Measuring our own carbon footprint

Posted by jamie — 1 December 2010 at 12:15pm - Comments

Home sweet home: our London HQ

As organisational director at Greenpeace UK, Matthew Pollitt has the job of making us put our money where our mouth is by improving our environmental performance, and reporting on progress to our supporters.

As a campaigning organisation we measure success in terms of shifts in policy or public perception. Internal efficiency and effectiveness - my responsibilities as organisational director - are quite rightly seen as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves.

Similarly, people don't generally visit the Greenpeace website to learn about what I do. One exception is the interest we get in what we are doing to minimise our own impact on the environment.

In the early days of Greenpeace, the issues we worked on were relatively simple and self-contained: opposing nuclear testing and commercial whaling. We could be pretty confident that nothing we did as an organisation was adding to the problem! As our understanding of the impact of human activity on the environment has grown, this picture has become more complex.

For example, our commitment to effective direct action means that we use ships, inflatable boats and road vehicles that contribute to climate change. And as part of a global organisation confronting global problems we sometimes travel to other countries. In these cases, we use our judgement to decide whether the environmental costs can be justified in terms of the environmental benefits our campaigns will help to bring about. But we are always keen to do more to reduce our own carbon footprint.

Measuring something is often seen as the first step to being able to manage it, and this certainly seems to apply to CO2 emissions. Since we started keeping proper records of our air miles in 2003, they've dropped by 72 per cent.

Last year we introduced monitoring systems for all travel and paper related CO2 emissions too. Knowing what we're responsible for, we can set ourselves targets for reductions, and we've agreed on 10 per cent in 2010, and 42 per cent by 2020. Now, when we are considering publishing a paper-based report or travelling somewhere we have to think about our CO2 budgets as well as money.

We'd like to make the same levels of reductions in our gas and electricity use, which currently account for 38 per cent of our total emissions. When we moved into our current buildings in 1991, we paid close attention to environmental aspects of the refurbishment, and much of what we did was best practice or even cutting edge at the time. Things have moved on a lot since then, and the biggest challenge now is working out which of the many energy saving options available will have the greatest long-term impact.

To do that, we need to understand exactly what all our gas and electricity is being used for, but this turned out to be more complicated than we expected. Our original challenge was to get our very old environmental monitoring system (EMS) working again.

Originally installed in 1997, we hadn't been able to communicate with it for several years, basically because modern PCs are too fast to do so. Thanks to some hard work from Csaba - our energy efficiency intern - we now have hourly figures for consumption of both gas and electricity over the last 12 months, and this has led to some very interesting discoveries.

For example, 74 per cent of our electricity use comes from what is called baseload - power consumed by our building whether it's in use or not (eg overnight). This includes things like our IT server equipment and its air conditioning, the telephone system, and any residual power consumption of 'switched off' equipment. We've found, for instance, that even when our PCs are switched off at the end of the day, they continue to use up to 14W of power.

It's not just IT equipment in our own building we're concerned about. This very website is hosted by Rackspace, and the servers it sits on are now connected to a combined heat and power (CHP) station in Slough. CHP is not only far more efficient than conventional power stations (they can achieve up to 90 per cent efficiency) but this one also gets about 85 per cent of its fuel from wood chips provided by local tree surgeons.

This year, for the first time in several years, we have published a report on our own environmental performance. It aims to honestly show the impact our organisation has on the environment, how we try to minimise it, what we are doing to improve, and there'll be an update next year on how we've done.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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