14 January 2008

Everyone Has Suggestions For Carbon First Steps

Ten things you can do now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

  1. Lights--Turn off lights when you aren't using them. Motion-sensitive switches can help. Replace incandescents with compact fluorescents.

  2. Transport--Take fewer trips; combine trips. Drive easy (no need to roar away from the light). Drive at the most efficient speed on the highway (probably 55-65 miles per hour). Check tire pressures weekly. Observe service intervals. Substitute shared transport (bus, train, streetcar, carpool) for some trips.

  3. Heating/Cooling--Set thermostat lower when heating, higher when cooling. Open windows when appropriate for fresh air rather than relying on air conditioning. Service heating and cooling equipment to maintain efficiency. Attend to weatherstripping, etc.

  4. Reduce Waste--Keep things like paper and cardboard out of landfills by recycling (or just not using as much). Reduce use of paper in the office (print less; use both sides). Especially don't send food scraps, garden waste etc. to landfills. If your town doesn't collect them separately for composting, lobby to have them do so.

  5. Government--Write your public officials--Let them know they should do something serious about greenhouse gas emissions. Inform yourself on the issue so they can't fool you.

  6. Air Travel--Take fewer plane rides. Try not to take a plane for a trip less than 600 miles. Use web tools for some distance meetings.

  7. Standby--Unplug power adapters and chargers when you aren't actually using them. Turn electronic devices all the way off by unplugging or turning off power strip. At least turn your monitor off when your computer is off (if you can see a little yellow light it is still sucking power).

  8. ENERGY STAR--Look for the ENERGY STAR symbol when you buy new appliances or electronics.

  9. Hot Water--Reduce your use of water heated with fossil fuels. This means washing clothes in cold water, fixing leaks, and taking shorter showers. Consider a low-flow shower head.

  10. Meat--This one is more controversial, but livestock production does account for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. Just reducing the amount of meat we eat could (beef especially) cut our carbon footprints by half a ton or more.
If you take action in these ten areas you probably can reduce your carbon footprint by 25%. That still leaves a lot more to go. Per-capita greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries have to decline by about 90%.

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19 December 2007

How Much CO2 Does My Company Emit?

Get started reducing greenhouse gases

Last year the U.S. emitted seven billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent). You could allocate most of that to each of us as consumers (as is done by the carbon footprint calculator in this post). After all, most of it was generated while making and delivering things for consumers. Consumer choices clearly affect global warming pollution.

On the other hand, most of those emissions were produced by industrial and commercial activities. About 1.2 billion tonnes were generated by energy use in residences, and probably another half-billion tonnes by non-commercial transportation (travel by consumers that wasn't commuting to work).

Of the 7 billion tonnes CO2e the U.S. poured out last year, about 5.4 billion was emitted by businesses, offices, factories, farms, commercial transportation, and related business activities. (This does not include the indirect emissions associated with imported products or raw materials.) U.S. businesses had about 136.7 million employees in 2006, so that's roughly 40 tonnes per employee. You can do a first approximation of your firm's emissions.

40 tonnes CO2e per employee

These emissions came mainly from the following sources associated with your business:
  • Generation and delivery, or on-site generation of electricity, steam and process heat you used in your operations, including offices and production.
  • Transportation used by your employees to get to and from their jobs.
  • Energy embodied in water, paper and other supplies used at your facilities.
  • Combustion of liquid fuels at your sites.
  • Delivery of raw materials to your facilities.
  • Distribution of finished products to your customers.
  • Emissions from waste from your offices and production sites.
  • Business travel by your employees, including sales calls.
The exact mix of where CO2e is emitted in your business requires some analysis. You also want to identify "low hanging fruit"--energy uses where reducing CO2e emissions is easy. There are consultants who can help you do this, and we are compiling a list. But in the meantime you might try this walkthrough approach outlined by The Carbon Trust (pdf from The Carbon Trust site; copy on our site).

Often the wasted energy spotted in such a walkthrough can amount to 10-20% of total energy use in a building. That goes to the bottom line. And it reduces greenhouse gas emissions immediately. These early savings may pay for professional assistance with more complicated analysis. You're on your way.

17 December 2007

A Better Carbon Calculator For Households

Try out this home carbon footprint calculator

This calculator has several advantages over others we have seen:
  • It combines several sources of greenhouse gas emissions (home, food, vehicles, etc.) so you don't have to add them up manually.
  • It is suitably "flashy".
  • It tallies indirect as well as direct emissions.
  • It provides instant comparison of your greenhouse gas impact with both the average American and the average Earthling.
Access the calculator here. Don't forget to come back.

