This Sunday approximately 35,000 protesters gathered on the National Mall to march past the White House and demand action on climate change. The Forward on Climate Change march was said to be the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Protestors organized by groups such as Sierra Club and 350.org’s aim was to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline project and set limits on carbon pollution from both new and existing power plants. Last year, the EPA proposed limits only on new plants.
For quite some time, Congress has remained gridlocked on the issue of climate change. President Obama has promised to tackle the problem on more than one occasion, but perhaps we the people should consider the effect we can have on bringing about meaningful change. Top down efforts are certainly necessary, but we should all be supporting more bottom up efforts as well. After all, that’s how broad changes have been achieved before.
Take for instance the Civil Rights movement. The White House and Congress were encouraged to overcome their extensive political reservations and bring about true change on the issues of racial equality and voting rights only after a strong grass-roots movement led at the local level by activists such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed public opinion and made it politically unacceptable to do nothing.
There are other examples of successful grass-roots movements, but the core message is that we have to begin leveraging our bottom up power. This weekend’s rally was a great start. Let’s build on the momentum and begin organized, local activism, especially in the districts and states of those members of Congress that are hesitant to act on global warming.
We cannot expect President Obama to do all of the work on combating climate change. Everyone can do their part at the local level and even in their own homes. Let’s also lessen the demand for energy. We live in such a blessed country, but using less energy and being more efficient is in everyone’s best interests. Here are some good ways to start reducing your carbon footprint, and then you can also go carbon neutral and offset the rest.
Ever wonder how large facilities in your state are doing regarding greenhouse gas emissions? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began collecting greenhouse gas emissions data in 2010 under the congressionally mandated Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reporting Program. In February 2013, the EPA's program released its second year (2011) of emissions data, which provides public access to emissions data by sector, by greenhouse gas, and by geographic region such as county or state.
The 2011 data includes information from facilities in 41 source categories that emit large quantities of greenhouse gasses. New this year is data collected from 12 additional source categories, including petroleum and natural gas systems and coal mines.
Highlights of findings from the 2011 data include:
- Power plants represent approximately one-third (33 percent) of total U.S. GHG emissions, making them the largest stationary source of GHGs in the country
- 2011 emissions from power plants were roughly 4.6 percent below 2010 emissions, demonstrating an ongoing increase in power generation from natural gas and renewable energy sources
- Refineries represented the third-largest source of GHG emissions, which increased by a half of a percent over 2010 data
- Overall emissions reported from the 29 sources tracked in both years were 3 percent lower in 2011 than in 2010
Transparency is critical to a better environment and the key to conquering climate change. If companies, communities and individuals take a look at how large facilities are doing in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and compare the latest data to national averages, perhaps we can find ways to cut these emissions and begin to curb global warming. Being better informed is also good for the businesses as they may identify opportunities to conserve energy and thereby save money.
Check out how individual large facilities in your state, county, and even zip code perform. Access this data through the Facility Level Information on Green House gases Tool (FLIGHT), which is a web-based data publication tool, or dig deeper through the EPA’s online database Envirofacts that allows information searches via zip code.
According to a recently released report by the World Wildlife Fund, 58 of the United States’ Fortune 100 companies set goals in 2012 to either reduce greenhouse gas emissions or use more renewable energy in their operations. However, oil and gas companies are lagging far behind in this movement. Eight of 11 domestic energy companies on the Fortune 100 have not set internal energy goals.
This is in direct contrast to 68 of the planet’s 100 largest companies who recognize the impact of global warming and are making investments in greenhouse gas reductions and renewable energy goals. Sadly, energy companies represent the lowest participation rate of any industry worldwide. The few exceptions are Hess and Chevron who have both set renewable energy and greenhouse gas targets, and ExxonMobil who set a greenhouse gas target.
Why have three quarters of the nation's industrial companies voluntarily set some sort of environmental target? There are a variety of potential reasons including: policy pressures, public relations or perhaps even the forward thinking that sees renewable energy’s potential to someday be less expensive than, or at least competitive with, oil and gas.
