Along with nutrition, living has the greatest impact on the environment. Thus consumers can have a major influence on their personal environmental impact by being aware about their living habits.
The choice of a location for your home is the first important decision. People who opt to live in apartments or houses in a city, do not usually consume additional productive land. The distances they have to travel to the workplace are usually shorter and the journeys can be made using public transport. The same applies for shopping and leisure activities. In contrast, if people require more space and the distances they travel– possibly also by car – are longer, living in green areas does not always equate with being ‘green’.
The choice of an apartment or house is the second most important decision. A large part of the Swiss housing stock was constructed in the post-war period. Little attention was paid to energy consumption until the 1980s, and it was only in the 1990s that energy-efficient construction became a conscious objective with the implementation of the Minergie low-energy consumption standard for buildings. The energy requirements of the cantonal building regulations have also been gradually tightened up since then. If you move into a new building, you can generally expect lower energy costs. When moving into older buildings, people can also find out whether windows and doors have been replaced with more energy-efficient versions and whether the façade insulation has been upgraded. Moreover, single-family detached homes usually consume more energy than multiple dwelling units. And people who would like to upgrade their buildings themselves can obtain support from the federal and cantonal authorities, for example under the provisions of the Buildings Programme.
Construction clients can also influence the selection of building materials. In recent years, Swiss wood experience a major boost as a building material. It is Switzerland’s most important renewable raw material, requires very little grey energy, stores CO2 and thus protects the climate. However, numerous other building materials are now also produced in a way that conserves natural resources as much as possible. Construction clients now have a wide choice of resource-conserving products for building and insulation materials, for the materials used in the construction of roofs and façades, and for paints and floor coverings.
People’s space requirements have a considerable influence on their environmental impact. The space required by Swiss people has increased steadily over many decades. However, it has been possible to halt this trend in the towns and cities, and even reverse it in the major cities. Whatever the location, the same principle applies: the more square metres used, the greater the environmental impact. So when children move away from home, for example, parents could consider whether a smaller home would not be sufficient for their needs.
Energy consumption is often defined for decades through the choice of heating system. Oil-powered heating generates huge emissions of the greenhouse gas CO2. For this reason, it is already banned in some countries, for example Denmark. Natural gas heating systems offer a more climate-friendly substitute because they emit less CO2. Fossil fuels can be avoided completely using a heat pump. However, it is usually only possible for house owners and not tenants to select their own heating system.
People can now reduce their footprints through their choice of energy supplier. Energy companies now supply electricity from renewable sources, in most cases for a small premium on top of the standard price. House owners can install solar systems on their roofs. Some communal energy companies also offer tenants the option of participating in the use of solar-powered systems.
When it comes to energy, in particular, residents have a major influence on consumption. This starts with the purchase of household appliances and electronic devices. The fridge, washing machine and dishwasher account for 43 percent of the electricity consumption of the average household. Lighting consumes a further 14 percent – the use of LED bulbs also has an impact on electricity consumption – and consumer electronics and computers consume a further 10 percent. Hence it is worth taking a look at the energy labels on such appliances and devices.
A little more thought when it comes to individual behaviour can achieve a lot. The yoghurt in the fridge does not have to be cooled down to zero degrees. The washing machine and dishwasher do not have to be run when half empty. The television can be switched off when nobody is watching it. All appliances and devices do not have to be on ‘stand by’ and all lights to not have to be on at all time. Networked solutions now exist with which can be used to control some or all of the household electrical systems and devices.
The greatest impact can be achieved with heating. There is no need to heat your home to a temperature of 24 degrees Celsius in winter. If you life in a ‘Minergie’ building, you can rely on the automatic ventilation system. Otherwise; short strong blasts of fresh air are better than leaving windows open or tilted for longer periods of time. Hot water consumption is also in the hands of residents: in general, if you are more aware about the way you live, you can limit your environmental consumption without diminishing your quality of life and living conditions.