The "U.S. Average" metric tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases shown at the bottom of the calculator (about 49 tonnes) is different from the 24 tonnes per capita CO2e shown on our earlier calculator page. This Consumer Footprint Calculator figures emissions for the whole household (average 2.6 people). This is different from per capita (per individual).

This calculator will give you a different result from the "simple carbon footprint calculator" partly because it includes more activities (counting the carbon cost of food, for example). It also includes the indirect carbon costs of activities. So instead of just counting the CO2 produced when you burn gasoline in your car, it also includes the equivalent of the greenhouse gasses emitted extracting and transporting the oil that gasoline was made from, refining it into gas, and transporting it to a gas station.

Here is a chart from a report by the developer of this calculator showing the importance of indirect emissions:

chart of ghg emissions typical family including indirect ones
We are looking for better footprint calculators. Stay tuned.

EPA fact sheet on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (pdf)

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Should You Carbon-Label Your Products?

Does Carbon Labelling Reduce Carbon Emissions?

proposed carbon trust labelLabeling products with information about how much greenhouse gas was emitted in the product's production, processing and distribution is at a very early stage of development. It is a huge commitment of resources to develop an accurate analysis for even one product.

Consumers do not seem to understand the carbon labels that have been piloted. They may be more misleading than helpful, even assuming they can be made accurate.

For example, Boots the Chemists developed a carbon footprint analysis for one of its brands of shampoo indicating that 160 grams of greenhouse gases were released in its manufacture (including the manufacture of its ingredients and packaging) and distribution. However, the consumer is going to take it home and cause the emission of kilograms of CO2 every time he or she uses the product. The carbon cost of heating water for the shower dwarfs the carbon cost of the blob of shampoo used (actually, of its packaging--that's the carbon-intensive part). Even if you rinse and repeat.

Carbon labeling may make the consumer feel better, just like labeling your product as made from hemp and/or bamboo, which the consumer somehow feels are environmentally friendly materials. It is more a part of image management than of carbon management.

Better to look at your operations and improve energy and materials efficiency.

Keep in mind this possibility: After you go to all the trouble and expense of measuring carbon costs and labelling your products, will your carbon labels compare favorably with those of your competitors? There are some strategic questions here about how green you can get compared to competitors, and whether it makes sense to compete on that basis when consumers can see actual numbers.

If consumers do learn to look for carbon labels, will they become a marketing advantage? This will favor large companies, since it may cost tens of millions to develop, calculate, and apply such labels to a range of products. In the long run such labels may become as common as nutrition labels are today--indeed much more common since they could be applied to all products. They might even come to be required, as nutrition labels are. However, that is decades in the future.

That said, the type of life-cycle analysis of products undertaken to develop carbon labels could be very useful to a company as it identifies high-leverage points for carbon reduction. In the case of Boots' shampoo mentioned above, the analysis suggested incorporating recycled PET into the bottles, and adopting reusable plastic bins rather than cardboard cartons for bulk distribution to stores, and other distribution improvements. These changes reduced the life-cycle (not counting consumer use) carbon emissions of the shampoo by 20%.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% is a substantial win, if it can be replicated at reasonable cost. But the label itself is not necessary to achieve this.

For more information about the carbon labelling issue check these links:

Carbon Trust launches Carbon Reduction Label
Tesco to 'carbon label' its products
Tesco briefing paper (pdf) by UK Energy Research Centre
CarbonCounted's alternative system

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14 December 2007

You And Your Family Can Cut Carbon Emissions at Home

How you can cut your greenhouse gas output

There are many sites with lists of wonderful things you can do to reduce your personal carbon footprint. (Save and reuse shopping bags, for example.) Unfortunately many of those suggestions will make next to no difference at all in the quantity of greenhouse gases you and your family produce in and around your home. Recycling, for example, is fine--but it will make hardly any difference in your carbon footprint. You have got to do things that really matter.