And why haven’t most oil and gas companies voluntarily set environmental targets? It may be because the very products they put on the market directly contribute to climate change. There is also a lack of urgency to act; little pressure comes from investors or policies. An example of a type of policy that was successful in the past is the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, which worked by making large companies publically accountable for which potentially toxic chemicals they use and where they are released. Then the information is posted on the EPA’s website for anyone to see.
The planet would really benefit from a similar policy focusing on oil and gas company emissions, or better yet, a broader climate change policy such as a national carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. There are other options that could pave the way towards a cleaner energy future. The federal government could require that a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources and offer further tax incentives for wind and solar production. Many companies are setting their own internal goals, but for others such as the majority of the oil and gas industry, they’re not going to do anything about increasing efficiency and reducing their carbon footprints until someone makes them.
This year offered several events that shone a spotlight directly on the important and urgent issue of climate change, but the question remains, “Was it enough to bring about meaningful efforts to reduce climate change?”
June of 2012 presented the United Nations Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which disappointed many as international representatives hemmed and hawed instead of establishing true endeavors to tackle global warming. Meanwhile the continental United States embarked on summer heat waves that were some of the hottest in its history.
This year also saw drought cover more than half the country; farmers suffered as their crops and animals died.
Then October of 2012 brought superstorm Sandy, this year’s biggest example of extreme weather and a deadly harbinger of the devastating effects of climate change. Can we continue to sit idly by in the face of all these signs that global warming is making broad changes to our planet? Should we leave these environmental problems for our children to face as we continue down an unsustainable path?
The close of the year is a time to reflect on the previous events of the year and make resolutions for the coming year. Let’s pledge to make 2013 the year where we confront climate change in every possible way. We can all embark on energy efficiency efforts; reducing what we can and lowering our carbon footprints. Every bit helps. Then it is a powerful combination to offset the rest of our carbon emissions. It would be a genuine shame to let the lessons of this past year slip from our consciousness while there is still time and so much that can and should be done to address climate change.
The Earth cannot use words to speak for itself, but if it could what would be on its climate wishlist this holiday season?
Environmental activists and climate scientists have done a good job of communicating the risks of climate change. Part of the issue is that it’s a delicate balance between scaring people so thoroughly that they don’t think there is anything they can do about global warming and encouraging people to make any changes that positively impact the environment, even small ones to start. Perhaps we’ve also underestimated the importance of personal experience.
The facts on climate change alone are not enough. We’ve had solid, scientific evidence for many years that global warming is man-made and happening right now. However, many people need to experience the effects for themselves in order for the light bulb to go off in their heads. Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events are helping people to connect the dots, but now that process has begun the question then becomes, “What next?”
We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the planet. That is what the climate needs and wants this holiday season. There are two main changes that we can undertake to fulfill the planet’s climate wishlist. The first is to lower our carbon footprints. Ask yourself, do I really need to leave my lights on all day at home when I am not there? Can I combine trips in the car to drive less or take public transportation instead? What simple steps can I take to save energy and myself some money as well?
The second change is to offset the rest of your carbon footprint. There are many affordable options to make this holiday season a reality, not just for the planet, but for future generations also. Any positive steps you take are welcome and really do make a difference. Although the planet cannot use words to thank you, reducing what you can and offsetting the rest is a beautiful gift and a wonderful place to start this holiday season.
According to the Carbon Disclosure Project, cloud computing can help companies realize $12.3 billion in energy savings and reduce carbon emissions by 85.7 million metric tons annually by the year 2020. This staggering carbon emissions reduction figure is equivalent to mitigating the emissions from almost 181 million barrels of oil each year.
These compelling statistics are creating a surge in cloud computing options and providers; the challenge is to find the right provider offering the breadth of computing services, systems security and deliver the flexibility required by each business.
Chicago-based Steadfast Networks offers an additional benefit to its customers by operating in a CarbonFree® environment. Steadfast Networks calculates the annual carbon emissions from all base operations and neutralizes those emissions by supporting Carbonfund.org’s carbon reduction and clean air technology projects. Steadfast Networks also provides a CarbonFree® option to all customers by calculating and mitigating specific operational emissions through Carbonfund.org for each customer’s dedicated or co-located server energy consumption.
