Sustainability, Tips, Work

How big is your footprint really?

Your Carbon Footprint that is…

We are proactive in reducing our carbon footprint and being aware of our impact and possibilities to reduce our impact on our environment.  In addition to trying our air travel, through Climate Friendly, and wanted to offset the emissions of our other (essential) emissions-intensive activities.

Climate Friendly works with corporations, businesses and individuals to measure, manage, and offset their carbon footprint, by  providing a quick and easy calculation tool, to take action immediately.  While these tools allow you to calculate offsets for flights, electricity and car travel, we wanted to offset more than those things, so we sent an email to Climate Friendly to see if they could help.  They quickly responded and sent us spreadsheet for us to fill in and  return to them to finish the calculations.

Before we could complete the spreadsheet, we needed obtain certain figures, make calculations and implement procedures to produce more accurate figures — so we thought we’d share how we went about doing it…

The first figure we tackled was our electricity, dividing the KW usage (from our electricity bill) by 5 working days, divided by the staff members.

For paper consumption, we went through our invoices and extracted all paper purchases i.e. A4 80gsm, A4 110gsm, FlipChart per 60gsm etc. worked out an average over the period of time and tracked it in a spreadsheet.

Taxi travel and freight figures were extracted from our cashflow reports from our accounting system.  For paper waste, we didn’t empty our 7 litre recycling bin for 4 weeks and measured how much we filled it for that period.

At the end of the day these figures are not absolute, but by continually measuring our consumption, our hope is that we’ll no longer be grappling for figures, working on guesstimates or making assumptions.  We’ll have a more comprehensive understanding of how big our footprint really is.

Continue reading

Sustainability

Blog Action Day: Climate Change

Today is Blog Action Day and this year’s theme is “climate change”. This post is my contribution, cross-posted on my personal blog.

For those that don’t know, world leaders are meeting in Copenhagen December this year to discuss climate change and their responses to it.

So far we have seen very little from world leaders in terms of real, concrete targets and changes. There is a lot of hope (though dare I say not a lot of expectation) that the Copenhagen talks will result in an updated global agreement that reflects the severity of the situation as outlined by the scientific and economic communities (although Obama’s recent executive order is a positive sign).

It seems that governments the world over are having a deal of trouble committing to targets that are decades away. But I suspect this is part of the problem – the focus on decade long cycles (e.g. “25% by 2020”) needs to shift binding 1 and 5 year targets and plans as well. Whilever plans focus on 10 or 20 years away, action will not be swift. Let’s reduce by 1% this year, an addition 2% next year and soon the totals will add up to the 25%+ that we need to achieve.

To most people it is clear that societally we need to rapidly (i.e. over the next 10 years) reduce carbon emissions across the globe. It is also clear that the costs of acting now will be much lower than later.

To put this into perspective, WWF-Australia recently teamed up with Climate Risk to produce an estimate that places the cost of transforming to a low-carbon economy in Australia at half the cost of the recent economic stimulus package – if we act now. If we allow the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to reach potentially catastrophic levels, the cost will be far, far greater.

Our government and business leaders know this. There is popular support for action. And yet things are still stalled…

What we do know

While there are a lot of unknowns, and acknowledging there is no “silver bullet” solution to reducing carbon emissions, there are a few things that are already underway and with further support will make a significant impact on our emissions.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy systems need to be developed and rapidly deployed to offset coal-based generation. So-called “clean coal” is not a long-term solution, yet it has a medium-term development cycle – the case just doesn’t stack up (you might consider joining GetUp’s “iCoal 2.0” campaign to let our politicians know we know).

Investment needs to be channelled to existing and emerging technologies such as wind, solar, and wave energy. Report after report shows how these, existing, technologies can service our needs. Google has stated that more early stage funding is required. But of course there are myriad ways the government could be supporting the industry – a “real” emissions trading scheme (one that doesn’t let big polluters off the hook) or feed in tariffs are a good start. But even better support for R&D in the area would be welcome.

