Premium

Living as a ‘zero-emissions’ family… how hard can it be?

This week Theresa May has enshrined in law a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 
As one of her final acts as prime minister, Theresa May has enshrined in law a commitment for Britain to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050  Credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP

In her final flourish as PM, Theresa May has sought to cement some sort of legacy by enshrining in law a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Stipulated in an amendment to the Climate Change Act, introduced in parliament yesterday, the move would make the UK the first member of the G7 group of industrialised nations to legislate for net zero emissions. Mrs May said it was “time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children”.

She said: “This country led the world in innovation during the Industrial Revolution, and now we must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth. Standing by is not an option. Reaching net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target but it is crucial that we achieve it to ensure we protect our planet for future generations.”

Outside the Westminster bubble, ordinary families have been making steps to reduce their own carbon footprint. So how can you lower your emissions, without sacrificing your free time - and fun?

From the parents on a budget making cheap and simple eco-friendly lifestyle changes to the climate change campaigners adapting their existing houses to those building state-of-the-art sustainable eco houses in the British countryside, we spoke to three families taking matters into their own hands.

Cloth nappies and composting

Zion Lights doesn’t own a car, avoids planes and used cloth nappies when her two children, now aged five and seven, were babies. She is not so evangelical, however, that she expects the rest of us to adopt her carbon neutral lifestyle overnight. “Being green is not about shunning the conveniences of the 21st century but about using them responsibly.”

Lights, author of The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting, was a school girl climate change warrior; after much nagging, her parents allowed her to take glass bottles to the bottle bank at the supermarket on the weekly shop, and when she was a teenager she turned vegan.

It pains her that her children, who are also vegan (although her eldest occasionally eats eggs), already feel anxious about the future of their planet. But she also believes that they need to be aware of the realities of climate change. “People feel they are powerless, but if we can limit global warming to 1.5C over the next couple of decades we will hopefully avoid catastrophic climate change,” she says.

Top tips:

  • More plants, less meat - try meat-free Mondays or at least swap beef for less carbon-intensive protein such as poultry, eggs, farmed fish and mussels
  • Compost your vegetables, food and paper packaging
  • Insulate - if you can’t afford double glazing, sealing your windows and doors with an eco friendly draft excluder such as Marmox Multibond. Failing that you could simply invest in heavy curtains.

Solar panels and and old fashioned milkman

Their roomy Georgian house in a well-groomed West Sussex village might not appear at first glance to be a hive of environment-saving activity, but the Corts were once hailed as “Britain’s Greenest Family” for their efforts to make their home and lifestyle more sustainable.

Carrie Cort, 53, and her husband Brian drive an electric car, swapped to a renewable energy supplier and installed solar panels. But it’s the small, everyday changes which they believe really make a difference.

“We avoid buying any packaging and anything with food miles,” Carrie explains. “We don’t buy bread in plastic bags – I use the free energy on our roof to make bread instead.

“We also don’t buy any commercially made biscuits and certainly nothing that contains palm oil. We have milk delivered by the milkman in glass bottles; he also delivers butter. I have a fruit and veg box from Riverford. They try and source their produce as locally as possible and in season. And we do grow a little bit at home.”

Their shampoo, shower gel and cleaning products are all topped up at the local refill centre which Carrie helps to run. There, she also tops up on loose dry food so as to avoid buying any excess packaging. The family also participate in a recycling scheme which sees single use plastic recycled into benches, tables and dustbins rather than yet more plastic bottles.

The Corts were once hailed as “Britain’s Greenest Family” for their efforts to make their home and lifestyle more sustainable Credit: Christopher Pledger

They only bank with ethical banks such as Triodos, which invest in renewable industries of the future.

Even their 11-year-old son Adam is on the bandwagon. He grows and sells chillies to the local community - a product which has typically accrued 12,000 food miles by the time it tips up in supermarkets - recycling the seeds, of course.

Top tips:

  • Switch to clean renewable energy such as Good Energy or Bulb
  • Reduce the amount of packaging you buy day to day with local refill schemes, milkmen and veg boxes.
  • Get a dual flush loo - we don’t flush wees unless there are guests in the house.

Harvested rainwater and indoor insulation

The Hubers lived practically off-grid on boats for years before, with a growing family, they decided to move to a 1920s terraced house in West London. In the decade they have lived there, they have worked tirelessly to make their modest urban cottage as sustainable as possible.

They installed discreet solar panels and a battery bank to store energy when the sun isn’t shining, which provides most of the energy they need all year round. “I reckon we must be saving £1,000 a year on our energy bills,” says Jurgen Huber, an art conservationist who works at the Wallace Collection in London.

He and his wife Zoe spent around £4,000 renovating their house, installing top quality insulation to make the house carbon neutral. They have no gas connection – instead their instantaneous water heater, powered by solar, heats only the water needed, and they cook on an energy efficient induction hob.

Inside, they have fitted crafty internal insulation, losing space in their rooms but gaining energy efficiency.

Day-to-day, they don’t run a car, buy organic food, and grow some of their own fruit and vegetables using harvested rainwater. They have also cut down on the amount of meat and dairy they eat. The kids, he says, get it, are happy to eat mainly vegetarian and shop second hand, but are allowed to have the odd McDonalds. “They do get a bit fed up of me preaching about renewable energy...”

Jurgen Huber with his wife Zoe and children Laurie, 7, and Anouk, 12 Credit: The Guardian/Observer / eyevine

Top tips:

  • Insulation - if you have beautiful old single glazing, it would be a sin to get rid of it. Instead, a cheap, easy solution is to buy stick-on window films. They reflect infrared light and UV light, storing heat inside in the winter and keeping the house cool in summer.
  • Shop second hand - We try to shop second hand as much as possible when it comes to clothes, gadgets and toys.
  • Install an air source heat pump, which transfers heat from outside to inside, releasing the heat as hot air, or into hot water filled radiators or underfloor heating. The same system can often do the reverse in summer, cooling the inside of the house.