SCC Fact Sheet

Protecting the Climate

Protecting the Climate: What You Can Do
Whether at home, at work, or at play, there is a lot you can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change In fact, Canadians have a greater obligation to reduce emissions than many other countries because we use more energy per person than any other industrialized country. We are the second largest per capita emitters of greenhouse gas emissions. (1 ) That comes to about 5.5 tonnes of carbon per year per Canadian! People living in developing countries emit about 0.5 tonnes of carbon per person per year. (2)

At Home

1. Turn it off.

Appliances and lights were responsible for 3 per cent of our personal greenhouse gas emissions in 1990. (3 )

Lights, televisions, and stereos all use electricity made in many provinces using coal, fuel oil and natural gas. Even provinces that use water to generate electricity, like Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, use natural gas or coal to make electricity during peak-hour periods.

Do the atmosphere a favour - plan to do your laundry, or run the dishwasher in non-peak-hour periods such as early morning or late evening. Heating water takes a lot of energy - turn off dripping taps and keep them in good repair. Install a low-flow shower head; rent or buy an energy-efficient hot water heater. Solar water heaters can provide between 35 and 75 per cent of your hot water needs; solar water heaters also work well for swimming pools. Water heating was responsible for 7 per cent of personal greenhouse gas emissions in 1990.

2. Buy recycled goods

It takes two-thirds less energy to make a recycled aluminum can than it does to make one from virgin materials. It takes 50 per cent less energy to make recycled paper and plastic. Steel and glass made from recycled materials also use less energy. Composting fruit and vegetable scraps can vitalize your garden and save methane emissions at the landfill. Waste was responsible for 6 per cent of personal greenhouse gas emissions in 1990.

3. Buy energy-efficient appliances

No matter the size or model, there is a range of energy efficiency for each product. For example, a 17 cubic- foot refrigerator comes in a variety of colours, but it also comes in a range of energy efficiencies too. Making a refrigerator that uses less energy requires more materials and labour and so will cost you slightly more up front, but will save you money every month on your electricity bill. You also help the environment: an efficient refrigerator will generate 3,231 kilograms less carbon dioxide than an inefficient one over its lifetime. Keeping food cold, and water hot are the two biggest users of electricity in our homes.

Don't throw that old refrigerator away! Coolants used in refrigerators deplete the ozone layer and are very powerful greenhouse gases. Even the new coolants that are replacing CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) are potent greenhouse gases. Always ensure that the coolant in your refrigerator is captured for recycling and/or destruction. It's your responsibility.

4. Buy energy-efficient lights

Compact fluorescent lights are three to four times more efficient than incandescent lights and last 10 times longer, keeping 125 kilograms of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere over their lifetime. Think of them as an appliance and their higher initial cost seems more reasonable. Energy-efficient lights also give off less heat and can help reduce your cooling needs in summer, both at home and at the office.

5. Buy food that's grown locally

Canadians import almost 50 per cent of the vegetables they eat and up to 90 per cent of their fruit. (4) Almost all of it is transported long distances by trucks which burn large quantities of polluting diesel fuel. Buying locally reduces emissions which cause climate change, acid rain and smog, (5) and saves local agriculture jobs.

6. Buy an energy-efficient house

A conventional house will generate 9 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, while an efficient R- 2000 home generates only 6.2 tonnes. R-2000 homes are constructed by qualified builders to ensure a high standard of energy efficiency and a more healthy living space (less dust and indoor air pollutants). R-2000 homes will cost 2 to 6 per cent more than a conventional house, but the money is paid back in less than five years because energy bills can be 50 per cent lower than for a conventional house. (6 )

7. Change your heating system

Heating your home uses more energy than any other household activity and was responsible for 33 per cent of personal greenhouse gas emissions in 1990. Heating with electricity is the least efficient (and generally most polluting) because the electricity is generated far away and transported many kilometers over transmission lines before it reaches your living room losing efficiency every step of the way.