Alternative fuel vehicles

Alternative fuel vehicles – especially electric vehicles powered by renewable energy – will play a significant role in the short-term transformation of mobility towards low-carbon goals.

It seems that the market has landed on electric vehicles – with the Tesla roadster launched and the Model S on the way in 2011, GM launching the Volt in 2010, followed hotly by the Nissan LEAF late 2012. Nissan’s concept is interesting as they plan to lease the battery – the most expensive component in electric vehicles – to reduce the up-front cost of the technology for buyers.

And of course A Better Place has a novel concept that they hope to launch in Australia, among other countries, soon.

There are longer-term solutions, including re-thinking our cities, something that City of Sydney council seems to be making a lot of noise about with their 2030 Sustainable Sydney plan. But in the short-term cars will be the transport option of choice for many people as our existing infrastructure is geared to best support this mode of mobility.

Energy efficiency

Energy prices will inevitibly increase over time – if not through government levies through geo-political and other factors. In addition, a shift to renewable energy will to an extent require us to be more efficient with our use of energy.

But being more efficient now can also have a significant positive impact by reducing consumption, or maintaining current levels of consumption as population grows, reducing the need for new capacity while new renewable energy capacity enters the mix and some emerging technologies gain a footing.

This is where individual action can make a big difference – if we all choose more efficient appliances, upgrade to more efficient lighting technology, and the like can reduce the need for new capacity, as well as reducing our bills.

Collective action

Over the past few years there’s been a lot of emphasis on individual action – in us as “consumers” playing our part in creating demand and making lifestyle changes. While individual action is important, this will only get us so far.

We need our leaders in government and industry to truly step up to the mark. This is why the Copenhagen agreement is so critical. There will be many, many actions that can be taken in the lead up to the Copenhagen talks – but on this Blog Action Day can I suggest writing or speaking to your federal government representative (you can user OpenAustralia to find out who your rep is) and telling them how important this issue is. Outline the ways that you’re doing your bit, and put forward your ideas about how you want the government to do theirs.

If that’s too much, consider casting your vote with EarthHour, or support an environmentally-focused non-profit who is doing good work in the area.

In either case, let’s give our political leaders the support they need to ensure that we get the right result at Copenhagen.

Business 2.0, Sustainability

Sourcemap

I came across Sourcemap (via FastCompany) the other day – a project by MIT that aims to map out where products come from, down to the material level in some cases. Check out the vid:

Getting Started with Open Supply Chains from Matthew Hockenberry on Vimeo.

From the site:

Sourcemap is a tool for producers, business owners and consumers to understand the impact of supply chains. Our site is a social network where anyone can contribute to a shared understanding of the story behind products.

I’ve long imagined tools like this making it easier for the public and other organisations to both determine the footprint of the products they use, but also to make this information available and learn from others in the process.

Acknowledging that the site is beta and still very early days (and also being a fan of the agile “fail early, learn often” approach) I don’t think the site yet lives up to the stated objective of telling the “story behind products” (such wording evokes images of initiatives such as Patagonia’s ‘The Footprint Chronicles’). That said, it seems to me to be a big step in that direction on a much broader level.

I like the fact that it is, in part, a crowdsourced approach. The QR codes that allow producers to create a URL pointer to the Sourcemap page for a product is also a nice touch – though I’m still not convinced about QR codes (I’ve not had much success using them personally, and the impression I get is that they are far from “mainstream”).

I’m also not sure what the business value for organisations opening up their supply data is – I suspect the emissions calculation aspect of the tool would not be totally sufficient to do so, but it will be interesting to see how the database develops over time. The about page hints that organisations wanting to promote their eco-credentials may also want to use the tool – I think this is probably a stronger “market”, albeit a potentially small one…

There are some parallels here with Nike’s attempt to open up its supply chain as part of their “Considered” product line and philosophy. While I agree with Joel Makower that radical transparency may not save the earth, tools such as Sourcemap will hopefully make it easier for organisations to become more transparent, which is definitely a good thing for customers and the environment, even if it is only part of the puzzle.