At our small office, the quest for carbon neutrality continues, and what a complex task it’s proving to be! We’d agreed that the first and most obvious step would be to calculate our current footprint. This would give us a baseline against which to measure our progress over the remainder of the year. Hiring a consulting firm to come in and do the job seemed costly, so we decided to do as much research as we could to come up with a baseline ourselves. This is proving to be easier said than done.
There are lots of carbon calculators to be found online; however, they vary widely in their accuracy. Some will give a very rough “guesstimate” based on only a few of the more obvious inputs (e.g., heating bill + car travel + air travel). Others are more comprehensive – pages long, and they ask for a LOT of detail. Not only must you determine the average weight of the trash you discard weekly, but the composition of that detritus must be broken down into metal, plastic, paper, other organics, etc. and recorded as percentages of the whole. And that’s just one example.
To complicate things further, different calculators use different metrics, units of measure, or conversion factors. Do you know how many kilometres you travel in a year, or do you need to quantify the volume of gas that you use? Does the calculator use standard or metric units? If an energy consumption conversion factor is involved, is it valid for Canada? You get the picture. In the end, we’d probably have to use a mash-up of various sources to come up with our own numbers.
We scrutinized our work-related travel using the past year’s mileage log and a simple calculator (found at http://www.naturalezaycultura.org/concept/htm/calculator-business.htm). Of the three of us, one lives close to the office but has to drive to some meetings and build sites. The other two only have to drive to and from work. With no reduction in the existing pattern, we’d be looking at around 12,880 km or roughly 8,000 miles. The average combined fuel efficiency of our three cars (which vary based on age, make and model) is 23 mpg. The online calculator tells us that our combined carbon footprint from work-related travel is 3.22 metric tons per year.
John walks or cycles between home and office, and work from home is an option that’s often available to at least one of us. Other options are cutting down to one car per household and doing car-sharing. It goes without saying that we avoid driving for short errands, many of which can be done along the route home. While we do what we can to minimize car travel, it remains a necessary evil until better public transit is in place that allows us to go everywhere in a timely way. On a more positive note, we have zero impact from air travel, since John maintains a mostly-local clientele and works with off-Island clients electronically. Cutting out flying, according to many sources, is still the single biggest change, by far, that you can make to reduce your carbon load.
To see how different modes of travel compare, have a look at this: Week 2 carbon footprint table