By Miranda Glasbergen

As climate activists, we reduce our own carbon footprint by driving and flying less, turning off the lights, and eating less meat. But do you ever consider the climate impact of other consumption habits? With the shopping season upon us, let’s take a look at three examples: our clothes, our electronic devices, and our online habits.


According to the United Nations, the fashion industry alone accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. Let that number sink in for a minute. Astonishingly, our clothes and shoes consume more energy than aviation and shipping combined. But of course, we donate our old clothes to a thrift store, so they’ll have another useful life, right? Maybe. The EPA estimates that some 85% of unwanted clothes become trash – not another (wo)man’s treasure. That’s no surprise if you consider that we now buy 5 times (!) as many clothes as we did in 1980. Meanwhile, only 28% of people donate their old clothes, and only 7% of us actually buy used clothes. Still want to look cute? Visit your local thrift shop or consignment store…

A pile of discarded clothing

Fast fashion is a major contributor to carbon emissions


Our electronic devices are rapidly becoming another major surprise contributor. The entire ICT industry’s contribution to our global carbon footprint was only 1% in 2007, but is expected to reach 3.5% by 2020 and a scary 14% by 2040. A big share of this energy use comes not from the use of our devices but from their production. Especially the mining of materials that go into our electronic devices requires huge amounts of energy (as well as causing pollution and inhumane working conditions). Still need a phone? Maybe hang on to your old one for an extra year or two. And definitely donate or recycle those old electronics!


The least visible source of GHG emissions that nevertheless really adds up is our use of online data. All our emails and text messages, all our social media posts, streaming all those funny cat videos and Game of Thrones reruns, as well as this blog and the articles on which it is based rely on server farms that are extremely energy-intensive. How bad is it? In 2018, the carbon emissions from global video traffic alone was roughly equivalent to the entire emission of a country the size of Spain. And with many people dropping cable TV for streaming video, it will get much worse.

What to do?
  •       As the saying goes: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.
  •       If you must buy, make a thrift or consignment store your first option.
  •       Instead of Black Friday, think “Friday for Future”.
  •       Use the 350 Colorado Holiday Gift Guide, in our December Newsletter!
Sources and more information