"At Steadfast, we're always looking for new ways to reduce our environmental impact. Carbonfund.org fit organically into our business model and so it was pretty much a “no brainer” for us," explains Karl Zimmerman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Steadfast Networks.
Steadfast Networks specializes in highly flexible cloud computing, including options for dedicated servers or collocation services at their fully redundant data centers in Chicago and New York. The facilities used by Steadfast Networks are highly engineered to assure reliability and maximize energy efficiency, resulting in a significantly reduced carbon footprint. Their status as a CarbonFree® Business Partner sets Steadfast Networks above the competition for companies seeking the most environmentally responsible options for cloud computing solutions.
One of the primary components of Carbonfund.org’s mission is to provide climate change education and public outreach through our programs, and through our business partners and supporters. Two of Carbonfund.org’s business partners recently teamed up in a great example of public outreach, hosting a zero-waste event in their community.
The City of Pleasanton, CA and Hacienda Business Park Owners Association hosted the 3rd annual Pleasanton Green Scene Fair on September 20th at Hacienda West. The event featured over 100 exhibitors providing information, demonstrations, raffles and samples of products related to health and nutrition, energy efficiency, commuting alternatives, water conservation, recycling, and locally-sourced foods. The event also included a special display of alternative fuel vehicles, a mini-farmers market and the “Off The Grid” gourmet food trucks selling natural and sustainable treats.
Hacienda Business Park Owners Association has been a CarbonFree® Business Partner since 2007, calculating and neutralizing annual operational emissions by supporting Carbonfund.org’s carbon reduction and clean energy technology projects. And Hacienda’s Owners Association helps to spread the word about Carbonfund.org’s mission and projects, including the Million Tree Challenge, to the many businesses that occupy Hacienda’s properties. They also recommended that the City of Pleasanton contact Carbonfund.org to evaluate the fair’s carbon emissions and create a program to mitigate emissions associated with the day’s events by supporting Carbonfund.org’s clean air projects.
The road to succeeding in the fight against climate change and to hasten our transition to a cleaner energy future is to act boldly and work together to engage businesses, communities and networks to join in local and global efforts. The Pleasanton Green Scene Fair is a great example of partnership among a local business leader in sustainable operations, their environmentally-aware municipality and Carbonfund.org to promote environmental conservation and sustainable business practices in their community.
Some businesses express reluctance when it comes to embracing the path to a cleaner energy future. They see nothing but dollar signs. However, a recent case study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps demonstrates that it is possible to get into a “virtuous cycle” of energy efficiency that pays dividends for both the company’s bottom line and the environment.
EDF Climate Corps is a great program that matches either specially-trained MBA (Masters in Business Administration) or MPA (Masters in Public Administration) students as summer fellows with companies, cities and universities interested in achieving energy efficiency to cut costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2008, the program’s fellows have built business cases for smart energy investments. The end results are lighting, computer equipment and heating and cooling system efficiencies that can cut 1.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity use and 27 million therms of natural gas annually, equivalent to the annual energy use of 100,000 homes; avoid over 1 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, equivalent to the annual emissions of 200,000 passenger vehicles; and save $1 billion in net operational costs over the project lifetimes.
The Virtuous Cycle of Organizational Energy Efficiency has five components: executive engagement; resource investment; people and tools; identification, implementation and measurement; and results and stories. According to EDF, the virtuous cycle is a model of change for energy efficiency across even extremely different organizations.
The business profiled in the case study is Diversey, which is a subsidy of Sealed Air. Diversey entered the virtuous cycle of energy efficiency by establishing a public commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from operations to eight percent below 2003 levels by 2013. This was also the initial component of the virtuous cycle, executive engagement.
Once Diversey’s leaders committed, policies from the top down required that energy efficiency projects produce a positive return on investment in a payback period of three years or less. This criterion allowed Diversey to invest $19 million, and yield $32 million in cash savings over the life of the program in order to reach their emissions reduction goals.
Because the goals and criteria were clearly articulated, Diversey’s ability to measure success was also positively impacted. In fact, Diversey’s environmental health and safety department received a 40 percent year-on-year budget increase, which is significant because all other divisions of the company at the time were undergoing a 50 percent budget cut. This was due to the capacity to produce data that demonstrated energy project performance. According to the report, plant managers were also engaged and incentivized to implement efficiency measures due to centralized capital budgeting.
