It is hard to go anywhere these days without hearing about climate change, which is increasingly taking center stage as a growing issue that can have terrible consequences if not addressed in time. As a result, there is a much greater focus today on sustainable living. As more people look for eco-friendly ways to live, there are some simple adjustments you can make to reduce your carbon footprint and do your part to protect the environment.
Recycling and avoiding plastic products are easy ways to instantly reduce your environmental footprint, with many restaurants and bars even adopting paper straws for more eco-friendly operations. And global sales of electric vehicles (EVs) have increased 40% between 2019 and 2020, with charging stations tripling from 7,340 in 2014 to 25,313 in 2020. There will be many more to come, too, as the U.S. invests even more into electric vehicle expansion nationwide. If you want to become more friendly to the environment, driving might be a good place to start.
Our vehicles are one of the biggest detriments to the environment, with the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel releasing nitrogen gas and excess carbon dioxide (CO2) that warms the atmosphere and, in turn, disrupts the climate. It is estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from transportation alone are responsible for about 29% of total emissions, more than any other sector.
To help, there are some things that you can do to lower the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in your household.
- Drive a car with good gas mileage. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires auto manufacturers to add a label displaying both the fuel economy and estimated fuel costs for all new cars and light trucks. This label also includes ratings that show a vehicle’s greenhouse gas and pollutants, helping you to find a make and model that is kind to the environment.
- Properly inflate your tires. Many drivers are surprised to find that tire pressure can affect gas emissions, but Sustainable America reports that low tire pressure wastes over 4 million gallons of gas each year.
- Change your oil regularly. Regular maintenance of your car can not only improve gas mileage by four percent but can also improve fuel efficiency by up to 40% with routine care.
- Replace filters. Your car’s air filters help keep your car running efficiently, so be sure to replace them regularly and keep your air conditioning on low (or put the windows down instead!) to prolong their life.
- Take the shortest route. Sometimes a longer route can save time due to traffic and other issues on the road, but the extra miles can take a toll on the environment over time, so try to combine errands into one single trip and find the shortest, most efficient route to get to your destination.
- Don’t speed. Speeding and aggressive driving can cost you up to 30% more in gas when you are on the highway, so instead, take it easy on the gas and avoid the brakes when possible.
- Activate cruise control. When you drive above 50 miles per hour, each additional five miles per hour costs an additional 18 cents per gallon (which means you are using more gas and emitting more pollution), but cruise control can help maintain a lower speed for you.
Alternate eco-friendly transportation
Not driving at all can help you reduce your carbon footprint. There are other ways that you can travel without using a personal vehicle:
- Public transportation: Public transportation provides an easy way for you to leave your car at home so you can take advantage of cheaper, more energy-efficient transportation for your commute.
- Carpool: Conserve Energy Future predicts that the average American spends about 18 days’ worth of carbon emissions on their annual commute, but if you were to share your commute with just four other people, you could collectively spare about 72 hours’ worth of carbon emissions with just one vehicle.
- Bicycle: The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy found in 2015 that biking to work or around town could result in 11% less total carbon emissions if just 20% of the world’s drivers used bikes instead by 2050.
- Electric bike or scooter: Electric bikes and scooters can be significantly faster when you live in the city and are plagued by downtown traffic. Suddenly, bike lanes, parks, and other routes become a viable option for an easy and quick commute that doesn’t harm the environment.
- Electric or Hybrid vehicle: Electric or hybrid vehicles may require a greater investment up front, but unlike electric bikes, they work for longer distances.
The benefits of electric cars
Electric and hybrid vehicles are quickly becoming more mainstream and not only provide a more eco-friendly way to travel but can be far more affordable, too.
- Reduced emissions: The average electric and hybrid vehicle produces lower tailpipe emissions than traditional automobiles. EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs use zero tailpipe emissions when they run only on electricity.
- Charging on renewable energy: Another way to live more eco-friendly is to avoid regular charging that can cause power plant emissions. Instead, you can ask your energy provider about switching to green power, which is a kind of electricity made from renewable sources that will still charge your vehicle.
- More energy-efficient: Gas vehicles take more than double the CO2 equivalent than hybrid and plug-in hybrids, with a consumption that is almost three times the amount of electric vehicles.
