Having examined the ways that we’ve already saved energy in our workplace, we’ve come to the hard part – looking at our remaining carbon footprint. Calculating this hasn’t been easy. There have been frustrations along the way, and some lessons learned.
Cars and space turned out to be our biggest challenges. We calculated our work-related driving to cost 4.8 metric tonnes (mT) of CO2e per year. John commutes on foot or by bike, but still needs to drive to site visits, client meetings, etc. – and since he stopped flying for business purposes, some of those client meetings in the BC interior entailed a lot of driving. He minimized the latter by combining vacation travel with as many client visits along the route as possible, and succeeded in cutting his mileage slightly from 2015 to 2016. The rest of us tried to find viable alternatives to driving to the office. We were faced with the complexities of family needs (small children with different schools), distance (one staffer lives in Cumberland), and a two-job schedule for one of us. We were frustrated by the lack of timely and comprehensive public transit routes to make it all work. This isn’t a mere excuse; we’ve lived happily car-less in larger centres where frequent and affordable bus and metro services existed, along with extensive bike paths. In spite of the excellent work by local transit activists, the Comox Valley has a way to go in this regard.
At 543 square feet, our office is by no means large. Still, we’ve tried to limit our hydro usage through various means: LED lights, appliances unplugged and computers off when not in use, turning down the heat at night, etc. Our records showed that we’d gone from an average hydro bill of $24 per month in 2012 to $29 in 2015. Factoring in a rate hike and the fact that our staff doubled last year, we felt that $28 per month in 2016 represented a decent net reduction in usage. But then there was the question of embodied energy in the building itself, something beyond our control. We found that several online calculators factored this into our footprint, but they didn’t agree on the value. Short of hiring a consultant at some expense, there was no way to guarantee the accuracy of the available data, especially with sites whose purpose is to sell carbon credits to users. Could their numbers be inflated? We finally settled on a credible-looking Swiss site that tallied our embodied carbon plus hydro usage at 3 mT of CO2e per year. We would love to have had access to a comprehensive, freely-accessible, online calculator that is geared specifically to Canadian users and based on hard science. Given that the country is still recovering from Stephen Harper’s attack on climate science, this remains but a dream. It bears noting that in the US, the EPA does provide this online tool at present, but there’s no guarantee that the new administration there will provide the means to keep it in place. Such are the times.
There’s a carbon cost to using professional services – accountancy, banking, legal, and the like – so we set out to calculate this. We learned (again, through Mike Berners-Lee) that professional advice generally costs about 160 g of CO2e per Pound, or $1.66 in Canadian dollars. From this, we were able to derive that the accounting fees we paid in 2016 had a carbon cost of 0.235 mT. Banks don’t publish a breakdown of their emissions in their annual reports, so these remain unaccounted for.
We’ve talked about the energy savings that we’ve realized in several other areas, such as computers, phones, and couriers, but still need to address the remaining cost of usage. This includes the following: incoming email; (fair trade) coffee, tea, and the water for brewing them; our three iMacs and two laptops (the latter costing half the energy of the desktops); our landline phones; and the small costs of a bit of printing and bike courier usage. All of this adds up to 2.6 mT of CO2e per year, bringing our overall footprint to just under 10.8 mT annually (we’ve attached a Gower Design carbon worksheet showing the unrounded figures).
According to myclimate.org, the average footprint for a company of our size is 21.0 mT, almost double our total emissions. So we’re not doing too badly, but we’re still far from carbon-neutral. What would we need to achieve that goal? Here’s a short wish list:
- A commitment by our federal government to create an online, free carbon calculator or database based on current science, providing all of us with more accurate data
- More affordable and efficient public transit, with routes that allow people to get to and from work without spending several hours per day en route (in a community the size of ours, this shouldn’t be necessary)
- An increase in the stock of energy-efficient commercial premises for businesses of all sizes
- City-wide recycling and composting pickup (the latter can be problematic, but a central composting drop-off site might be feasible)
- Annual reports by large service providers (banks, for starters) that reveal the true carbon cost per dollar of doing business with them
- More tax incentives for individuals, families and businesses who are trying to reduce their energy use
- Greater penalties for those (especially large corporations) who aren’t really trying
According to our go-to source, Mike Berners-Lee, spending one dollar for rain forest preservation saves 0.22 mT of carbon. That means that we’d have to spend $48.85 to offset our remaining footprint of 10.75 mT of CO2e. We’re happy to multiply that figure and send a cheque off to the Cumberland Community Forest Society, the good people working to preserve our precious local rainforest. In months to come, we’ll work harder to cut our own consumption even further. So ends our year-long sustainability quest – but really, it’s just another beginning.
If you feel inspired to take a look at your own carbon footprint, here are a few resources to get you going:
Mike Berners-Lee, ‘How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything’ (2011). An excellent book that kick-started our journey into all this stuff.
https://co2.myclimate.org/en/company_calculators/new . A user-friendly online carbon calculator provided free by the Swiss-based organization MyClimate. Buying offsets is optional. There are any number of similar tools online, with greater or lesser degrees of detail — see below.
https://www.inverse.com/article/23122-best-carbon-footprint-calculators . Jacqueline Ronson, ‘3 Carbon Footprint Calculators That Don’t Completely Suck’ (2016). This short piece looks at some of the challenges of trying to find your footprint, and points toward a few reliable and free resources online.