By Adrienne Suhm

For anyone attempting to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, the total carbon footprint is a helpful benchmark metric by which you can measure your personal environmental impact. Through an awareness of your most and least sustainable lifestyle areas, you can make impactful changes that prevent tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere each year.

There are a variety of carbon footprint calculators available for free on the internet, but we recommend choosing one from a reliable government or non-profit source such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or Nature Conservancy (see the links listed below). Each quiz takes around ten minutes to complete and analyzes various aspects of your lifestyle such as travel, dietary practices, energy usage, and shopping or consumption habits. Because of the slightly differing methodologies of each organization, it may be helpful to use multiple footprint calculators to compare your results and provide a holistic view of your environmental impact.

It is important to note that each of these calculators has shortcomings and cannot account for all of the energy output you may cause. However, they provide a solid baseline to understand where you might increase your sustainability efforts. After completing the quiz, each of these calculators delivers an overview of your personal metrics and offers a few tips on how to reduce carbon emissions in your own life. The most important areas for individuals and households to consider are similar to the original categories that the calculator analyzed: type and frequency of travel, dietary habits, personal energy use, and consumption.

For frequent travelers, airplane emissions are likely the largest contributor to your carbon footprint. When possible, alternative modes of transportation like trains or buses will get you from point A to point B with far fewer emissions. You can also use public transportation to limit the carbon emissions resulting from a personal car.

Eating less meat is the second-most impactful change you can make to reduce your environmental impact. Livestock require acres of land, hundreds of pounds of plant material, and dozens of gallons of water to produce comparatively small portions of meat. Eating more plants and less meat, ideally in a vegetarian or vegan diet, eliminates the need for resources to sustain livestock. If you are a meat lover, consider eating vegetarian or vegan a few times a week and replacing some of your beef with chicken, which is a more sustainable option.

When it comes to home energy, strive to limit both heating and cooling in your home, leaving it just a little cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer. It may sound cliché, but turning off electronics when they are idle can meaningfully decrease your energy output. Finally, make a concerted effort to recycle old electronics at the proper facilities and update them when necessary with products that are more energy-efficient.

Sustainable consumption has two core tenets: buy less, and buy quality. Every single product you use on a daily basis has an environmental impact, and adopting a minimalist lifestyle can greatly reduce any extraneous emissions. Aim for quality, durability and sustainability rather than cheapness and replicability in the products you do buy. Try to fix items around your home instead of buying new things and be conscious of limiting unnecessary food waste in the kitchen.

Check in frequently to track your progress and remember that although it is a slow and continuous process, through an understanding of the key metrics produced by a footprint calculator, you can make a few changes that will slash your personal contribution to global carbon emissions.