What is ‘climate shadow’?

climate shadow

As awareness of climate change grows, so does the understanding that our environmental impact extends beyond our immediate actions. Coined by climate journalist Emma Pattee, the concept of a ‘climate shadow’ offers a more comprehensive perspective on how our choices and lifestyle influence the environment. 

This broader approach encourages individuals to consider their overall impact on climate change and take proactive steps to promote sustainability. Continue reading as we explore this new concept, providing practical tips for driving meaningful sustainability management and lasting environmental change. 

Definition of ‘climate shadow’

Coined by climate journalist Emma Pattee in 2021, the term ‘climate shadow refers to the comprehensive impact an individual’s actions and lifestyle have on the environment, extending beyond the commonly discussed carbon footprint. 

In an article, Pattee described it as “a dark shape stretching out behind you. Everywhere you go, it goes too, tallying not just your air conditioning use and the gas mileage of your car, but also how you vote, how many children you choose to have, where you work, how you invest your money, how much you talk about climate change, and whether your words amplify urgency, apathy, or denial.” 

While the carbon footprint measures direct emissions from activities such as driving a car or heating a home, the climate shadow encompasses indirect effects and broader influences on climate change. This includes aspects like consumer choices, political engagement, advocacy for climate policies, investment decisions, and even social media presence that can shape public opinion and drive systemic change. 

Top tips to reduce one’s ‘climate shadow’

Reducing your climate shadow involves making mindful choices that extend beyond your immediate carbon footprint to influence broader societal and environmental outcomes. Here are some tips to help reduce your climate shadow. 

Advocate for climate policies

Support and vote for candidates and policies that prioritise climate action. Engage with your local representatives to advocate for sustainable policies and regulations. Moreover, get involved in your local community. Join or support local environmental groups and initiatives. Participate in community clean-ups, tree planting, and other activities that promote sustainability.

Sustainable consumer choices

Purchase products from companies committed to sustainable practices. This includes choosing environmentally friendly products, goods with minimal packaging, and buying second-hand items. You can also minimise waste by adopting the three Rs. Opt for reusable items, repair instead of replace, and recycle as much as possible. 

Influence your workplace

Advocate for sustainable practices in your workplace, such as reducing paper use, implementing recycling programmes, and encouraging the use of energy-efficient appliances. Encourage the adoption of sustainable transport such as carpooling, biking, walking, or using public transportation. If possible, propose telecommuting or flexible work arrangements to reduce commuting emissions.

Financial decisions

Invest in companies and funds that prioritise ESG criteria. Divest from industries that contribute heavily to pollution and carbon emissions. Choose banks and financial institutions that support green initiatives and sustainable projects.

Education and awareness

Educate yourself and others about climate change and sustainable practices. Use social media and other platforms to spread information and encourage climate-positive actions. Demonstrate sustainable living in your everyday life. Simple actions, such as reducing energy consumption at home, using renewable energy sources, and conserving water, can inspire others to follow suit.

Dietary changes

Reduce meat and dairy consumption, as these have high carbon footprints. Incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet to lower your overall environmental impact. Choose locally produced and organic foods to reduce the environmental costs associated with transportation and chemical use.

Travel and transportation

Limit air travel and opt for virtual meetings when possible. When travel is necessary, consider carbon offset programmes to mitigate the impact. If you need a car, consider electric or hybrid options that have lower emissions compared to traditional vehicles.


Understanding and reducing our climate shadow is crucial for fostering a sustainable future. The climate shadow concept challenges us to think holistically about our actions and their ripple effects on the planet. 

Embracing this comprehensive view not only promotes greater accountability but also empowers us to use our influence in various spheres to drive systemic change and contribute to the fight against climate change.

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