climate change

What does a net zero household look like?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been involved in various discussions about whether or not Luton should set a net zero carbon target. If so, what year do we go for? And what do we include – just council operations? Are suppliers included? What’s the role of ordinary citizens in a town’s net zero plans?

Those are all questions for the council to think about, which they have said they will do. But I’ve been wondering what it would mean for a household to set itself a net zero target too. If I’m going to go around calling for one, should I practice what I preach and set myself one too?

Reducing our impact as a family is an ongoing project, and I’ve been sharing some of my targets and progress towards them. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, but pushing on to net zero by 2025 would be an interesting challenge.

The Climate Change Committee detailed what it might look like earlier this year in their report Living Carbon Free. They outline six categories to consider:

  • heat – lower heating need and switching away from gas.
  • transport – reducing distance travelled, switching to public transport and electric cars.
  • electricity – moving to 100% renewable energy.
  • aviation – flying less or not at all.
  • diet – reducing meat and dairy consumption.
  • waste – cutting waste, especially food.

The good news is that the average British household is already headed in the right direction, when you compare 1990 figures with more recent ones. But getting to net zero looks pretty daunting. Here’s how the total average footprint breaks down across those six categories, and how they would need to shrink again:

Note that this isn’t a sketch of a zero carbon household exactly. Net zero implies that there are further reductions elsewhere that reduce overall impact to zero – perhaps reforestation, carbon capture or offsets for example. It’s also based on the government’s plans to hit net zero by 2050 and I’d want to move faster than that.

I’m also struck by the assumptions about aviation in the CCC’s scenario here. They assume that people will keep flying, and thus it will account for 46% of the average household’s CO2 emissions in 2050. Then again, if you’re already committed to not flying, then you can go considerably lower than the CCC’s modeled average.

I’ve got my projects for this year already, but this is a question that I might return to. And I’d be curious to know if anyone else has considered setting themselves a net zero target as a household.


  1. I hope you have taken account of the embodied energy in the devices employed to make your household carbon free.

    1. Most of the transition involves things foregone, and so no embodied emissions. Where devices or materials are needed, I try and source secondhand or recycled materials first. There’s a lot of scrap wood involved in my loft, including my neighbour’s parquet flooring re-purposed as cladding. The insulation is made from recycled plastic bottles.

      Things with larger embodied emissions include the solar panels, and they will pay that off in about three years. The carpet will take longer.

  2. You make me realize how hopeless it presently seems here in incredibly consumptive Northeast America, but you also remind me of what I myself can do (or not do) and keep pushing for. (Or, maybe not every conservation effort is cancelled out immediately!)

  3. Been thinking about this for a while. Asked ecotricity, good energy and Bristol energy about all-biogas tariff.. no luck so far. Have halved consumption in comparison to national figures, much like you. If you export solar and that offsets gas on the margin at about 380g/kWh surei that helps? Or is that just creative accountancy. Don’t know about car and commute … Trying to buy second hand to address scope 3. ps are you speaking at greenbelt?

    1. Yes, Ecotricity are the best you can get on gas and they’re only up to 14% biogas last time I checked. Their first ‘green gas mill’ is still in planning permission four years after it was announced. Slow going.

      Offsetting the gas with solar exports is generally considered a legitimate route to zero carbon I believe. I’m hoping to reduce our gas use further and electrify some heating where I can too.

      Yes, I am speaking at Greenbelt. Lunchtime slot at the Christian Aid tent.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this too recently – we are in rented accommodation so slightly limited (eg no solar panels) but green energy supplier, low waste, low car usage etc… wondering what else practically we can do aside from conserve water and energy, eat more plant-based etc… any tips?

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