In January of last year, inspired by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, our office took on the challenge of trying to achieve carbon neutrality. We read articles, books and blogs; investigated various carbon footprint calculators available online; examined our own consumption habits; and mulled over possible strategies. It was clear that a perfect tally of our energy use would be impossible, since the carbon footprint of goods and services extends back through infinite steps in the production and transport chain. We agreed to work with best estimates using a variety of reliable sources online and in print, starting with the excellent book “How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything” by Mike Berners-Lee. We also decided to forego hiring a consultant, preferring to hack this thing on our own, thereby deepening our own knowledge in the process.
That year came and went quickly. Now it was time to quantify those energy savings, and figure out where there remained work to be done. Originally, we’d hoped to post quarterly report cards, but that proved difficult to produce at the time so we’ll offer several now in short order. It’s taken some time to collect, sort and crunch the data, but the good news is that we started with a fairly decent baseline by having reduced waste in a number of areas before this project even began.
Over the past few years, we’d replaced outgoing paper mail with email and electronic invoicing. We’d requested that our vendors do the same, reducing the reported average of incoming mail from 5 pieces a day to 1 or 2 pieces per week. (Postal services comprise the bulk of the energy use in these transactions.) In addition, we’d cut way back on in-house printing. Surveys done in the UK and US report that the average office employee uses about 10,000 sheets of print/copy paper per year, the equivalent of two full cartons. We estimated that with just a few easy tweaks, the four of us use, at most, about 2000 sheets per year in total – a savings of about 95% of our potential paper use. In addition, disposable paper products had already been banished from kitchen and bathroom (except for toilet paper, a non-negotiable item for the foreseeable future). And we’ve saved at least half of the water normally boiled up for coffee and tea by only heating as much water as is needed per brew.
By our calculations, these small changes add up to 1.41 metric tonnes of CO2e saved annually. That doesn’t sound like much, but consider this: three airline flights of 650 km each emit 1.5 tonnes of CO2e. Now do we have your attention? More to come in another post.
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