With Cop27 continuing, the world is still talking very seriously about the environment and what we have done to it, and what our relentless drive for more growth and more stuff might mean for people everywhere in the years ahead.
As you will no doubt be aware, the news from Egypt could scarcely be bleaker, with the UN secretary general António Guterres opening the gathering by telling world leaders that humanity is on a “highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”.
The financial cost of climate change was also laid bare at the global summit last week when it emerged that poor countries will need $2 trillion (€1.98 trillion) a year in funding by 2030 just to cope with climate breakdown.
The money will have to be spent to help climate-vulnerable states to switch away from fossil fuels, invest in renewable energy and other low-carbon technology, and cope with the impacts of extreme weather.
With talk of trillions of dollars and the failure of countries – including this one – to take the crisis as seriously as it should be taken, it would be easy to surrender to the negativity. But this page is nothing if not positive – at least some of the time – and while much of the narrative that swirls around climate change is how much it is going to cost, both on a global and on a personal level, that is by no means the full picture, and there are many ways being environmentally friendly will actually save you money while simultaneously reducing your carbon footprint.
Here are just 10 ways you can make a difference and cut your spending too.
1. Drive less We have said it before, many times, and we will say it again, many times: too many of us – including, for the sake of full disclosure, Pricewatch – rely too much on our cars to cover even small distances. And that reliance is having a terrible impact on the planet and our wallets.
Road transport accounts for about a fifth of CO2 emissions across the EU, with passenger cars making up 61 per cent of the emissions from road transport. So a concerted effort to drive less would have a significant impact on the level of pollution we produce. How much? Well, every kilometre you choose not to drive when you otherwise might will save approximately 250g of CO2 emissions. That means if you use your car just one day less each week than in the past you will see your CO2 emissions fall by tens of thousands of kilos every year.
But there is more. The move will also save you hundreds of euro each year. The average motorist drives 16,000km every year and if the average price of a litre of diesel right now is €2.02 – and that is what the AA tells us – then driving the average family car, which does 12.4km per litre (35 miles per gallon), will cost about €2,606 annually. If you were to reduce your fuel bill by just 20 per cent you would save more than €500 over the course of the next 12 months.
2. Drive smarter It is not all about how much you drive; how you drive matters too. If you could cut the amount of fuel you use by even 5 cent by being a bit more canny about how you use your car, then you would reduce your carbon footprint and save yourself another €120 or so each year. So do not over-rev your engine, drive in the right gear and at a slightly slower speed on a motorway. Keep your boot empty, your tyres at the right pressure, get your car serviced, remove any roof boxes or racks that cause a drag on your car and only use the heat or the air conditioning if you absolutely have to.
3. Get on your bike We know that regular readers will be sick to the back teeth hearing us proselytising about the humble bicycle, but it is one of the best ways of lessening your personal pollution levels while improving the quality of your life and saving you money into the bargain. You will also live longer too but that is a whole other story. By taking advantage of the tax breaks available to cyclists and their employers, you can get a decent bike for half nothing. The Bike to Work scheme covers bicycles and accessories up to a maximum of €1,250, rising to €1,500 for an electric bike. Your employer buys it and you pay for it, tax-free, over 12 months, which effectively knocks about 40 per cent off the price. If your commute is just 8km each way and you usually drive, then you will save about €600 a year in fuel costs alone each year. That is less than the bike and gear will cost you which means you will be better off just 10 months after you buy your bike. And you will keep saving money forever after that.
4. Keep your house in order If your attic was insulated decades ago, you might want to have it re-done and take advantage of SEAI grants to do it. Those grants could be worth 80 per cent of the total cost – or €800. And getting a decent job done in the weeks ahead could see your energy costs fall by €120 over the course of a year while simultaneously reducing your CO2 emissions. Don’t forget to police the heating and lighting of your home while washing your clothes on an eco setting, reducing your reliance on your tumble drier and immersion and ensuring your boiler is serviced. All of that could lessen your domestic carbon footprint by 10 per cent and save you €400 into the bargain.
