our own fruit and veg, planting a tree, taking the car one less journey a week. Small actions are what make the biggest difference.

I have focused on small, personal actions even though the problem of climate change is far bigger than any of us. This is because we cannot always control what others do, or businesses, government and law, but we can change things that we can control. We can be more aware of how our actions affect the planet and read up on how we can make a difference.