9 real ways you can reduce your climate impact with COP26 underway
Forget "future tech", you can make smart choices with super funds, mobile plans and solar right now.
Australia is heading to the COP26 climate summit as one of the weakest links following the release of its climate change plan.
However, while we wait to see what emerges from the 2-week summit in Glasgow, there's no need to feel powerless.
The International Energy Agency's roadmap to reaching net zero carbon emissions notes that 55% of emissions reductions will come from consumer choices.
You can absolutely make a difference right now, and it's not hard to make better choices.
Join myself and other industry experts as we walk you through making effective changes. It's not as stressful as you might think as long as you have access to the right information.
1. Choose a bank with sustainability values
Finder research shows that 52% of Australians are looking for "greener" products or services.
"This can start by choosing a bank that is up-front about its climate and sustainability values," explains Amy Bradney-George, Finder's personal finance expert.
"This is becoming a competitive factor, with banks and other financial institutions updating their sustainability goals at a rapid pace.
"For example, American Express recently committed to net zero emissions globally by 2035 and CommBank launched a 0.99% green loan to help home owners buy and install renewable tech."
2. Switch to an ethical superfund
Many of us give little thought to how our superannuation is invested.
"Your own super could right now be helping to fund industries like fossil fuels, tobacco, coal seam gas and even gambling, pornography and weapon manufacturing," explains Alison Banney, banking and investments expert at Finder.
"This is despite as many as 9 in 10 of us expecting our super to be invested ethically, according to research by the Responsible Investment Association Australasia."
43% of Australians would consider switching to an ethical super fund if they didn't have to sacrifice performance returns, according to Finder's own report.
"Just because a fund invests ethically it doesn't mean it won't achieve great returns. For example, Australian Ethical Super was one of the best-performing growth funds in 2020."
3. Invest in green stocks and ETFs
When you invest in a company through stocks, you're effectively supporting that company's future growth.
"A great way to reduce your carbon footprint is to avoid companies that are having a negative impact on the environment," says Kylie Purcell, investment expert at Finder.
"Start by doing a bit of research into the companies you hold or are thinking about investing in. What kinds of activities do they carry out and how do they make money? Do these activities have a net positive or negative impact on the planet?
"And you can take this a step further by actively investing in companies whose goals align with a more sustainable future. Renewable energy companies, recycling facilities and firms working to improve energy storage options are great examples."
According to Purcell, if you think picking the right stocks is a lot of work (you're not wrong). However, you can choose to invest in an ethical exchange traded fund (ETF) or robo-advice portfolio.
"These ethical investment funds hold stocks of companies that have been screened for ethical purposes by fund managers. Just make sure to read the fine print to make sure those ethical goals are aligned with your own."
4. Ditch gas and electrify your home
Research from Rewiring Australia states that the average household annually releases 11 tonnes of CO2-e into the atmosphere from its energy use activities.
According to the report, one of the major sources of domestic emissions reductions and cost-cutting is gas cooking and gas heating.
Electrification of households would reduce domestic emissions by around 33% and save Aussies up to $6,000 a year.
It might be as good a time as any to think about investing in electric appliances such as reverse-cycle air conditioners to help make a difference.
5. Solar panel uptake
The Clean Energy Council estimates Australian households with rooftop solar save an average of $540 per year on electricity bills – with Finder analysis showing a saving of $1 billion across the nation.
A typical 5kW solar array can cost around $6,000 to install and produce 20kWh on a daily basis.
Depending on where you're based, you could potentially even save up to $1,500 per year on your energy bills if you combine solar feed-in tariffs and rely less on electricity from the grid.
All of this doesn't take into account any federal or state rebates for installing the solar system. If you added that, your investment in the solar set-up will pay for itself in 3-6 years.
Given the cost of solar has fallen by over 80% in the last 10 years, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, now's as good a time as any to start investing.
6. Alternatively, add GreenPower to your energy plan
If you don't have the funds to invest in solar just yet, or if you live in a rental, you could choose a green energy company instead.
Your options include signing up to an energy provider that's 100% green, such as Powershop.
Or, you could opt for providers that offer carbon neutral plans (at no extra cost to you) and allow you to add on GreenPower for a small fee.
Adding on GreenPower means the company will send renewable energy back to the grid on your behalf. Contrary to popular belief, GreenPower add-ons aren't expensive.
Choosing 100% GreenPower will cost around $150 extra a year.
7. Switch to an electric vehicle
Worried about higher power bills? Some electricity providers have discounted rates for charging your car.
"You can save an average of 17,500kg of carbon, and up to $300 on your annual electricity, by charging your EV with the OVO Drive plan," says OVO CEO Mark Yemm.
A recent report by non-profit group Rewiring Australia found vehicle fuels to be the biggest contributor of household emissions.
Unfortunately, Australia is still lagging behind in the uptake of electric cars. Only 1.5% of all new cars sold last year, or 6,700 of them, were electric, according to the International Energy Agency.
In comparison, Norway's championing the EV revolution with a 77.5% share. Clearly it's time to change this in Australia.
"If you want to compare your current car with an electric vehicle, the Green Vehicle Guide is an excellent resource," says Ben Gribbin, Finder's automobile expert.
"If you don't think an electric car will work for you personally, you can always switch to a mild hybrid or plug-in hybrid, which offers lower emissions than the equivalent non-hybrid internal combustion engine vehicle."
8. Choose a carbon neutral mobile plan
If everything else seems too complicated to action straight away, you could start small by choosing an ethical green telco with sustainable business practices at no extra cost to you.
Belong Mobile, Australia's first certified carbon neutral telco, promises carbon neutrality on all its mobile and Internet plans. It was named Mobile Plan Provider of the Year at the 2021 Finder Green Awards for its work in the sustainability space.
"For Aussies choosing utility providers, it's an incredibly simple but powerful opportunity for them to minimise their own carbon footprint by selecting providers who have committed to carbon-reducing initiatives in their businesses," explains Belong CEO Jana Kotatko.
Prices for Belong's mobile plans start at $25 per month for 20GB. Its cheapest NBN plan costs $60/month for 25Mbps speeds and includes a free mobile SIM with $80 credit.
Similar to Belong, felix's mobile plan is also carbon neutral. It only has one plan to sign up to but it comes with unlimited data that'll cost you only $35 per month.
Although the speeds are capped at 20Mbps, these are good enough for standard streaming and browsing.
9. Opt for greener shopping choices
Research from Finder shows some greener shopping choices can even save you money.
"For example, switching to a planetary diet (more plants, less meat and processed foods) can save you an average of $11,064 over a 6-year period – about $1,844 each year. Meanwhile, a reusable water bottle saves around $950 in 6 years," explains Bradney-George.
"Research aside, I've personally found choosing sustainably-made clothes has saved me hundreds of dollars in the last couple of years.
"But even if a greener choice isn't cheaper, going for that instead of a less sustainable option sends a powerful message to businesses about how we are using our money.
"Just check the credibility of green claims by looking at the certifications or even searching a service like B Corporation to find accredited businesses that are committed to putting the planet and people ahead of profits."
Find out which companies won the 2021 Finder Green Awards if you're ready to start making changes.