Low Carbon Lent - how we got on and what we learnt

4 May 2023

For the second year of Low Carbon Lent, many City Science team members made changes to their lives in order to reduce their carbon footprint over the 40-day period of Lent. We asked them how they got on, and in this blog, we are sharing some of their most interesting learnings…

Background to Low Carbon Lent

The idea for Low Carbon Lent came from our CEO Laurence, and it is an attempt to encourage individuals to take action on climate change. The logic is that it might be easier for people to change by lowering the bar to a temporary commitment only… and the hope is that once they’d made the change, they might stick with it after Lent. As a data-driven organisation, we need to stress this was an unscientific experiment with a very small sample, but we think the experiences people had are genuinely interesting and worth sharing…

What did people do for Low Carbon Lent?

  • Grace committed to buying seasonal fruit and veg wherever possible and only purchasing second-hand clothes
  • Joe committed to investigating low-carbon protein alternatives to meat, primarily by switching between days of veggie and vegan diets
  • Kerensa committed to only buying seasonal vegetables and cooking one vegan meal for friends every week
  • Bethany committed to switching to a plant-based diet and posting her meals on Instagram
  • Simon committed to giving up sugar
  • Jade committed to organising or attending a beach clean, selling/giving away clothes, looking into her nearest Zero Waste store and exploring what packaging-free foods can be sourced, and utilising the Community Fridge
  • Gavin committed to giving up coffee and social media (professional LinkedIn not included), using public transport for all work trips, investigating running / cycling to the nearest train station, and planting five new trees in the garden
  • Laurence committed to giving up coffee, tea AND chocolate
  • Heather committed to starting to move from a vegetarian to a vegan diet
  • Phoebe and her partner committed to going vegan
  • Chloe committed to having two vegetarian meals a week
  • Elliot committed to assessing and changing his pension providers to those that invest in green energy / sustainability, and to creating no household consumable food waste (e.g. using up everything bought)

How did it go and waht did they learn?

Here is a selection of some of the team’s updates on how they found Low Carbon Lent… in their own words…


'Overall, I’ve really enjoyed taking my individual commitments to the next level. An unexpected positive is that it’s brought me more into the local community. From the beach clean, tree planting, chatting to the owner of the zero waste store and attending a local clothes swap, I’ve spoken to so many llike-minded people that I’d never have met without making my LCL commitments.

Facing the climate crisis for 8 hours a day can be harrowing at times, so it’s been encouraging to speak to others that are actively fighting for the cause and making a difference.One highlight from Low Carbon Lent was attending a beach clean in Dawlish. Promisingly, there wasn’t much rubbish that day, but we still collected 11kg as a group! My haul most noticeably included a saddening volume of cigarette butts. It was a lovely experience that only took 1.5h out of my weekend and enabled me to connect with nature. You’d be surprised how much more you notice in the sand when you are scrutinising the beach for things that shouldn’t be there. We found fish eggs, all different types of seaweed, crab legs and part of a lobster. A second activity (as I felt a bit bad for not organising my own beach clean) was volunteering as a tree planter on Dartmoor.'


'Replacing meat was easier than expected, but cutting out dairy products like cheese and eggs was tough. I missed fish a lot, too. My advice if you're planning on going vegan: research meals and ingredients beforehand! It was difficult to eat on the go without prior planning because most shops and restaurants still fail to offer any alternative vegan options let alone choice! Also, I am still bewildered that palm oil is a part of the vegan diet.

While it was a great experience,I have to be honest and say that I'll be incorporating meat, fish and dairy back into my diet for protein purposes. I should be eating 120g of protein a day and want to make sure it's locally sourced where possible. However, this experience taught me to be more conscious of my decisions around food and my carbon footprint. I'll be keeping an eye out on certain ingredients, labels, and packaging when food shopping, but my first step is to visit Swansea Market this weekend. Excited to see what local produce I can find!'


'What I found was that my perceptions completely shifted after Low Carbon Lent:

  • I ordered a good coffee from a really good place. But after 42 days without it, it just tasted like bitter milk. I felt like I needed a glass of water to actually refresh me.
  • I used to love tea, but that cup of Earl Grey just tasted like eating a flower.
  • Chocolate was great, but it was so so sweet - far sweeter than I remember.

40 days without these things changed my palette - they tasted completely different.So what happens now?

My previous 10-a-day habit translated into the same carbon footprint as owning a small car and easily cost upwards of £400 a year. I’m pretty sure today I won’t be going back to that. As I said in my new years blog “perception is a peculiar thing and how we perceive the world is not fixed. In fact, how we perceive the world is very much dependent on our experiences of the recent past.”

40 days is all it takes to make meaningful change. What can you try to reduce your carbon footprint?'


'I investigated trying to maintain a high-protein diet suitable for strength or endurance training, whilst flipping between vegetarian and vegan diets, which naturally avoid the most carbon-intensive protein sources: meat and dairy.I found that maintaining a high protein intake was relatively easy under the vegetarian diet, mostly due to high-protein yogurt and traditional whey protein powder, but was shocked to find that these dairy proteins are worse in terms of carbon emissions (on a per unit of protein basis) than some meats such as chicken.

The vegan regime was much more difficult, though it is entirely possible to maintain a high-protein diet, it just requires an extra level of effort. Along the way, I tried out a whole manner of weird and wonderful alternative low-carbon protein sources such as insects and algae. Roasted crickets (at a whopping 44% protein) were a winner. But of Spirulina (algae), I was not so keen.'


As I am already vegan, I decided to try and make my diet even more sustainable by only buying seasonal fruit and vegetables. I also attempted to extend my impact to those around me, by cooking one meal for some non-vegan friends every week.I found eating seasonally extremely educational, it made me realise how disconnected we are from the source of our food. Being able to access any food you like, from anywhere in the world, has become scarily normalised and is obviously incredibly unsustainable.Although it was challenging at first, it ended up being lots of fun and I cooked some delicious meals for my housemates. One of my housemates has actually gone vegan as a result!

So, same again next year?

Overall we are really encouraged by the results of the second year of Low Carbon Lent. As well as the City Science team, we are aware of a number of other people who followed our lead and did their own Low Carbon Lents with positive results.

The bottom line is that we need change urgently at all levels - from governments and organisations of all sizes but also from individuals. Change is hard and we believe getting people to try a change for a limited period (eg Lent) might be a better way of getting them to do something that actually sticks long-term.

That said, it also became clear that knowing what to change and which options are really better can quickly become very difficult and better information is urgently needed. We’ll be working on this and will definitely be back for a bigger and better Low Carbon Lent Challenge next year.

Find out more on the Low Carbon Lent website.