Sustainability on a budget: lowering your carbon footprint without breaking the bank

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle

Many sustainable choices come with a hefty price tag

Graphic of a recycle symbol and stacks of money and coins. Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish.
Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish.

Between electric cars, retrofits, heating pumps, and plant-based diets, there are plenty of ways to reduce your carbon footprint and live more sustainably. The federal and provincial governments have even chipped in to help meet some of the costs of these new features and lifestyles. 

According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), personal habits will play a large role in meeting our climate change goals and keeping global warming below 1.5°C. The high cost of these changes, however, remains out of many people’s reach. So how much does living sustainably actually cost, and what can we do about it?

Diet

Changing your diet is one of the more affordable ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Agriculture makes up eight per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with most of it concentrated in animal agriculture such as cattle and pigs. 

Choosing to not eat meat one day of the week greatly reduces your carbon footprint over the span of your lifetime. Going vegetarian cuts the emissions of your food consumption in half and going vegan reduces it by even more. 

Plant-based meals are often cheaper than meat-based ones, but vegetarianism is still a major lifestyle change that needs to be considered carefully. If vegetarianism or veganism aren’t for you, you can try cutting out beef and lamb, which are more emissions-intensive meat sources.

Climate change and the pandemic have also inflated the costs of many fruits and vegetables. An easy and affordable way to get around this inflation is to plant your own garden. Zucchinis, tomatoes, potatoes, and lettuce are just some of the fruits and vegetables easy to grow at home if you have the garden space. 

Transportation

Over the last decade, electric cars have emerged as a viable technology thanks to innovations by the likes of Elon Musk. Increasing ranges on each new model combined with the growing availability of charging stations means that owning an electric car is no longer a gimmick that can only be used for short trips. 

General Motors announced that it would be transitioning its entire fleet to electric by 2035. Jaguar, Bentley, Cadillac, and Volvo also plan to become fully electric over the next few years.

While increasing competition is bringing prices down, electric cars are still significantly more expensive on average than their gas-powered counterparts. The average price of an electric car currently hovers between $30 000 and $40 000. Luxury models from companies like Tesla and Porsche can cost between $50 000 and $185 000. Thankfully, plenty of rebates are available to B.C. residents.

Both the Canadian federal government and B.C. provincial government offer a rebate of up to $5 000 on the purchase or lease of an electric vehicle. Both of these rebates are also available on the purchase of a hybrid vehicle, with the federal government lowering their max rebate to $2 500. In total, that represents a possible $10 000 in rebates, or roughly a third of the cost of an average electric car. 

It is also important to keep in mind that once you own an electric car, you will no longer need to spend an exorbitant amount of money at the pump. For most electric cars, a full charge will cost less than $20 at a charging station.

Another much more affordable way to reduce your transportation emissions is taking public transportation or biking. Public buses cost very little to use and lower your transportation emission. This option also greatly reduces or even eliminates the cost of gas and car maintenance, leaving more money for food, housing, and personal spending. Biking is another easy and affordable way to get around town that has the potential to eliminate your transportation emissions. 

Housing and utilities

Household emissions, including things like heat and electricity, account for almost a quarter of Canada’s GHG emissions. 

There are many ways to reduce your household emissions, for people who own their home and have some disposable cash. Installing solar panels or switching to a green electricity supplier can help reduce or eliminate your emissions from electricity and heating. Another viable option is installing an electric heat pump. However, many of these sustainable changes are fairly expensive, with solar panel installation costing between $15 000 and $30 000. For B.C. residents, electric heat pumps, which function as both a heater and air-conditioner without the same emissions, may be the most practical method as they cost between $15 000 and $18 000 with rebates of up to $11 000 currently available.  

Reducing future costs

Despite the rebates and incentives put in place by the federal and provincial governments, the costs for electric cars and sustainable household heating remain out of reach for most people. 

In the future, costs for items like heat pumps and electric cars will likely get cheaper due to increased competition and added rebates. For electric cars, the increasing availability of used vehicles will also help bring down the cost.

For now, there are still cheaper ways to reduce your carbon footprint, like cutting out meat and taking public transit, while more expensive options may remain out of reach for some.