A Greener 2018 For Lazy People (Like Me)
New Year’s Resolutions are usually short lived and over ambitious. Gym memberships and diet plans boom in Jan, then decay with a half-life like an isotope of cobalt (about 10 weeks). That’s why this year I resolved to improve myself with the lowest possible effort as far as willpower, staying power or brain power was concerned. To that end, I’ve decided to cut my carbon footprint, and try to reduce the family carbon output. How hard can that be? (Clue: harder than I thought…)
First off I thought about getting an electric car. But if your in-laws live 350 miles away, it makes trips hard to plan with two young kids and a dog who start asking “are we there yet?” by the time you reach the end of the driveway. And the recharging options are complicated to work out. And rural family life makes 4X4 pretty essential one day out of every 1,460 when it snows, but on that rare snowy day there really is no substitute. I considered swapping to a hybrid 4X4, but car manufacturers tend to use hybrid tech to reduce the impact of bigger (higher carbon output) engines, making many 4X4 hybrids equivalently as green as smaller-engined, traditional SUVs. They’re also quite luxurious, which doesn’t work because my kids will wreck anything plusher than Siberian prison cell in seconds.
Once you take the car — most people’s biggest carbon source — out of the equation, what are you left with? Making greener shopping choices, mostly. Packaging is clearly a big part of that, so I’m avoiding mixed-plastic single use containers (e.g. buying meat from the supermarket meat counter, not in flashy packs they can’t recycle), and getting a flask for my coffee rather than buying it in disposable cups. But that feels a bit marginal compared to feeling like you’ve really dumped a ton of carbon, like I wanted to when I first dreamed-up the whole green New Year’s resolution.
Then it hit me. Gas and electricity. Surely there’s a ton (quite literally) of carbon savings there. I don’t mean spending a small fortune on solar panels, or sticking a wind turbine on the roof either. I mean, just switching to a green energy supplier. That’s doable, isn’t it? The answer is yes, and it requires virtually zero effort which feels like a bonus.
In my area (East Anglia) there are over 16 green energy suppliers. But there’s no one-size-fits-all. If you really want to optimise the carbon saving, you need to check supplier energy sources. Some offer green tariffs from 100% renewable sources (wind, solar and carbon offset gas) but when you look into their supplies, you’ll see about half of them get their power from a mix of sources including nuclear and fossil fuel burners, which feels like missing the point. Sure, your power might come from renewables, but it’s a bit like buying organic products from a company that also sells genetically modified chemical-infused turkey nuggets. If I’m parting with my hard earned cash to help save the planet, I want it going into the pockets of someone who’s the real green deal.
Another important consideration when it comes to hard earned cash, is saving it. Renewable power developments have been consumer subsidised twice over, both in terms of tax breaks for investors and regulated energy supplier obligations to buy-in fixed quantities of subsidised renewable power, which has been good for lowering carbon emissions but bad for energy bills. This “double-dip” subsidy boom is why we have so much solar in Scotland, for example, a place not known for its direct natural irradiance (sunshine) but possessing a very good economic climate for developers. Isn’t it time we all felt the financial benefit of the green revolution we’ve indirectly financed?
In the end I selected Pure Planet, a relatively new supplier that’s saved me about £250 per year and roughly 2 tonnes of carbon. They’re not alone in the good deal green energy stakes so it’s worth shopping around. It’s refreshing to see many green suppliers have thought about making green the easier option, so with a bit of Googling you’ll encounter customer experience innovations like monthly membership fees (their profits, presumably) while the power is sold at wholesale prices which can vary, but it’s one-size fits all simplicity. No tariff anxiety. And increasingly, new green suppliers make it click-simple by handling everything through an app, so no need to perform any irritating low-effort tasks like talking to an actual human on the phone. That’s the future.
So, unlike my failed diets, nutribullet fad, gym memberships and mindfulness exercises, I’ve actually managed to to stick to this resolution, expending less carbon whilst simultaneously leaving lights and TVs on without a hint of envrio-guilt. That’s a green New Year’s resolution anyone can stick to.