How does a small non-profit that offers professional learning opportunities throughout Vermont take steps to become carbon neutral in its operations? This is what we have been doing:
At its meeting on December 12, 2018 the VT-HEC Board of Directors adopted a commitment to minimizing our carbon footprint with the goal of overall carbon neutrality. This statement commits the VT-HEC to assessing the effects program activities have on the environment and to explore, develop and adopt policies and practices to reduce and/or offset that impact. The statement commits the VT-HEC to seeking strategies to lessen its impact on the environment by reducing related travel, conserving energy, reducing waste generation, etc.
First, we needed an idea of what our impact on the environment actually was. We have only a small office and we don’t consume or produce quantities of concrete products. So, what data did we need to estimate the environmental impact of our operations? Beginning in January 2019 we began collecting data to help us calculate the carbon footprint of the 80+ workshop offerings we were putting on in FY19. We collected data and researched:
- how workshop participants traveled to those offerings
- how many total miles they traveled
- the carbon footprint our events produced at the facilities where they were held
What We Found
Taking the data we collected on events from January 1 to July 1 we attempted to estimate what the full year would look like for those factors. We figured:
- participants traveled about 130,000 miles to those offerings last year; averaging 51 miles per person per event.
- the great majority of participants traveled to offerings driving alone in their own vehicles – the average riders per car was 1.23.
- that data varied only slightly among the different locations of those offerings (we had only a few examples for some locations and will need more data to draw any conclusions about whether holding events in different locations is beneficial)
Estimating Our Carbon Footprint
Using a variety of calculators found on the internet we came up with these estimates of the carbon footprint for our workshop days.
- 130,000 miles of travel equates to a carbon footprint of about 43 metric carbon tons.
- the facilities we used for our workshops generated about 115 metric carbon tons in energy use, food preparation, etc. for those offerings.
- a total impact for the year of 158 metric carbon tons for our workshop days.
We also asked participants if they would be willing to use a car-pool app and if they would attend an offering that was streamed to a closer location to cut down on their miles traveled:
- 27% of respondents said they would try a car-pool app with another 42% saying they might be willing to try it.
- 42% said they would attend a live-streamed event and another 34% said they might. There were quite a few comments stating that they preferred coming to a live event and interacting with other participants.
- Explore strategies, practices, etc. that have the potential to reduce and/or offset our carbon footprint:
- Refine and expand our data collection for an entire year and looking at other areas such as printing, copying, etc.
- Explore ride-sharing options and incentives
- Explore carbon-offset options to achieve carbon neutrality in a manner that was consistent with VT-HEC’s mission and values
- Explore increasing the number of live-streaming events and webinars
- Develop, adopt and implement a plan to reduce our total carbon footprint aiming to:
- Reduce total and average number of miles traveled.
- Reduce the facility-related carbon footprint for our offerings.
- Find/develop a carbon offset project that will benefit Vermont and be consistent with VT-HEC values.
We will share the results of our explorations and effort with the hope that it might be useful to others who are trying to do the same. Thanks for working with us and helping us to reach our goal.