The three steps toward a reduced-CO2 home

  1. Contact your representatives in national, regional and local government and make clear to them that you feel global climate disruption is a serious problem. Keep contacting them. Vote to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It's the only way. Do not neglect this vital step.
  2. Do an energy audit of your home. Your utility can recommend an auditor or you can do it yourself with online tools like The Home Energy Saver. This will provide a baseline and suggest actions you can take.
  3. Start making improvements. This is especially important when planning renovations or buying new appliances. The average home generates about four tonnes of CO2 per person living there, but a lot depends on where it is and what kind of home it is (size, age, construction, multifamily or singlefamily etc.) You will probably be able to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions from your home by 10-30%.

Other things to consider

  • Buy "green tags" to help fund the development of renewable power sources. This will not reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. It is more like a donation, a voluntary tax.
  • Purchase "carbon offsets" to fund new power sources and mitigation projects. But these won't cut your CO2 output.
  • Check with your utility and see if you can pay a higher rate to encourage the development of additional renewable sources. Again, your carbon footprint remains the same. Here is a state-by-state list of such programs.
  • Don't complain when utilities raise rates when "cap and trade" systems or carbon taxes are implemented. You will finally be paying closer to what the power you use costs the planet. You probably pay for garbage collection and sewer systems--why should you continue to use the atmosphere as a sewer for the CO2 your power consumption entails? Making these costs explicit is what is going to help us avoid climate catastrophe.
  • Think about eating less meat, especially beef and pork. I haven't done the math on this but the energy costs of raising and processing meat animals and transporting the meat to you is substantial. (One study suggested that the meat portion of the average American diet adds 1.5 tonnes of CO2e compared to a vegetarian diet. I am looking into this more.)
  • Realize that where you live and how big your home is has profound effects on your carbon footprint. A typical home in Cambridge, Mass., Des Moines, Iowa, or Phoenix, Arizona generates almost three times as much CO2 as an average home in San Francisco.

Visualize a world in 2050 producing less than half the greenhouse gases we do today. Visualize developed countries producing 15% of what they emit today.

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13 December 2007

Businesses Must Reduce Their Carbon Footprints

Carbon choices for businesses

If you want to make your business greener, and reduce the quantity of greenhouse gases your operations generate, here are four simple steps:
  1. Commit yourself to reduce your own carbon emissions. Or do you believe that you have a superior right to pollute? If so I'd like to introduce you to 1.3 billion annoyed Chinese.
  2. Get your employees on a path to reduced carbon emissions. Lead, encourage, teach, incentivize, and set a good example. Walk the walk. Set the tone. Provide support (including some of the tools that will be available on this site). Maybe even measure performance. How come the "employee of the month" always gets a special parking space? Why not a transit pass? Rewarding driving and parking sends the wrong signal.
  3. Squeeze energy out of your operations. Make life cycle energy efficiency a key metric in every management decision. What can you outsource to places where energy overhead is lower? Is carbon footprint and emission reduction part of your bonus and performance criteria? Do a detailed energy audit. Analyze fleet operations, scheduling, and load factors. Evaluate facility retrofits for carbon impact and payback. Many proven technologies are available.
  4. Reduce carbon emissions in your supply chain. What are the life-cycle carbon impacts of your products? Are there alternatives or alternative suppliers who can do better? Calculate carbon costs of sourcing decisions. How have other companies done it? In the long run maybe tally a second bottom line for greenhouse gas emissions?

The goal of this site: to make this easier

We will be assembling tools, recommendations, and functions to help businesses make meaningful carbon-management decision. Many of the "greening the supply chain" resources do not focus on greenhouse gas emissions but deal with other environmental or regulatory compliance issues. A lot of the ideas out there are snake oil. Do you want to feel good, look good, or do good? I know that is a tough question. At least we will be able to point you to resources that will help you make informed decisions.

Visualize a world in 2050 producing less than half the greenhouse gases we do today. Visualize developed countries producing 15% of what they emit today.

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11 December 2007

Simple Carbon Footprint Calculator

Estimate your greenhouse gas emissions

There are many carbon footprint calculators accessible on the web. It is best to use one customized for your country, state, or location. To be able to accurately estimate emissions for different locations, patterns of use, and utilities these calculators access extensive databases of energy prices, carbon intensity of energy production, typical energy use by households and other factors.

This is a simple calculator provided by Prairie Tree Project. It uses U.S. national averages and so gives rough approximations. We hope to have a more sophisticated calculator available soon, and calculators for businesses, commercial buildings and events.

Click here to go to calculator. It is too wide to fit this format.

Update: We have found a better, though more complicated calculator--see this post.

Now compare your emissions with those of others, and with the global per-capita targets we will have to reach by 2030.

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