Home solar panels and the use of renewable energy tariffs have made the Welsh county of Ceredigion and the English city of Exeter the greenest locales in the UK, a new study from SEI and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) has claimed.
The study culled data from more than 300,000 responses to the WWF’s carbon footprint calculator, submitted between February 2019 and October 2020.
The data showed that over those 20 months many Britons have made lifestyle changes to reduce their carbon emissions. The average carbon footprint fell by 17% over the survey period, to 13.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year.
The percentage of respondents on renewable energy tariffs nearly doubled over that time frame, from 12% to 21%. Emissions from heating and lighting make up 22% of the average individual’s carbon footprint. Therefore switching to a green energy tariff could save an individual an average of 2.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year.
Travel is the largest contributor to individuals’ carbon footprints, accounting for 30% of their emissions. Coronavirus restrictions, particularly the reduction in flights taken, contributed to the drop in travel-related emissions over the survey period.
However, SEI and WWF expressed concern that as life returns to normal, travel emissions will rise again—and possibly soar higher, as virus-wary Britons avoid public transport. Even before the pandemic, 60% of respondents didn’t use public transport, including buses and trains, a trend that must be reversed if the UK is to meet deadlines for curbing emissions.
Other lifestyle changes that Brits have made to cut their emissions include adopting a plant-based diet, eating food sourced locally, wasting less food, recycling food waste, switching off appliances when they’re not in use, installing solar panels at home, installing loft and wall insulation and avoiding buying new clothing.
While the data shows increasing adoption of low-carbon activities across the UK, some areas are ahead of the pack on green behaviours. Residents of Ceredigion in Wales have the lowest average carbon footprint, of 10.8 CO2e. Emissions are kept low in the county by low spending on clothing (20% of respondents spend nothing on attire in a given month) and a high prevalence of solar panels (10% of homes have them installed, compared to the UK average of 7%).
Meanwhile, Exeter is the greenest city with a population of more than 250,000, with an average carbon footprint of 11.5CO2e. More than a quarter of respondents say they source food locally and 12% have solar panels.
Plymouth residents keep their carbon emissions low (11.8CO2e) by avoiding short-haul European flights (just 36% of residents admit to taking them) and throwing away little food (80% of respondents waste less than 10% of food).
Bristol (11.8 CO2e) has the highest portion of respondents on a renewable energy tariff (29%) in the UK. Meanwhile. 82% of respondents recycle their food waste.
Dr Stephen Cornelius, Chief Climate Adviser at WWF, said: “This analysis shows an encouraging trend towards lower carbon footprints across the UK. The doubling in take-up of 100% renewable energy tariffs is particularly positive as this can be a cheap and easy way for people to make a real cut in their emissions.
Dr Chris West at SEI York said: “Changing consumer behaviours are a very important component of moving towards a low-carbon future, but these must also be complemented by a rapid transition towards renewable energy and a circular economy.”