5. Eat less meat Not, perhaps, a universally popular notion in this country, but it is one worth considering. Serious climate activists will suggest that you eat no meat and consume no dairy products on the basis that it is one of the biggest drivers of global warming. But Irish people love their meat products, which is why we consume twice the global average of meat. But 25 per cent of the average Irish person’s carbon emissions comes from diet and, by becoming a vegetarian, a person could dramatically reduce their emissions. But only about 5 per cent of Irish people follow a vegetarian diet, with the number of vegans much lower again. We are not going to suggest that the 95 per cent who do eat meat should cut it out immediately, but if we were all to reduce the amount of it we consumed, it would be better for the environment, better for our health and better for our wallets, particularly at a time when meat and dairy prices are climbing at as much as three times the rate of general inflation. Let’s say you spend €20 a week on steak and mince for two dinners and you replace that with a fiver’s worth of beans, vegetables or pulses, you will save yourself €750 over the course of a year and you probably won’t notice a huge difference in the quality of your life, while the quality of your diet might actually improve.
6. Tackle your food waste Whatever about the meat we eat or do not eat, the food we throw away is another big problem when it comes to both the planet and our pockets. We bin more than 1 million tonnes of food every single year. That hurts the environment on multiple levels. The waste produces toxic methane in landfill, for one. But it also has to be transported from the home, the farm, the shop or the restaurant to that rubbish tip. And then, of course, there is the huge impact the production of the food we do not eat has on the environment.
By far the most environmentally friendly way to cut your emissions in this area is to eat what you buy and don’t buy more than you need. If a typical Irish grocery bill is about €8,000 and you are absolutely ruthless about reducing waste, you could see that bill fall by at least €1,000 every year. So, make a meal plan and a list and base the list on what you already have in your presses, your fridge and your freezer. Stick to the list. Don’t be suckered into buying stuff you don’t need by the promise of special offers. Make more effective use of your freezer. If you are not going to use a full sliced pan before the bread turns mouldy, put a few slices in a freezer bag. Don’t pile food on to plates – serve it in communal bowls. That way people can eat what they want and what is left in those bowls is more likely to be reused.
7. Stay local Rather than driving to a faraway place to do a big shop, consider what alternatives are in your neighbourhood and then buy what you need from your local butcher, baker or vegetable shop. Where possible, shop in farmers’ markets and co-ops and buy food that is grown locally. And if your wallet allows it, buy more organic products – they are better for the environment and, possibly, better for you too.
8. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle This is a much-used phrase but, while you might be tired of hearing it, adhering to it will save you money and reduce your carbon footprint. In essence, we need to consume less and use it for longer and in more ways than it was intended. And then, once we are done with it, try to find another home for it. So, maybe think twice before buying. Do you really need it? Will it really last? And if you can afford it (and we know that not everyone can), buying better by buying less is a mantra to live by.
9. Look at your clothes The production of textiles is the fourth-largest cause of environmental pressure after food, housing and transport, according to the European Environment Agency, while the United Nations has described the industry as the second-worst polluter on the planet, behind oil. The textile sector generates about 10 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, pumping at least 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere every year.
That makes fashion worse for the environment than air travel and shipping combined. The industry also uses more water than a country the size of Ireland and pollutes rivers with dyes and toxic chemicals. Globally, close to 100 million tonnes of textile waste is created every year, which works out at about one rubbish truck full of clothes heading into landfill every single second. Try to be part of the solution by shopping smarter when it comes to clothes.
Only ever buy what you need and try to find alternative sources when shopping. By buying clothes which are second-hand, for instance, you can acquire new stuff – if you need it – without contributing to the climate crisis and, depending on where you choose to shop, you can also support worthy causes when you spend. And such an approach will definitely save you money. Second-hand thriftiness is also very on-trend.
Don’t confine yourself to local charity shops either. DoneDeal and eBay are great for finding specific items while thriftify.ie is a rather brilliant way to shop across hundreds of charity shops without leaving your couch. And then there is the notion of a black bin party. And what is that? It’s a fun way to get new clothes and hang out with your mates. Get everyone to put all the clothes in their wardrobe that they no longer have any use for into a bin bag. Everyone brings their bags to someone’s house. Open wine, dump everything on the floor and the rummage around for things you might like. Bring whatever is left behind to a charity shop.
10. And some other measures Only drink tap water. Plant more house plants. They will do their bit to suck some of the carbon out of the atmosphere. If you are not overly green-fingered, pick easy-to-grow things such as bamboo – it is a nice house plant, grows quickly, is low-maintenance and can suck as much as four times the amount of carbon dioxide from the air as other plants. Use keep cups – many decent coffee shops will give you a discount if you do. Work from home. It will save you money on commuting costs. Use soap rather than shower gel.
Take all these steps and we reckon you could handily save yourself a couple of grand. And feel better about yourself into the bargain.