How to get control of your WFH carbon footprint

Jess Salter
·5-min read
Our energy use is going to increase as more of us work from home this winter - Martin Prescott/E+
Our energy use is going to increase as more of us work from home this winter - Martin Prescott/E+

If you’ve spent the last few months finding a silver lining in all the doom by persuading yourself that, without a twice daily commute and with no foreign holiday on the horizon, at least you’ve saved the planet one carbon atom at a time, then I’m afraid I have some bad news. 

According to a new report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, boiler use will rise 56 per cent this winter as the pandemic forces us to stay at – and work from – home. The 12 per cent increase in nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions in towns and cities is enough to offset the last two years’ worth of reductions in traffic emissions. 

“It’s not looking good for our national targets for carbon emissions and getting to net zero by 2050,” admits Jess Ralston, an analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. “Certainly, the government needs to accelerate some of its policies. But lockdown showed us that lots of little personal changes did add up. No one needs to change their life overnight; we just need to do lots of small things.”

So, what can we do this winter to slim our carbon footprint while WFH?

Switch energy provider

An easy climate-helping change is “to switch energy supplier to a provider that offers more renewable options,” says Ralston. Visit Big Clean Switch to compare green energy providers. 

Bulb, which provides 100 per cent renewable electricity, has recently introduced a tool to calculate your carbon footprint, and allows you to offset it by helping to fund carbon reduction projects around the world, from £5 per month. Other providers have carbon-reducing schemes: OVO Energy, for example, has committed to planting a tree every year for each of its members. 

Keep an eye on how you cook at home

Lockdown forced us to refresh our culinary skills – and even now restaurants are open, the restrictions on who you can go with mean most of us are still staying home. But the way you cook has a huge impact on your carbon footprint. For example, the Carbon Trust’s Carbon Footprinting programme found that baking a potato in an oven generates more emissions than if you boil it in a pan with a lid on, which in turn generates more emissions than cooking it in a microwave.

Energy provider Eon’s recent research has shown that over half (54 per cent) of us are open to changing the way we cook: one tip it recommends is using a bamboo steamer rather than the oven to cook a salmon fillet. Other kitchen appliance hacks to consider include upgrading your kettle: Bosch’s Styline TWK8633GB kettle allows you to choose the boil temperature and has a keep warm function, eliminating the need to reboil (£79; ao.com).

End food waste

Food waste has the greatest carbon impact of all household waste, producing around 25 million tonnes of CO2 per year in the UK alone. The average amount of food wasted at home each year per person in the UK is 68kg, according to 2020 data from the British waste and recycling charity Wrap – although an encouraging sign is that there was a 7 per cent reduction per person in the past three years. 

“Wrap has undertaken a comprehensive series of surveys – in April, May and September 2020 – to understand how behaviours are changing across the year. Self-reported food waste has now stabilised at June levels, well below those of pre-lockdown,” says Helen White, special advisor on household food waste at Wrap.

She says that small changes can continue to make a difference. “For example,  just over nine in 10 (91 per cent) who checked date labelling more often during lockdown continue to do so now, including 22 per cent who say they are doing this even more than during the main lockdown.” The charity has also just launched a new website with facts and figures, tquizzes and tips to help you reduce your food waste (outofdate.org.uk).

It’s not just the scrapings you throw away from your plate: a 2018 study found that about a third of our fruit and veg is thrown away before it even reaches the supermarket shelves for being the wrong size or shape. To help, sign up for a fruit and vegetable subscription box that fights food waste, such as Oddbox, which works with UK farmers to collect and distribute surplus produce. 

Let there be light

With the clocks going back this weekend, we’re going to be using our lights more. “Lighting accounts for around 15 per cent of a typical household’s energy use, so now's a good time to look at replacing your inefficient lighting with super-efficient LEDs,” says Steve Buckley, head of data science at home energy-saving assistant Loop. Try Phillips classic dimmable LED bulb (£5.59; johnlewis.com).

Draughtproof your home

The Energy Saving Trust says that draughtproofing is one of the cheapest and most successful ways to save energy. But there are other improvements to consider. Buckley adds the government’s Green Homes Grant “can be used to complete a range of projects, from insulating your home and reducing how much it costs to heat to installing low-carbon heating to cut your home’s impact on the environment.” But he warns that “vouchers need to be redeemed and all improvements completed by March 31 2021, so now’s the time to do your research.”