Five Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint in Austin


Picture this: you have a friend from abroad coming to visit you. They know nothing about Austin, other than the fact that it’s in Texas. Two weeks before they’re scheduled to depart, you’re preparing them for the culture of Austin. And then they ask you an odd question…


“Is Austin eco-friendly?”


“Of course it is!” you exclaim. You can barely believe what you’re hearing. Austin, not eco-friendly? What a crazy thought. The five-section waste bins at Whole Foods (you know, the ones that to this day make you question what belongs in a compost) and car2go ads flash through your mind. Before you know it, you’ve launched into a speech about how Austin has hundreds of LEED-certified buildings, miles of bike lanes, a farmer’s market for every day of the week, and dedicated electric car charging spots.

You wouldn’t be the only person to do this. In fact, Architectural Digest noted these exact features as reasons why Austin was named the number one environmentally friendly city in America in 2017. That’s right, we’ve topped a list that isn’t about the fastest-growing cities.

Time to celebrate, right? Not quite yet.


While it’s true that the city has refined its infrastructure to become a model clean city, Austin’s carbon footprint extends beyond public spaces. The average person in the 78701 zip-code will emit about 20 tons of CO2 annually. Your friend visiting from London? She emits 8. Your buddy crashing with you from Seoul? Only 5.

Clearly, we Austinites need to reduce our personal carbon footprints if we want to make the global list of greenest cities in a couple of years. Want to help? Here’s five ways to reduce your own emissions:

Monitor your electronics

Hate opening up the electric bill? Make it a little less painful by unplugging your appliances. Small changes add up to big savings with these tips by Austin Energy.  Idle power mode is responsible for about $19 billion in electricity bills in the U.S. every year. Take your MacBook, for example. When it’s charging, it uses 48 watts. When it’s fully charged but you forget to unplug it? 27 watts. The same principle applies for your cable box, television, DVD player, and game console. The solution? Unplug when not in use.


Consider downsizing to a smaller home

That four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Lakeway sure is beautiful. It is. But it’s also a huge energy drain. Most greenhouse gas emissions from homes stem from generating electricity and heat. Smaller homes are often cheaper than those with a larger square-footage, and they’ll save you money on your utilities. If you don’t have a family, you’re already working in a dense area of the city, or you hate the upkeep of a large home, consider investing in smaller, more urban property.


Walk, bike, carpool, or take public transit

It’s hot in Austin, I know. Walking seems like a form of cruel and unusual punishment. But it’s also a great form of exercise, and doesn’t hurt so bad at night. Plus, you might discover some fun hidden gems along the way. Going somewhere further that has a nightmarish parking situation? Take advantage of the all the bike lanes in Austin. Meeting a group of friends? Pick them up on the way and share your emissions across a car full of people.

If you don’t feel comfortable biking all across the city (some of those drivers can be ruthless), hop on one of the city’s buses. Austin isn’t famed for its public transit, but it’s actually improved significantly in the past few years. I recently took the rail line from Lakeline Station (near Cedar Park) to the Austin Convention Center and it took a measly 40 minutes (the same trip driving with no traffic takes 30 minutes). The buses are going to run anyway, so you might as well fill them up!


Use energy-efficient lighting

Most new homes and apartments are already designed to include Energy Star LED bulbs. But if you’ve had your place for a while, go ahead and check to see what kind of bulbs you use. Not only do LEDs cut down your power usage by 90% compared to incandescent bulbs, but they also last longer and contain no toxic chemicals.


Eat locally-produced food

Not only do you get to feel good about supporting your fellow neighbors, but eating locally-grown food can cut significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 13% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are the result of producing and transporting food. If your eggs come straight from a farm in Georgetown, they have to travel a lot less than those coming from Mississippi, cutting fuel emissions. Plus, you have a higher chance of receiving fresh and nutritious fare.


Looking for more ways to reduce your carbon footprint? Check out these 14 suggestions from National Geographic, or visit the City of Austin’s climate portal.


Content curated by Scott Sproat representing FOURTH&, a responsible and sustainable building in Austin. Visit for more information on the building eco-engineering and design.


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