This post on how to be carbon savvy is paid-for content in association with Zero Waste Scotland.

I tweeted something once about cutting carbon, and someone sarcastically replied that I must be terribly fun at parties. And I get it, talking carbon can be a particularly dry topic. However, something that I feel is very much overlooked – in fact, ignored – is the simple joy and pleasure that can be taken from finding alternatives to consumerism.

Zero Waste Scotland recently launched its first responsible consumption campaign, encouraging consumers to be “carbon savvy” when shopping.

Zero Waste Scotland says that around 80% of our carbon footprint in Scotland comes from our consumption habits. Yet, according to their research, only one-fifth of the Scottish population is fully aware of the negative impact consuming new products has on the climate.

When everything we buy, be that goods, materials, or services, has a carbon cost, then it is important that we try to minimise our consumption. This sounds like we have to give things up, and lead spartan lives. However, I would argue that adopting carbon-savvy behaviours can actually enrich our lives in unexpected ways.

Simple Ways To Be Carbon Savvy And Spark Joy

Image of scissors and mending tools, with a blue text box that says how to be carbon savvy and spark joy

Consumer behaviour doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of individuals. However, in what was a huge missed opportunity, consumption reduction was not a key theme at this year’s COP26 event in Glasgow. It is clear that until Governments and corporations take the lead on this, then tackling consumption is something that needs to begin at home.

Here are some ways that being carbon savvy can bring sparkle and joy to your life, and help the environment.

Reduce What You Buy

One way to be carbon savvy is simply to reduce what we buy. It is really difficult when we see advertisements in almost every part of our lives – from scrolling social media, to watching TV, to listening to music, to going on a walk. When advertising expenditure in the United Kingdom in 2020 alone amounted to £23.46 billion you know you are up against it.

It can be hard to stop shopping for things you don’t particularly need. Saying no to consumerism is something I liken to starting a new sport. At first, it’s really difficult, as your muscles are weak. However, the more times you practice and say to yourself, no I don’t actually need that item that’s being marketed to me, the stronger that muscle gets, and the easier it is to resist.

Learning to say no to even the very cleverest of marketing feels incredibly empowering. And your bank balance will feel the benefit too. My number one tip is when adopting a more carbon savvy approach is to try setting a savings goal. Set small incremental targets, and celebrate every time you hit your savings targets. You are guaranteed to feel amazing as your savings grow.

Learning To Say No

As I mentioned, saying no to mindless consumerism can be tricky at first. To help you out, I have a conversation I run through in my head that might be useful to you.

If I feel like I need something, I ask myself if I actually need the item, or if I just want the item. I always find there’s a huge difference between needing and wanting. If I need an item, then I can’t do without it. Whereas, if I want an item, then it’s obvious I can do without it.

If I decide that yes, I do need the item, I then ask myself where that need came from. Do I need it because I don’t have anything else that would work? Or do I need it because I saw some clever advertising that has convinced me that I do need it in my life?

If I do actually need something because of a genuine need, then instead of buying new, could I shop differently? Could I borrow the item from a friend or family member? Could I buy the item second-hand? Or could I rent the item instead? Or could I visit my local tool library?

The act of having that mental conversation has prevented a number of purchases. And in borrowing or buying secondhand, that act centres community rather than consumption.

Be Carbon Savvy By Reusing What You Have

Reusing what you have is another great way to be carbon savvy. I implement this in many different ways in my life. To take just a couple of examples, you can see how reusing can bring happiness in ways that buying things just can’t compete.

One example is when my oldest daughter outgrows her clothes, I store them away in my cupboard for my younger daughter to wear when the time comes. And when my youngest is done with them, I pass them on to friends. I always feel that something that isn’t talked about enough in society is the immense joy in seeing clothes which were once worn by your child, on another younger child – whether that’s a sibling or a friend’s kid. From the memories it brings, to the emotions that it stirs, it is all such a joy. This joy simply cannot be replicated by buying clothes new from a shop.

At Christmas, I also often repurpose last year’s Christmas cards to make gift tags. There’s nothing quite like the warm fuzzy joy of reading kind words from friends, as you make up your own tags. Again, there’s no way to replicate this when you buy a pack of plastic-wrapped gift tags. Reuse all the way!


One of the most useful skills I ever learned was how to sew a button back onto my clothes.

My Granny Graham taught me this skill when I was a little girl. She had this old biscuit tin, full of buttons from years gone by. She had this wonderful habit, long before sustainability was a thing, where she would cut the buttons off of any clothes that couldn’t be mended so that they could be reused. As a child, rummaging through that tin was like finding treasure, never knowing what jewel you would uncover next. It sparked a huge love of repair.

If you don’t have a Granny Graham in your life to teach you these skills, then if you can, why not spend a little time watching some YouTube videos to teach you basic mending skills.

If the repair is beyond you, search for a local mender. Much like the joy The Repair Shop participants get when they are reunited with their repaired family heirloom, that pleasure you get from getting a much-loved item back from being expertly mended is so much greater than any retail high.

Be Carbon Savvy By Looking After What You Have

Of course, sometimes it isn’t practical or possible to buy secondhand, or borrow, or repair. Even the most carbon-savvy of people have to buy new things sometimes. If you do need to buy something new, then try to buy ethically, and then look after your belongings.

This could be as simple as learning what the care labels on your clothing mean, and following those directions. I have to say I get a great sense of satisfaction from washing my woolen items the correct way. Simply knowing that I am looking after my clothes and helping to prolong their lifespan feels good.

Dispose Responsibly

Finally, when your items come to the end of their life, or you no longer need them then you can still be carbon savvy by disposing of them responsibly.

Could the item be recycled or upcycled? Could it be sold? Or could it be passed on to someone else? Could it be donated to charity? Any way that you can extend the lifespan of an item helps to save carbon. Therefore it is well worth spending a little time to think about what you could do with your item, rather than sending it to landfill. Disposing of something responsibly, rather than chucking it in the bin, also makes you feel a whole lot better.

Do More

Adopting these mindful reduce, reuse, and repair behaviours will save you carbon emissions and money and could bring you a whole manner of joy. If you want to do more, then wherever you are based, do follow Zero Waste Scotland’s How to Waste Less Instagram account. It’s full of easy tips and ideas for living sustainably.

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