If you're thinking about renovating your home - think efficiency. Energy-efficient windows, doors and extra insulation will make a big difference. If you are thinking about changing your heating system, your best option is a high-efficiency natural gas furnace. Efficiencies of between 85 and 95 per cent can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2,250 kilograms a year, compared with a conventional furnace that emits 6,100 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

8. Think cool

Cooling your home also uses a lot of energy and the coolant inside of the air conditioner is a very powerful greenhouse gas. Always ensure that your air conditioner is in good repair and that all coolant is captured. Never vent coolant to the atmosphere! - this holds true for car air conditioners too.

A better way to cool your home is to use ceiling fans and to plant trees around your house. Strategically planting trees so that evergreens act as wind breaks in winter and leafy trees provide shade in summer can reduce the energy needed to heat and cool your home. Trees also create habitat for birds and provide shade for children playing outside.

9. Get your lawn and garden off drugs

Fertilizers are made from fossil fuels, and release nitrous oxide into the air. Nitrous oxide is another powerful greenhouse gas causing climate change. Keeping lawns trimmed also uses energy. In fact, gasoline-powered lawnmowers are one of the most polluting devices around, contributing to climate change and smog as well. Landscaping with the environment in mind means planting lots of perennials and shrubs and minimizing the use of grass and sod.

At the office

1. Turn it off

Computers, lights and photocopiers use lots of energy and give off a lot of heat which means we run air conditioners to cool things off! Turn off equipment when it's not in use. Better yet, encourage your employer to buy equipment that powers down when not used for a certain period of time.

2. Talk to your purchasing department

Encourage your company to buy energy-efficient equipment and vehicles. Companies often buy cars and trucks for their fleets that are more powerful than they actually need to do the job. Companies also need to look at how vehicles are used. Can public transit, for example, be used to get people to meetings?

Getting around

1. Can you leave the car or truck at home?

Public transit is the most energy-efficient way to get to work or to shop. Living close to work minimizes your need for a car; if you live in the suburbs, can you carpool? A person taking public transit produces eight times less carbon dioxide than someone driving their car; each new carpool saves an average of 2,000 litres of gasoline a year.

2. In the market for a new car?

Buy an energy efficient one. Cars win the prize as being the largest source of personal greenhouse gas emissions: 45 per cent in 1990. Cars that use less gasoline don't have to be small and powerless. For every class of car - from compact to gas guzzler - there is a range of efficiency. If everyone bought the most efficient car in its class, carbon dioxide emissions, and the emissions causing acid rain and smog, would fall dramatically. A car using 12 litres/100 kilometres (km) will generate 5,664 kilograms of carbon dioxide a year, while a car using six litres/100 km will generate only 2,832 kilograms.

3. Get a tune up

The more you drive, the more polluting your car becomes. Regular tune-ups keep your car's pollution control equipment in tip-top shape.

4. Slow down

Cars are made to run most efficiently at 90 kilometers an hour. Driving at 100 kilometers an hour uses 10 per cent more gasoline; for every kilometre above 100 km/hour, the fuel loss is 1 per cent. Congestion, and long periods of idling really increase greenhouse gas emissions. If you're stopped for more than a minute, turn the car off.

In your community

Get political

Let local, provincial and federal politicians as well as local merchants know you want to see higher standards for new homes and buildings and for appliances and equipment. Tell them you want to see more convenient public transit in your neighbourhood, so you can leave the car and all that congestion behind you.


1 Burning fossil fuels like coal, gasoline and natural gas was responsible for 98% of Canada's carbon dioxide emissions in 1990, according to Natural Resources Canada's Energy Outlook 1992 - 2020. Other greenhouse gases include methane, which comes mostly from natural gas, but also from landfills, livestock and manure; nitrous oxide which comes from cars, fertilizers and nylon production; and HCFCs and other coolants which leak from refrigerators and air conditioners.

2 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Second Assessment of Scientific-Technical Information, 1995

3 Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are the main greenhouse gases. All estimates of personal greenhouse gas emissions from Environment Canada's Greenhouse Miser, 1993.

4 Globe and Mail, fall 1995

5 Burning fossil fuels also release the majority of emissions causing smog and acid rain which damage the environment and harm human health.

6 R-2000, Is it worth it?, Natural Resources Canada, 1994.


Copyright 1996 Sierra Club of Canada