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Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our modern world, but making sustainable changes in our personal lives may help us feel more empowered to fight for a viable future. As more people look for eco-friendly ways to live, there are some simple adjustments you can make to reduce your carbon footprint. Especially as electric vehicles (EVs) grow in popularity and become more affordable, adjusting your driving habits is one of the most impactful things you can do for the environment.
How can I make my driving more eco-friendly?
Our vehicles are one of the biggest contributors to climate change, with the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel releasing nitrogen gas and excess carbon dioxide (CO2) that disrupt Earth’s climate. It is estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from transportation alone are responsible for about 27 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other sector. These tips may help you reduce your personal emissions while still getting where you need to go.
Choose and maintain an eco-friendly car
Choosing an eco-friendly vehicle and being mindful of your driving and maintenance habits may benefit the environment — and your wallet. Taking a few conscious steps to reduce your personal carbon emissions will likely save you money on gas and may even extend the life of your vehicle.
- Consider your lifestyle when choosing a vehicle: Do you commute to work through heavy traffic? How many people do you need to comfortably fit in your vehicle? Thinking about the kind of car you need may help you pick the most efficient option for you and the planet. Keeping the vehicle you have or buying used may also be more environmentally friendly than purchasing a new car just for the sake of an upgrade.
- Drive a car with good gas mileage: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires auto manufacturers to add a label displaying both the fuel economy and estimated fuel costs for all new cars and light trucks. If you’re in the market for a new car, considering the fuel efficiency of a make and model may help you cut down on your personal emissions and save money at the pump.
- Properly inflate your tires: Many drivers may be surprised to find that tire pressure can affect gas emissions. Underinflating your tires may negatively affect your gas mileage, while overinflating may cause your tires to wear out prematurely. The proper PSI for your tires can usually be found on a sticker inside the driver’s door of your vehicle.
- Maintain your vehicle regularly: Regular maintenance of your car can improve fuel efficiency and make your car last longer. Regularly getting your oil changed, checking coolant levels and replacing filters may make your car more efficient and help you avoid mechanical issues down the road.
- Remove unnecessary weight: It may sound silly, but driving around with extra cargo can negatively impact your fuel efficiency. Removing unnecessary heavy items from your car may help keep up your fuel efficiency and reduce wear and tear on your vehicle.
Practice sustainable driving habits
Sustainable driving habits may not be second nature to you, but tailoring your behaviors behind the wheel can increase fuel efficiency. Sometimes these habits can even reduce your insurance premium if you enroll in a telematics program.
- Take the shortest route: It may seem obvious, but cutting down on your mileage is one of the best ways to reduce your emissions. Consider combining errands into one single trip and finding the shortest, most efficient route to get to your destination.
- Don’t speed: Speeding and aggressive driving can cost you up to 30 percent more in gas when driving on the highway. Maintaining a safe speed and distance between yourself and other cars may help improve your fuel efficiency.
- Activate cruise control: Speed fluctuations tend to use more gas than driving at a steady speed. If it’s safe to do so, using cruise control may help you maintain a safe and consistent pace.
- Avoid traffic and look for local options: Sitting in traffic is frustrating, but it also causes extra air pollution. Driving when roads are less busy and opting for local options to avoid crowded roadways may help make your daily driving more sustainable.
Consider alternative transportation options
The use of personal vehicles for transportation is common in the U.S., often because there are no efficient public transportation options available. However, depending on your location, there may be many other options for getting from point A to point B more sustainably.
- Public transportation: Public transportation provides an easy way for you to leave your car at home so you can take advantage of cheaper, more energy-efficient transportation for your commute.
- Carpool: Conserve Energy Future predicts that the average American spends about 18 days’ worth of carbon emissions on their annual commute, but if you were to share your commute with just four other people, you could collectively spare about 72 hours’ worth of carbon emissions with just one vehicle.
- Rideshare: Rideshare companies often offer options to share a ride with someone following a route that’s similar to yours. Similar to a carpool, ridesharing may cut down on emissions and save all passengers money.
- Bicycle: The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy found in 2015 that biking to work or around town could result in 11 percent less total carbon emissions if just 20 percent of the world’s drivers used bikes instead by 2050.
- Electric bike or scooter: Electric bikes and scooters can be significantly faster when you live in the city plagued by downtown traffic. Suddenly, bike lanes, parks, and other routes become a viable option for an easy and quick commute with a smaller environmental footprint.
Should I buy an electric car?
Electric and hybrid vehicles are quickly becoming more common on our roads. These vehicles cut down on emissions, and some models are even quite affordable. Whether you’re looking to save money on gas and extend your range with a hybrid vehicle or eliminate the cost of fuel altogether by going fully electric, consider your day-to-day needs. Though a hybrid or electric vehicle may cost more upfront, you may save money through tax credits and reduced maintenance costs long-term.
Pros and cons of electric vehicles
Considering the potential pros and cons of owning an electric vehicle may help you decide if an EV is the right choice for you. Although these vehicles do have some potential downsides, if you’re already in the market for a new car, a hybrid or electric option could save you money and help the planet.
|Save money on gas and oil changes
There may be tax advantages when you purchase an electric or hybrid vehicle
Lower personal emissions and local air pollution
|Despite advances in EV technology, batteries can be costly to replace
Charging stations can be few and far between, especially in more rural areas
Upfront and repair costs for EVs may still be higher than some gas-powered models
- Reduced emissions: The average electric and hybrid vehicle produces lower tailpipe emissions than traditional automobiles. EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs use zero tailpipe emissions when they run only on electricity.