Energy Comparison: Gas Vs. Electric Vehicles (AFDC)
|Electric vehicles||Plug-in hybrid||Hybrid||Gasoline|
|CO2 Equivalent||3,774 lbs||5,680||6,258||11,435|
An electric vehicle only costs about $600 more per year to own than the average gas vehicle, according to AAA. However, based on a total mileage of 15,000 miles a year, you can save an average of $546 per year in fuel costs compared to the $1,255 it would cost you with a gas-powered vehicle. That is 130% more per year.
Maintenance is also cheaper, with far less required to keep your car in top working order. Based on manufacturer recommendations, routine EV maintenance costs about $949 total or $330 less than gas-powered cars.
When you own an electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, you could receive a federal tax benefit of up to $7,500 if you purchased a new vehicle in 2010 or later. To find out how much you can earn for a specific vehicle, the U.S. Department of Energy provides a listing of the eligible makes and models with the exact tax credit amount.
Electric car options
Car manufacturers are increasingly introducing new electric vehicles to their lineups, many of which are more affordable than ever.
There are three types of electric cars that you can purchase:
- Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV):This boasts zero emissions, using just an electric battery to power the vehicle without any need for gas.
- Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV):An HEV uses both gas and an electric motor for power, but all energy is sourced via gasoline.
- Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV):A plug-in hybrid is like an HEV, but it has a much bigger battery with an electric motor to complement the gas tank.
Most affordable electric cars
Edmunds provides a list of the cheapest electric cars available in 2021:
- 2021 Mini Cooper SE: The 2021 Mini Cooper SE has the smallest range of the other EV vehicles on the list. Still, its modern design is surprisingly affordable for the average commuter or other drivers who do not need a ton of space.
- 2021 Nissan Leaf: The Leaf is another nimble, affordable vehicle that offers the option to upgrade to a larger battery pack, extending the total range to 226 miles.
- 2021 Hyundai Ioniq Electric: Hyundai’s 2021 Ioniq Electric gives the longest range of the top three, thanks to an improved and extended battery that has come a long way since the Ioniq’s initial launch.
Most Affordable Electric Cars (Edmunds)
|Make and model||EV range||Starting price (with destination fee)|
|2021 Mini Cooper SE||110 miles||$30,750|
|2021 Nissan Leaf||149 miles||$32,620|
|2021 Hyundai Ioniq Electric||170 miles||$34,250|
Auto insurance options for electric cars
Insuring an electric car can cost more than the average cost of car insurance for traditional vehicles, but if you shop around for multiple quotes and look for discounts, insuring an electric car can be just as affordable as insuring a gas-powered car. In addition, several of the best car insurance companies now offer insurance for electric cars, so taking the time to do a little research can get you the right insurance for your needs.
Other ways to live eco-friendly
Transportation is not the only way to make a difference. These are some other ways to live in a more environmentally-friendly way at home and work:
- Save energy. Watch your energy consumption around the house and at work by turning off lights in rooms that you are not using and considering adopting smart technologies in your home.
- Recycle and reuse. Reduce your footprint by opting for recyclable and reusable containers and items that are easily biodegradable.
- Go paperless. Opt for digital receipts and paperless statements wherever possible to reduce your footprint. And at work, try to conserve paper and do as much as possible online.
- Buy sustainable clothing. Textile waste can cause significant harm to the environment, but by purchasing sustainable clothing, you not only encourage the continued use of sustainable materials but you also protect animals and help ensure better wages and working conditions for workers.
- Eat less meat. Livestock can generate significant carbon emissions that are harmful to the environment, but adopting a diet with more plant-based foods can help protect natural resources while still providing your body with the nutrients and sustenance that you need.
- Donate. Continued research into protecting the environment is made possible by the financial contributions of federal programs and private donors just like you. So look for organizations in your community that make a difference and try to help where you can. If you can’t afford to donate money, consider volunteering.
With climate change already showing its effects, sustainable living is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint, whether through your diet, lifestyle or transportation. About 96% of EV drivers tell AAA that they would buy or lease another electric vehicle.
The research is clear. With some minor changes, you can not only improve the quality of your health but help save the planet, too.