Sustainability begins at home: how to live a lower-carbon lifestyle
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Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the climate crisis, many people say they feel powerless to make a difference. But, for some, even small changes — whether cutting down on meat, switching to energy efficient lightbulbs or replacing a gas-guzzler with an electric car — can have a positive impact on the environment. Here, we ask seven people about the personal choices and actions they are taking to help tackle climate change.
From an airline chief executive and fast-food chain boss, to a “period-pants” entrepreneur and environmental activist, each one is already focused on sustainability at work. But they have also shared the steps they are taking at home to lead lower-carbon lifestyles.
Climate scientist and director of Cambridge Zero at the University of Cambridge
On lifestyle choices: A lot of the small changes I’ve made in my personal life are simply about wasting less: being innovative in the kitchen so I minimise food waste; putting smart valves on to my radiators so I don’t heat rooms I’m not using; and repairing things if possible or finding ways to reuse them.
On making an impact: Get on your bike! I especially love my cargo bike, which I use every day to take my children to school. It was quite expensive but I’ve used mine so much that, in terms of pounds per mile, it has been an incredibly good investment.
On leading change: I’ve spent 25 years studying climate change. After researching the frightening changes occurring in the polar regions and witnessing, with horror, the situation getting worse, I decided it was time to focus more of my efforts on the solution rather than the problem. Two years ago, I became the inaugural director of Cambridge Zero — an ambitious climate change initiative by the University of Cambridge, generating ideas and innovations to help shape a sustainable zero-carbon future.
CEO of easyJet, the low-cost airline
On lifestyle choices: I’ve reduced my consumption of meat and stopped buying bottled water. The issue of climate change can seem too large for one person to make a tangible difference but, if we all make small changes, it can go a long way.
On making an impact: Consumers need to look at what companies are doing to operate in the most sustainable way, and then vote with their feet — only choosing those that are acting responsibly.
On leading change: In 2019, I took the decision that easyJet would become the first major international airline to offset the emissions from the fuel used on behalf of all our customers. Since then, we’ve retired 3.9m credits. We selected all of our carbon offsetting projects using a rigorous selection process, choosing schemes that are either Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard certified. The projects we support are effectively preventing forest loss as well as delivering transformative benefits for wildlife and local communities. This is an interim step until we can become an early adopter of new zero-emission technology.
Corporate senior vice-president of fast-food chain McDonald’s
On lifestyle choices: As a family, we try to use less, recycle more and buy from sustainable businesses. Practical things include energy efficient bulbs, smart meters, and timers on switches and appliances. My boys are learning about taking care of the planet at school and do litter picks on our family walks.
On making an impact: Our big goal in the UK and Ireland is to make sure that, by 2027, McDonald’s restaurant waste is given a second life so that nothing is truly wasted — instead, it is recycled, reused or composted. Our restaurant teams are encouraged to complete three daily litter patrols, and we’re investing in campaigns to help customers know what they can recycle. We all need to make sure we’re putting our litter in the right bin.
On leading change: We recently launched Plan for Change, a sustainability strategy. By 2030, we aim to have eliminated deforestation from our supply chains and achieved net zero emissions for all our restaurants and offices. By 2040, we aim to reach net zero across our business and value chain in the UK.
Chief sustainability officer and global head of ESG at the technology company Cognizant
On lifestyle choices: The most important change I’ve made is to become a more conscious consumer. Every dollar we spend is a signal to businesses about the role we expect them to play in addressing the climate crisis. Major companies are more attuned to changing customer habits and will adjust business practices and supply chains based on our expectations.
On making an impact: This is today’s problem — not our grandchildren’s. Consider climate in the context of your investments, home, and where you live. Second, read up on the science from sources you trust. Many of the same places you get your business news also have breakdowns of climate science.
On leading change: For much of my career, I have been helping deliver sustainable businesses, including JetBlue Airways and multinational manufacturer Haworth. At Cognizant, I’m designing and executing a blueprint for a sustainable future, which includes our recent commitment to net zero emissions by 2030.
UK CEO of WWF, the conservation group
On lifestyle choices: I haven’t eaten meat for more than 20 years, and now I’m reducing my fish and dairy consumption. As at work, we measure our carbon footprint at home, where we’re on a green tariff for our energy. With household goods, my mantra is “repair more, buy less”. I also walk a lot more — you’ll mostly find trainers on my feet and smart shoes in my handbag.
On making an impact: We should all be checking that our pensions are part of the solution and that they are not invested in fossil fuels and other environmentally damaging practices.
On leading change: Our Living Planet report shows that, in the past 50 years, we have destroyed nature, devastated wildlife, messed up the climate, and put people and the planet at risk. But the science shows that a different future is possible. At the UN climate summit in Glasgow, we have a historic opportunity. We can tackle the climate crisis by transforming our food and financial systems, moving rapidly to renewable forms of energy, and helping nature to recover. Governments and businesses must step up.
Environmental scientist and founder of reusable leakproof “period pants” brand WUKA
On lifestyle choices: This year, I switched to a Tesla electric car for my commute and invested in an electric bike for my weekend food shop; it’s an enjoyable and convenient way to cart groceries up and down hills. We also changed our toilet to a “smart” bidet toilet, which has dramatically reduced our toilet paper consumption. I rarely eat meat and love making Nepalese vegetable curries.
On making an impact: We all need to be mindful of how much we consume. Use less water. Turn off your lights. Use LED bulbs. Switch from single-use products to reusable products. Small habit changes can make a big reduction to your carbon footprint.
On leading change: I launched the sustainable “period pants” brand WUKA in 2017. A pair of WUKA pants lasts up to two years, saves 200 tampons or pads from going to landfill, and produces 84 per cent less carbon emissions than disposable period products. Through periodpants.org, I’m calling on the UK government to remove the 20 per cent VAT on period pants.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim
Environmental activist and president of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad
On lifestyle choices: I was raised in a nomadic community in Chad to only use what I need. I have always viewed nature as my “supermarket”. Having seen the devastating impacts of climate change first-hand — drought, floods and desertification — I started a “participatory mapping” project. By combining technology and the traditional knowledge of indigenous people, we can map the land to better manage natural resources and reduce the risk of climate change-related conflicts.
On making an impact: Use your voice to hold your government to account. Demand (and vote for) leaders who support climate safe policies, place climate change at the centre of all decisions and don’t support the fossil fuel industry.
On leading change: Indigenous people manage much of the world’s nature, including many of the healthiest and most carbon dense ecosystems. We are just 5 per cent of the population, yet we protect 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity. There cannot be a solution to combat climate change if it does not include us.
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