This is all to say that there are easy and affordable ways for businesses to invest in a commitment to combat climate change that is both good for the company and the environment. Saving money is always in style; simply combine that goal with one of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and you’ll be maximizing the good you can do.
The proliferation of killer whales bred in captivity, on display in aquariums and public performances, and in Hollywood movies over the past thirty years has spurred the interest in killer whale watching in the wild. Yet the worldwide population of Orcas has been difficult for researchers to assess, and the species is threatened by depletion of the global fish population, oceanic pollution, large-scale oil spills, and habitat disturbance caused by noise and conflicts with boats, including whale watching tour operators.
Organizations such as the Pacific Whale Watch Association has helped by establishing strong memberships and specific guidelines for whale watching tours that help to protect both the whales and the tour groups seeking the memorable experience of watching Orcas in the wild.
In a stronger step towards developing environmentally-responsible tour operations, Carbonfund.org is pleased to announce a new partnership that brings carbon neutral whale watching to the Vancouver Island area. Carbonfund.org has recently partnered with Eagle Wing Tours, a locally owned and family operated marine adventure eco-tourism company based on Vancouver Island, to create Canada’s first carbon neutral whale watching experience. Eagle Wing Tours assessed the full estimated annual carbon emissions from its whale watching tour operations and established a carbon mitigation program through Carbonfund.org by supporting our carbon reduction and clean energy technology projects. This carbon neutral program is the final step in Eagle Wing Tours’ Go Green Whale Watching Program.
“We are trying to redefine what a wildlife tour company is. Spotting that whale is the cherry on top of an all ready very comprehensive marine experience,” explains Brett Soberg, Co-Owner and Captain at Eagle Wing Tours. “What we can do to protect these species by supporting education, conservation and responsible business is where we really count. We selected to support Carbonfund.org due their non-profit designation which supports our 1% For the Planet membership.”
Carbonfund.org encourages eco-tourism companies to carefully monitor their environmental impact and to mitigate harmful emissions by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy innovation, and supporting forestry and habitat preservation. We are pleased to welcome Eagle Wing Tours to join our eco-tourism partners in these efforts.
We’ve already examined and defined a carbon footprint, but have you ever heard of an ecological footprint? An ecological footprint compares human demands on nature with the Earth's ability to regenerate resources and provide services.
Ecological footprints are ever changing because of advances in technology and a three-year lag for the UN to collect and publish statistics. However, it is a standardized measure that begins by assessing the amount of biologically productive land and sea area necessary to supply the resources a human population uses. This is then contrasted with the planet’s ability to absorb associated waste and ecological capacity to regenerate. Think of it like how much of the Earth (or how many planet Earths) it would take to support humanity given an average lifestyle. In 2007, humanity's total ecological footprint was estimated at 1.5 planet Earths. This means humans are currently using ecological services 1.5 times quicker than Earth can renew them.
William Rees was the first academic to publish about an ecological footprint in 1992. He supervised the PhD dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel who outlined the concept and offered a calculation method. Rees penned the term ecological footprint in a more accessible manner than the original name of “appropriated carrying capacity” after a computer technician described Rees’ new computer as having a small footprint on the desk. Wackernagel and Rees published the book Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth in early 1996.
The implications are dire according to Rees who wrote in 2010, “…the average world citizen has an eco-footprint of about 2.7 global average hectares while there are only 2.1 global hectare of bioproductive land and water per capita on earth. This means that humanity has already overshot global biocapacity by 30% and now lives unsustainabily by depleting stocks of ‘natural capital’.”
We’re definitely overspending the planet’s resources. Just take a look at man-made global warming and climate change. We need to continue on the path to seeking a sustainable lifestyle, and do it on a global scale. All of us working together can reduce the amount of the earth’s resources that we consume. Start with yourself and get creative with how many ways you can save energy and recycle. What’s great about beginning with energy efficiency is that it can save you money too. Then there are cost effective ways to offset the rest such as by contributing to Carbonfund.org’s development of renewable energy technologies and carbon emissions reduction projects. The important thing is to get started right away.