Lavanya Sunkara

fueled by books, inspired by nature

Lavanya Sunkara

Lavanya Sunkara
New York, New York, USA
December 31
Freelance Writer/Editor
I'm a writer covering books, charities, conservation, furry friends and world travels. My work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, GQ India, MSN, Yahoo! Shine, and Time Out among others. I am a regular contributor to NBC's and Jeff Corwin

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JULY 9, 2011 5:45PM

30-Day Guide to a Smaller Carbon Footprint

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30-days.jpgMelting icebergs, rise in sea level, threatened animal species, increase in severe storms are just a few effects of global warming.Some believe climate change is a natural part of the planet’s life, while others are convinced that it is a result of human activities that produce carbon gasses that are trapping heat and warming Earth. Whichever stance you make take, there is no denying that the planet is in peril. Ecosystems are being destroyed, forests are cleared for timber, millions of acres of land are exploited for resources, oceans are drilled for oil, rivers are polluted by industry waste, and countries are struggling to feed growing populations. The health of the planet and future generations lies in our hands. Getting a hybrid car or going off the grid are some options for going green. But there are easier and simpler ways to help curb climate change. Here’s a guide to a smaller carbon footprint in a month.

1. Reuse and Recycle Paper- Paper comes from trees that are primary absorbers of heat trapping CO2. Whenever possible, recycle paper both at home and work by opting for double sided printing and properly disposing of used paper in recycling containers. Reusing and recycling helps minimize trash and helps conserve resources.

2. Eco trips- A trip to the beach or a hiking outing is more eco-friendly when getting there via a Zipcar and carpooling with friends. Better yet, choose rail.

3. Better Barbecuing- Summer holidays mean barbecuing. Although barbecue enthusiasts might not want to give up charcoal grilling, a gas grill is cleaner burning and doesn’t produce tiny soot particles that pollute the air.

4. Meatless Mondays- According to World Watch Institute, byproducts of animals raised for consumption are responsible for 32.6 billion tons of CO2 per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide human caused greenhouse gas. Becoming 100% vegetarian might be tough for most people. Eating less meat is a good start. Find out recipes and more at

5. Clean Investments- We can make socially responsible choices with our dollars. Invest in green technologies such as electric cars, solar farms, and General Electric’s wind-powered electric generators.

6. Florescent Bulbs- Florescent light bulbs use about 75% less energy than regular light bulbs and last much longer. They are more expensive, but they will eventually pay for themselves due to lower energy costs.

7. Public Transportation- Leave your car at home, and take the train to work or ride your bike to run your errands.

8. Switch Off- Turn off your computer at work. No need for the system to be using up energy while you are out of the office. Besides, the network administrators back up files and/or make software upgrades over the network at night that you wouldn’t want to miss out on.

9. Plant Trees- One of the best solutions for reducing carbon footprint is to plant trees. Gather friends and family and have a fun day of planting.

10. Buy Locally- Plant your own vegetable garden in your backyard or buy seasonal and organic food locally. Farmers markets are filled with fresh, locally produced fruit, veggies, bread, jams, pies and much more. Eat at restaurants that serve locally produced foods. Keeping it local means less time the food has traveled, which in turn means less energy spent.

11. Unplug- Unplug chargers and unused appliances whenever not in use. You will see a drop in your electric bill.

12. Recycled Toilet Paper- 3-ply toilet paper is made from fiber from trees in old-growth forests in North America. Recycled toilet paper from Marcal’s Small Steps and Seventh Generation isn’t plush, but comfortable enough.

13. Green Toys- Most toys are plastic and mass-produced, and end up in landfills after short life spans. Buy natural BPA free toys for a greener generation.

14. Give up Plastic- Plastic, which is non-biodegradable, never leaves the planet. Use reusable cloth bags when shopping. You will be helping reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills and ocean garbage patches.

15. Reduce Garbage- Every day, each of us produces 5 to 8 lbs of non-biodegradable garbage, which ends up in already brimming landfills and contributes to more pollution. Buy products that use less packaging and recycle bottles and cans as much as possible. Compost food scraps and use the fertilizer for gardening.

