What’s the answer to every single question about what is the best environmental option?
I get asked all the time about what the most environmentally friendly choices are. The questions I’ve had most recently include:
Should I be eating meat or fish?
Should I be driving an electric vehicle or a petrol car?
What’s best - working from home or in an office?
What’s best - driving or flying?
And the answer is always “it depends”. In terms of our biggest and most urgent environmental problem, i.e. climate change, the impact of different actions, products and services can be compared and evaluated.
As a general rule to save the planet we need to massively reduce our red meat and dairy consumption and eat local, in season produce. If I am asked whether eating meat or fish is best for reducing our carbon footprint, the answer is of course, it depends. Red meat has a huge impact because of the methane the animals emit, but so does air freighted seafood from halfway across the world because of the impacts of flying in food. Locally grown beef still has a large footprint but locally and ethically sourced white meat and fish are the best options. Plant based diets are generally better for humans from a healthy body and healthy planet perspective, however if the veggies and fruits are flown in, the impact is actually worse than eggs, chicken and even bacon (per kg of food).
Here’s some stats:
Per kg of CO2e per kg of produce:
UK fresh caught sardines
UK fresh caught prawns
Thai farmed prawns
South African Grapes air freighted
Peruvian Asparagus air freighted
Source: How bad are bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee
Same goes for buying an electric vehicle or continuing to use a fossil fuel based car. If you have a small fuel efficient car that is less than ten years old then continue to use that vehicle until you can’t repair it any more. This is because of the embodied emissions from the carbon used to make the vehicle i.e. all the energy used in production. However, if you are driving an old car, or an SUV then it's probably best to switch to an EV. Be careful though, if you are charging that vehicle using the grid, it will not be as clean as using a renewable energy source. So the best option depends on what you have and how you fuel it.
I was asked recently about the virtues of working from home versus working in an office. Guess what? The answer was it depends! If the person working from home is using a lot of fossil fuel powered energy to heat and light it then it might not be as climate friendly as working in a more energy efficient building. However the combined effects of everyone driving petrol and diesel powered cars to work might be the worse option. If everyone commuted using walking, public transport or cycling then the emissions could be lower if the building was using renewable energy for example. So it depends on how the buildings are heated and how everyone commutes.
And then we have the flying versus driving question. Again, it depends. If the flight is full and you are flying economy the impact can be less than half than if you drove there by yourself in an SUV. However, if you are using a small fuel efficient vehicle, carrying more passengers or using an EV and also charging from a renewable source then these are better options. Better still is to take the train or coach.
Here’s some stats:
Travelling to London to Glasgow and back:
Small fuel efficient petrol car
Source: How Bad are Bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee
So you can see why being more environmentally friendly is confusing and difficult to do. This is why many people are not doing it! There are no guidelines in supermarkets, in holiday adverts or car sales rooms for example. There isn’t even education in schools at the right level because teachers are not trained, plus there is no curriculum subject dedicated to getting this right and finding innovative solutions. However there are a few ways this issue can be reduced.
Get carbon clever. My training sessions will enable you to find out how to make these kinds of decisions much more easily and be able to navigate through the ‘it depends’ questions yourself. You can do this by signing up for a Carbon Literacy course here.
Get climate coaching. My coaching takes you from being carbon clever to carbon confident. You can work on reducing your environmental impact with me as your guide, motivator and all round supporter. You can do this by signing up for an introductory session here.