9 Ways You’re Contributing to Your Carbon Footprint Without Knowing It

Ever since Canada declared a climate crisis, it seems that more and more frequently environmentally friendly trends are showing up. The most notable, the Zero Waste trend that fills many Instagram feeds –goodbye to plastic and hello to reusable containers and secondhand clothes. Of course, there are parts of the movement that go deeper than being Instagram-worthy, dedicated zero-wasters want to lessen their overall impact on the planet, and they begin with the 5-R’s (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot), which translates to being more thoughtful in what is brought into their life, and, ideally, limits what goes out.2 This mentality has helped to create more general awareness about wasteful habits like single-use plastic items.

If you’re of an eco-friendly mindset, likely, you’ve also adopted some of the 5-R’s into your lifestyle, like refusing what you don’t need (no more freebies, and who’d have thought it’d help limit clutter?), recycling (yeah, yeah we’ve been doing this forever) and composting (grow, garden, grow), on top of the many other suggestions for being kinder to the planet. Perhaps you bike to work, avoid using plastic bags for produce, have switched your lightbulbs to energy-efficient ones, and line-dry your clothes to be eco-friendlier, but there are a few habits that may have slipped your mind. Some of these habits may be surprising, but they all draw more energy than necessary adding up to an increased carbon footprint. Being mindful of these 9 things can help you with lowering energy use leading to you having a lower your impact on the planet.

1. Rinsing your dishes with hot water

Heating the water for this requires more work from your water heater.3 Much like with laundry, switching to cold water for this habit can reduce your carbon footprint.

2. Styling your hair

The truth is your hairdryer, curling iron and straightener all use energy to achieve your look. Cutting back on how often you style your hair or giving it up altogether are ways to lower the impact of this habit. 3

3. Using Overhead lights

Lighting an entire room uses more energy than a task light or table lamp does. So, if you’re reading, working or watching tv and only need minimal light, opt for a lamp instead. 3

4. Charging your phone/electronics overnight

Your phone likely only takes a short time to charge completely (same with your tablet, smartwatch, laptop, etc.) and leaving it plugged in while you sleep keeps it drawing energy for longer than necessary. 3

5. Opening the oven to check on your food

Opening the door makes your oven work harder to maintain the heat –if you want to check on your food turn on the oven light and use the window. 3

6. Not Vacuuming your Fridge

There are coils on the back of your fridge that keep everything in running order, keep them clean using a vacuum to keep them efficient and their energy use down. 3

7. Streaming Videos

Yep, this is referring to sites like YouTube and Netflix. Streaming platforms like these, use energy not only on your device but also to get from the data centers to where you are watching them. If you’re playing a YouTube video purely for the sound, you can lower your impact by finding an audio version instead, which has a lower level of energy use.4

8. Texting, Emailing and Posting Online

Just like with streaming, all these actions require energy to get from the tips of your fingers to someone else’s screen. That even includes liking and commenting on people’s photos and videos all these actions using energy and contributing to your carbon footprint.5

9. Looking Something up online

Once again, this requires energy to sort through results and find what’s most relevant to your question. There are searching options like Ecosia, which plant trees based on the number of searches performed on the site to help offset the carbon footprint and lower your impact when searching online.5

The good news is that these behaviours are small things that can be easily adjusted in our daily lives to reduce our carbon footprint and can even help us save money. To lower your impact you don’t need to constantly have these things on your mind, instead, it may just require being a little more mindful from time-to-time in the actions you take (thinking back to those 5-R’s), and acknowledging that a little can go a long way in being more aware of energy use and being planet-friendly.


1 Defining generations: Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins by Michael Dimock

2 The 5 “R’s” of Zero Waste: A Practical Guide by Jenna Judd

3 Hydro Ottawa Tips & Tools: 65 Ways to Manage you Energy Use

4 YouTube videos have a huge Carbon Footprint, Here’s a simple fix by CBC Radio Spark

5 What’s the cost of your search? By UN Environment Programme