16. Green Party Dishware- Paper plates and plastic forks are an easier option when hosting large parties. Switch to biodegradable, compostable and reusable tableware made from corn, palms, and sugarcane for an eco-friendly party.

17. Green Cleaning- Chemical-free, non-toxic cleaners and laundry detergents from brands like Seventh Generation are safer and better for the whole family.

18. E-cards- Show your love with an e-card. It costs less and saves plenty of trees.

19. Turn down temperature and reduce shower time- Bring down the temperature of your hot water heater to 120°F to reduce energy consumption by 3-5%. Another way to save energy and reduce your monthly water bill is by keeping showers under 5 to 10 minutes.

20. Clean Power- Support solar power and wind energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.  You can purchase renewable energy from your local power company. To find out if your local utility has a green power source, check the Green Power Network’s U.S. map.

21. Turn off the tap- You will save gallons of water by turning off the tap when brushing. Fix any leaky faucets.

22. Green Laundry- Wash clothes in cold water instead of hot and only run full loads to save water and energy. Hang dry clothes outside in warmer months. Choose eco-friendly dry cleaning that uses liquefied CO2 instead of hazardous air pollutant perchloroethylene or “perc”. You’ll be happy to get chemical odor free clothes back from the dry cleaner.

23. E-Billing and Junk Mail- Sign up for paperless statements through your bank to shrink paper waste. Reduce junk mail by returning to sender, and by using an online based service at, which lets you remove yourself from the commonly used marketing and direct-mailing lists.


24. Planet Friendly Pets- Reduce your pet’s paw print by using biodegradable poop bags and eco-friendly cat litters. Make toys from scrap yarn or fabric and use natural pet-care and cleaning products.

25. Electronics Recycling- Cell phones and other electronics cannot be disposed in the garbage. E-waste contains mercury and other toxins and is a growing environmental problem. Donate or recycle cell phones and computers.

26. Renewable Gifts- Roses are so cliché. A plant is a gift that gives back for a long time.

27. Reusable Water Bottles- Bottled water has a huge carbon footprint, and the water is not necessarily pure. Water in bottles is filled in at one location and shipped across the world, adding to more greenhouse gasses. Many plastic water bottles are recycled, but most are not. Use a reusable water bottle or Kanteen Klean bottle for your drinking water.

28. Eco- Jewelry- Beauty doesn’t have to come at a price. For jewelry made from diamonds, gemstones and precious metals originated from conflict and environmental abuse free regions, visit Brilliant Earth at

29. Buy Fair Trade- From chocolate to coffee to bananas, buying fair trade means helping provide better living and working conditions for producers. Fair trade also promotes social, environmental and economic sustainability in developing countries.

30. Offset Travel- Whether traveling for fun or business, there are now options to mitigate the environmental impact of trips. gives you an estimated number for the CO2 emitted from the use of flights, hotels, and rental cars. The number can be used to purchase offsets. Native Energy, Terrapass, and Brighter Planet are some good outlets for purchasing offsets that support clean energy and projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Another way to reduce travel footprint is by staying in green-lodging listed at The Green Hotels Association or Environmentally Friendly Hotels.,,, and

Every single positive step we take makes a world of a difference for the planet and future generations. Good luck on your journey to a healthier planet and a greener you!

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Thanks for sharing these practical tips & links! We signed up for once a number of years ago, and haven't had a problem with junk mail since. (I just phone individual companies if they send a catalogue after ordering something). It is a wonderful service. It saves a lot of time over the year, too, not to have to sort through all the junk mail.

Luckily, we have a new electronics recycling center that opened up nearby, and for picnics, those biodegradable picnic plates (which look & feel like the plastic ones) can also be found at Whole Foods. There are many things on this list that I don't do, and want to start doing/trying! Thanks for all these great ideas!
Dear clay ball, thank you so much for reading and the tip about whole foods. I usually use reusable plates/cups for small gatherings. When I throw big parties, I will definitely consider the corn made ones.
Thanks for reading. Please do share with others.