- Charging on renewable energy: Where you charge your EV has an impact on how sustainable it is. Many experts have voiced concerns over the use of fossil fuels, like traditional power plants, to produce electricity for electric vehicles. EVs may be an especially sustainable option when powered through renewable sources, like solar panels.
- More energy-efficient: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, gas vehicles take more than double the CO2 equivalent than hybrid and plug-in hybrids, with a consumption that is almost three times the amount of electric vehicles.
Electric and hybrid vehicles are often advertised as a more sustainable option for eco-conscious drivers, but they may also offer long-term savings compared to combustion engine vehicles. About 96 percent of EV drivers tell AAA they would buy or lease another electric vehicle.
An electric vehicle only costs about $600 more per year to own than the average gas vehicle, according to AAA. However, based on a total mileage of 15,000 miles a year, you can save an average of $546 per year in fuel costs compared to the $1,255 it would cost you with a gas-powered vehicle. That is 130 percent more per year.
Maintenance is also generally cheaper with electric vehicles, with far less required to keep your car in top working order. Based on manufacturer recommendations, routine EV maintenance costs about $949 per year or $330 less than gas-powered cars.
When you own an electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, you could receive a federal tax benefit of up to $7,500 if you purchased a new vehicle in 2010 or later. To find out how much you can earn for a specific vehicle, the U.S. Department of Energy provides a listing of the eligible makes and models with the exact tax credit amount.
Electric car options
Car manufacturers are increasingly introducing new electric vehicles to their lineups, many of which are more affordable than ever.
There are three types of electric cars that you can purchase:
- Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV): These models boast zero emissions, using just an electric battery to power the vehicle without any need for gas.
- Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV): An HEV uses both gas and an electric motor for power, but all energy is sourced via gasoline.
- Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV): A plug-in hybrid is like an HEV, but it has a much bigger battery with an electric motor to complement the gas tank.
Most affordable electric cars
Edmunds provides a list of the cheapest electric cars available in 2023:
|Make and model||Key features||EV range||Starting price (with destination fee)|
|2023 Chevrolet Bolt EV||One of the cheapest models on the market
High EV range compared to many competitors
Compact design may be ideal for commuting
|2023 Nissan Leaf||Quick acceleration and good handling
Automatic emergency braking and blindspot warning
|2023 Mini Cooper SE||May be a good option for drivers looking for a more stylish, sporty EV||110 miles||$29,900|
Auto insurance options for electric cars
Insuring an electric car typically costs more than the average cost of car insurance for traditional vehicles, but if you shop around for multiple quotes and look for discounts, insuring an electric car may be just as affordable as insuring a gas-powered car. In addition, some of the best car insurance companies now offer discounts for electric vehicles, which may help you save even more on your premium.
Other sustainable living tips
Transportation is not the only way to make a difference in your personal carbon footprint. Here are some other strategies to live a more environmentally-friendly life at home and at work:
- Save energy. Watch your energy consumption around the house and at work by turning off lights in rooms that you are not using and considering adopting smart technologies in your home.
- Recycle and reuse. Reduce your footprint by opting for recyclable and reusable items that are easily biodegradable. From clothing and electronics to household appliances and furniture, repurposing and reusing as much as possible reduces waste and may save you money.
- Go paperless. Opt for digital receipts and paperless statements wherever possible to reduce your footprint. Choosing paperless billing may even earn you a discount on your car insurance.
- Buy sustainable clothing. Textile waste is a huge source of pollution. Making purposeful purchases from sustainable companies yields clothing that lasts longer and helps reduce waste, protect animals and promote better wages and working conditions for workers.
- Eat consciously and locally. Integrating more plant-based, whole foods into your diet is better for you and the planet. Buying locally-grown items from regional vendors also cuts down on the emissions required to get the food from a farm to your table.
- Donate. Continued research into protecting the environment is made possible by the financial contributions of federal programs and private donors just like you. So look for organizations in your community that make a difference and try to help where you can. If you can’t afford to donate money, consider volunteering.
- Support brands that mirror your values. In our market-driven economy, how you spend your money can amplify your beliefs and values. Choosing companies with sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices drives business in this direction.
With climate change already showing its effects, sustainable living is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint, whether through your diet, lifestyle or transportation. It may not feel like your singular actions make a difference, but the choices of individuals empower others around them, governments even larger companies to make meaningful changes in their sustainability practices.
Frequently asked questions
Fully-electric vehicles have the lowest carbon emission rates and are thus the most eco-friendly in terms of net emissions, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. However, some environmental scientists argue that the source of electricity for your electric vehicle, such as renewable energy sources, determines how sustainable it truly is. Fully-gasoline vehicles are the least eco-friendly option in terms of net emissions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make sustainable choices as a traditional car owner. Maintaining your combustion engine vehicle well and driving efficiently is a way for non-EV owners to cut down on their emissions.
There is no cut-and-dry answer to this question. The answer depends on everything from the type of vehicle or plane to the number of passengers and distance traveled. Ultimately, emissions from jets include not just carbon but other pollutants as well. In many cases, the environmental impact can be more significant for flights than for car trips. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), driving tends to be better for the environment when compared to flight on a passenger miles per gallon (PMPG) basis.