Daily Archives: May 13, 2008

Understanding Your Carbon Footprint

I know this post is going to draw the heretics out of the woodwork, but after Jim Tompkins, one of the best presenters at this year’s 41st Annual Supply Chain & Logistics Canada Conference on Creating a Resilient Supply Chain was Ron Dembro’s (CEO of Zerofootprint) presentation on Measuring corporate footprint, offsetting, and what you can do to combat climate change.

Although I agree that offsetting should be a last resort, and question just how effective some of the initiatives out there are (and what percentage of the donation actually goes to renewable energy projects versus administrative expenses and executives’ pockets), I see how it could be an effective tool to get industry to control their emissions. Plus, I was impressed with the fact that the speaker admitted that offsetting should be the last resort – not the first.

The presentation also had some good statistics and points-of-fact that highlighted the fact that Gore’s “inconvenient truth” is really an “inconvenient half-truth” and that although we should be willing to take responsibility for our actions, as individuals, there’s only so much we can do to offset the carbon and Greenhouse Gasses being pumped into the atmosphere as a result of our material world focus. When 40% of total GHG emissions are a result of energy consumption to heat, light, and cool buildings (and the water they consume), and the vast majority of that is for commercial buildings (and poorly designed warehouses in particular), when two coal-burning factories in china pump out more emissions into the atmosphere than could be saved if every house in North America switched to fluorescent bulbs, and when private transportation (i.e. our vehicles) account for less than 3% of emissions, how much do you think we’re really going to accomplish by “flicking off”? (That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our part, because responsibility in the home will lead to responsibility in the work place – and 1/3 of gas consumption in vehicles is due to idling, but it does mean that the whacko environmentalists should either educate themselves and get their facts straight or go home.)

What we need to do is design our buildings, our manufacturing plants, and our energy producing factories more efficiently. According to a recent study, 48% of total energy consumption and associated GHG emissions can be eliminated just through better design – which is even more positive than the McKinsey findings I recently quoted. And I have to agree. Think of your average bare-bones box-design metal warehouse and the amount of energy that goes into heating it in the winter or cooling it in the summer because the hot, or cold, air leaks out of it almost as fast as it’s pumped in. Then think about the number of poorly insulated and designed office buildings on the grid (with an entire wall of windows facing the east and air conditioning on 24/7 even though they’re mostly empty at least 12/7) that consume oodles of energy from a grid that burns coal when it could be capturing sun, wind, or wave power instead. All of a sudden oil, gas, and even coal (as long as the plants have appropriate filters and the coal is clean) becomes a lot less of a problem because we need less of it, get more bang for every gallon of it, and the resulting carbon emissions and GHGs would be at 1985-1990 levels, which we know the planet can handle reasonably well (as it did then), as long as we don’t keep cutting down forests on a massive scale without replanting (as many countries are still apt to do).

He was also kind enough to point out that even though Canada is the 4th largest offender in emissions (after Australia, the US, and the United Arab Emirates), that we can’t do anything about 25% of our emissions – because they are as a result of the tar pits, a natural phenomenon (and, as a result, if we want to be more environmentally conscious, we really have our work cut out for us). However, that doesn’t excuse us because we do lead in waste per capita (with the US #2 and Australia #3 – but not for long, as they are introducing innovative waste processing), and there’s no excuse for that. (I hope the rest of the country takes BC’s lead and introduces carbon taxes. I know it sounds like it’s not going to do much if its accompanied by tax breaks in other tax categories, but once industry sees how much it is paying in carbon tax, it will see the tax saving opportunities associated with reducing carbon, and will actively work towards reducing energy consumption – as that will deliver a significant return both in terms of lower energy costs AND reduced taxes.)