One person can make a difference | Viva! - The Vegan Charity

One person can make a difference

One person CAN

There’s an old saying – ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem’. Here’s how you can make a whacking contribution to saving the planet ...

Rows of brown bins stuffed with leftovers from from last night’s dinner, fashionistas flip-flopping their way to the shops sporting the latest ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ bag, bedraggled office worker cycling to work in his hi-vis jacket and trouser clips…

Across the country, millions of people are taking steps to ‘go greener’ as the headlines scream natural disaster, food shortage, global warming. The seed has been planted that human activity has to change before we have no world left to live in.

But can one person going green really make a difference? If I stopped my recycling regime and relapsed into stuffing food, tin and glass into my refuse bags, would it matter in the long run? Can one person really cut their own carbon emissions enough to make a difference to the planet’s future? The answer is yes.

Let’s begin with food; it’s our life source but our choices can help to reduce our carbon footprint. If you eat meat and dairy products, whatever their disguise, you can take credit for producing 1.2 tonnes more global warming gases each year than if you were a vegan.

Vegans eat no animal products – red or white meats, fish or other water creatures, eggs, dairy or insect products such as honey and cochineal. By so doing they cut out 1144 kg annually of bad gases from farmed animals farting and belching out methane, from manure laced with nitrates and from cruel, energy-greedy production systems.

Viva! has found that going vegan for a year is 20 per cent more effective in reducing global warming emissions than taking all the five ‘green’ steps below. Do both, of course, and you’re really making a difference – recycle, don’t use a tumble dryer, drive sensibly, take showers instead of baths and use low energy light bulbs. This saves 960kg of gas per year from being produced.

Thanks to cheap airlines, many of us now fly more frequently than we used to but it hasn’t done the planet any favours!

Average emissions from a long haul trip are equivalent to 1.2 tonnes of CO2 per person. So cutting back on flying is another massive step you can take.

Tap into any carbon footprint calculator and you will find that driving a car is another damaging thing we do. Saying goodbye to your gas guzzler and buying a hybrid vehicle would save a fortune on petrol, drastically reduce your CO2 emissions and cut our dependency on oil.

Buying a smaller, more efficient diesel car and turning off the air conditioning would also have a positive effect. Driving sensibly at the most fuel efficient speeds will enable some drivers to cut damaging gases by 0.2 tonnes a year.

Although taking the bus can give you smaller ‘carbon feet,’ switching to two wheels and getting a bicycle puts you in the fast lane for the ultimate green transport. For every mile you ride a bike instead of driving, you save 0.43kg of CO2.

Having sorted out your fridge contents, what other changes can you make in the home? The average UK house uses 20,000 kilowatt-hours of power a year, generating around five tonnes in emissions. Lowering your thermostat two degrees in the winter, cuts your bill and saves six per cent in CO2 emissions.

Replace an inefficient old boiler with a condensing model, improve insulation or install a wood-burning stove, which can cut emissions by two tonnes of CO2 per year. Cut emissions further by taking showers instead of baths and by cooking with a microwave or pressure cooker.

Other measures include washing clothes at 30°C and avoid the worst of all electrical appliances – the tumble dryer. Using it for just one hour less a week could cut annual emissions by 0.07 tonnes.

The next time a light bulb goes pop in your house, instead of cursing, welcome the opportunity to replace it with a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), which uses two-thirds less energy than a standard bulb, generates 70 per cent less heat and last up to 10 times longer. You can save yet more emissions by not leaving TV or digital boxes on standby and by unplugging mobile phone chargers and other electrical items.

Another great thing to do is switch to a green energy supplier such as Ecotricity. Since 1995, the company have been dedicated to changing the way electricity is made. Unlike other companies, Ecotricity invests profits solely in clean forms of power – mainly wind. Although young and comparatively tiny, they have already invested £50 million in new wind energy (read more here). Switch to them now and Viva! will receive a £15 donation. We need to wake up and accept that the wind turbine is beautiful and essential!

There’s no doubt that cooking with organic veg is tastier but it is also better for the planet. Producers use less fossil fuels, no synthetic chemicals obtained from oil and help the soil to store CO2 instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.

Watch the carbon drop off your scales when you get your hands dirty and brave the world of home-grown veg. Or buy local, non-processed and non-packaged food. A vegan taking these steps can reduce their carbon footprint by 1.9 tonnes a year!

Click here for more information. If you really want to make a difference then get serious about recycling and make it a part of your weekly routine. All glass, paper, card, metal cans and food waste can be spared from landfill.

Supermarkets often have recycling bins, including for Tetra packs and some plastic. All this can end up leaving much less waste for the dustman – reducing it by just half a large bag a week saves 473kg of CO2 per year.

And now the plastic bag – a thin, square emulation of the devil with handles – unnecessary, wasteful and causing massive environmental damage from their production, transport and disposal. Wildlife such as sea birds and turtles are suffering dreadfully because of them and yet it's so easy to change. Stop using them! Why not order one of Viva!’s great new organic cotton eco bags from the Viva! shop at

It still comes back to the inescapable fact that the single most important step you can take to reduce global warming is go vegan. Check out how with our illustrations here and order a free Go Vegan Pack now by emailing or visiting the main Viva! site.

Helen Rossiter

With thanks to Fred Pearce writing in the New Scientist and