Thursday, April 15, 2021

PA Environmental Council: Reassessing Our Climate Footprint As An Organization

Holly Benford, PEC Finance & Administration Coordinator

In 2019, PEC worked with Bonneville Environmental Foundation to help us measure our carbon and water footprints. 

We purchased carbon offsets, renewable energy certificates, and water restoration credits to help counterbalance these footprints. 

That same year, we served as the sustainability partner for the GAP [Great Allegheny Passage Trail] relay and provided carbon offsets for the event.

Offsets do not cancel out one’s carbon use, and reducing one’s energy consumption remains the most impactful measure a single individual can take to combat climate change. 

Yet, as 21st century humans, we are all inevitably going to leave a footprint of some kind, even if we use every energy-saving precaution. 

Carbon offsets are a great way to stay accountable for the carbon emissions that remain, to some extent, unavoidable. They offer the opportunity to balance one’s carbon footprint by investing in projects that have proven success at reducing carbon emissions. 

One carbon offset is equal to one metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions that are kept from entering the atmosphere through a variety of projects, such as renewable energy production and grassland conservation.

With the framework for this process already in place, we decided to calculate our footprint once again for 2020. However, this past year looked a little different. 

Like most organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on our day-to-day operations. By mid-March, we could no longer meet with our partners in person and began conducting all meetings virtually, ceasing travel completely. 

Employees stopped commuting to and from the office and instead worked from home. And since employees weren’t performing from the office, our electricity, natural gas and water use significantly dropped as well.

There are still some factors to consider, however, even when your employees are working from home. 

For example, although we weren’t using the utilities provided by our usual office spaces, our employees still used these resources throughout the workday within their own homes. 

For this reason, we chose to purchase the same amount of Renewable Energy Certificates and Water Restoration Credits that we would for a normal year.

A new factor that we also included was our emissions that result from mailing and shipping. 

To simplify this concept, we decided to begin enforcing a “carbon tax” on our total shipping expenses for the year. 

Even with these considerations, our emissions resulting from commutes and travel declined significantly from the prior year, resulting in the overall reduction of our carbon footprint by about 33 percent.

Based on PEC’s estimated carbon footprint, we purchased 29 carbon offsets, generated through wind energy production projects, and 128 Renewable Energy Certificates to match our electricity use by funding renewable energy sources. 

This is the equivalent to offsetting 20 homes’ electricity use for the year. 

We also balanced 100 percent of our water use for 2020 through the purchase of Water Restoration Credits, which restore 1,000 gallons of water per credit to a critically depleted watershed.

The past year may be an unlikely model of what our footprint will look like in the future – as we intend to return to our offices when it is safe to do so – but these unique circumstances present an opportunity to maintain and improve our corporate sustainability practices going forward. 

While meeting with partners and conducting gatherings remains crucial to PEC’s work, perhaps one unexpected lesson this time has taught us is that we can conduct at least some of these meetings virtually, allowing us to still make connections, while cutting down on our carbon use.

Whatever the remainder of this year holds, PEC looks forward to conducting our work as effectively, safely, and sustainably as we can.

Click Here to listen to a PEC Podcast on carbon footprints.

To learn more about climate and energy initiatives, visit PEC’s Energy & Climate webpage.

For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Environmental Council website, visit the PEC Blog, PEC Bill/Regulation Tracker, follow PEC on Twitter or Like PEC on Facebook.  Visit PEC’s Audio Room for the latest podcasts.  Click Here to receive regular updates from PEC.

[Posted: April 15, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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