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In February 2020, Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) was awarded the highest BREEAM In-Use rating in the United States. This post by Phipps Wellness and Sustainability Specialist Meghan Scanlon, WELL AP, shares why Phipps elected to pursue BREEAM In-Use certification to guide ongoing management of the CSL.

Green building certifications in the US in particular have typically presented a one-and-done pathway for new construction. You designed your building to meet the certification’s precise checklist, you achieved certification, and that was it. But what often happened was that, even for well-intentioned teams, over time a project’s original green goals got lost due to staff turnover, limited budgets, deteriorating systems and quick fixes. There’s been a welcome expansion in green building certifications to include building management to ensure ongoing performance. BREEAM In-Use is one of those certifications.

The Importance of Certification

Certification provides accountability.

In building management, you’ll inevitably run into challenges. And when that occurs, if you don’t have a formal certification to maintain, any unofficial strategies can easily be forgotten. Having the accountability of ongoing performance monitoring and verification makes it that much harder to give up when facing challenging management situations.

Certification memorializes a commitment to evolution.

Pursuing a certification like BREEAM In-Use signals intention to evolve with new research and best practices. An evolving certification can provide a testing opportunity to ensure the values that a project originally prioritized are still important and in practice, present new challenges for a project to consider pursuing over time, and help position and keep a project on the forefront of industry best practices. BREEAM In-Use features both benchmarking and improvement pathways, so not only does it allow you to gauge your existing performance, it also offers reach goals to help structure ideas for future projects to ensure continued achievement of your green goals.

Maintaining Building Management Success

BREEAM can confirm design strategies.

The CSL’s original green goals, including net zero water and energy consumption, had never before been accomplished in one project. Our pursuit of BREEAM In-Use allowed us to confirm that our design worked and the project’s original lofty green goals were still being met. The Living Building Challenge doesn’t require annual reporting; a building performance certification like BREEAM In-Use requires ongoing reporting that demonstrates we continue to meet our goals.

BREEAM can confirm ongoing values alignment.

Phipps is passionate about doing our part to address climate change. Certification helps us walk the talk, compelling us to think of the future when drafting plans and policies with improvement targets and environmental and operational resilience in mind. And it provides an opportunity for us to confirm that our management strategies and operational practices are, in fact, aligned with our values. 

BREEAM can set you up for success.

While BREEAM In-Use is a certification for existing buildings, its value can be amplified if considered from a project’s inception, if possible. Thinking through daily management of your building during design will set you up well for ongoing performance. For projects that don’t wish to officially certify, BREEAM’s benchmarking process provides the opportunity to review your management strategies to identify areas for improvement and to set you up for building management success. When a project is ready to certify, BREEAM focuses more on impact than on a specific approach, so project teams can document how they meet each issue’s intent, rather than its strict terms.

Challenges to Maintaining Performance

Knowledge gaps and educational opportunities.

BREEAM In-Use provides opportunities to educate and to bring people to the table. Phipps’ pursuit of certifications, including BREEAM In-Use, provides opportunities for us to knowledgeably speak with a range of professionals to explain not only what we’re doing but also why we’re doing it. In doing so, we’re shoring up knowledge of and support for these types of projects. And extending participation beyond the design team, specifically to management staff, promotes understanding and fosters a sense of ownership.

Staff continuity and institutional knowledge.

There’s also a very real possibility of staff turnover. When that happens, your team may lose specialized knowledge of your building. Preparing standard operating procedures, as required for documentation, becomes well worth the effort when key project team members depart and take with them years of institutional knowledge about your building’s particulars.

A management-focused certification like BREEAM In-Use presents opportunities to further your commitment to your lofty green goals and ensure ongoing success in managing building sustainability performance. Maintaining sustainability performance presents its share of challenges, but even these present opportunities for success.

Many of the guests who visit your garden each day would like to do something to address climate change, and their biggest barrier for entry is not knowing where to begin. This guide helps individuals and households calculate their carbon footprint, creating a baseline. Once the emissions baseline is determined, they can begin to make informed decisions and identify opportunities for impactful reductions. The picture above showcases the different sections of a carbon footprint.

In this post, we’ll talk about what a carbon footprint is, why tracking is useful and how you can help your guests to track their own carbon footprint!

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is defined as the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by an entity, be it an organization, individual, event or product. Usually the emissions levels are evaluated over a year, but emissions can be measured over any amount of time.

Who should track their carbon footprint?

EVERYONE. Tracking is a helpful tool for anyone who is looking to reduce their greenhouse gases emissions. The process will demonstrate that some behaviors produce more greenhouse gases than many realize!

What areas of life does a carbon footprint account for?

Almost everything! When calculating footprints, there are two categories of emissions: primary and secondary.

Primary calculations for a carbon footprint examine sources of emissions over which we have direct control, like the type and the amount of energy a home uses, transportation methods and travel. The specifics of a household’s energy usage are important, as different energy sources have varied impacts. Take transportation, for example: emissions will vary depending on whether an individual uses public transit, a single-occupancy car, or a bike. The more information, the better!

Secondary calculations account for the carbon emissions associated with the products we use, including their manufacture, delivery and final breakdown. These include things like food and drink, clothing, pharmaceuticals, paper products, furniture, and even recreation and leisure.

When looking at the calculations, not knowing an answer is okay. The intention behind calculating one’s footprint is to learn how behaviors are emitting greenhouse gases and how to reduce those emissions.

Which gases do I need to look for?

When calculating a carbon footprint, the user does not have to account for specific greenhouse gases, but it is still useful to learn about them. The four  greenhouse gases listed below are the most common, are extremely harmful to the surrounding environment and need to be reduced:

Methane

    • Emissions of methane can be caused by waste management, energy use and biomass burning.
    • About 50 – 65% of the all methane emissions are caused by human activities.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

    • Emission sources of carbon dioxide can be traced to fossil fuels, deforestation, land clearing for agriculture and degradation of soil.
    • In 2018, about 81.3% of all carbon dioxide emissions originated from human activities

Nitrous Oxide (N2O)

    • Sources of nitrous oxide are agricultural activities, such as fertilizer production use and fossil fuel combustion.
    • Globally 40% of the total nitrous oxide emissions originated from human activities.

Fluorinated Gases

    • Sources for these gases are include refrigerants in air conditioning systems
  • These gases are not created naturally; therefore, human activities are the only source of fluorinated gases.

Footprint Calculators

There are many useful resources to help an individual or household calculate their carbon footprint. Our preferred calculators are:

The Nature Conservancy’s Carbon Footprint Calculator
This calculator from The Nature Conservancy gives recommendations for energy, transportation and lifestyle reduction methods and utilizes visual tools for analyzing your footprint.

The Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint Calculator
The Global Footprint Network’s calculator compares your emissions and resource usage to what the earth can support.

Users looking for additional options may also wish to try these alternatives:

Carbon Footprint Ltd.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Next Steps: Recommendations

Once your guests have completed a carbon footprint analysis, they’ll want to know what to do to make effective reductions, which is a great opportunity for a public garden to be a neighborly institutional leader. The following is an example from Phipps of how one might address several different reduction opportunities, ranging from energy to waste management, citing examples from one’s own garden.

You just completed the first steps of reducing your carbon footprint! After receiving the results for your carbon footprint, you are better equipped to start making decisions that will reduce your emission. The Climate Toolkit has some suggestions for you, as well! Phipps Conservatory has incorporated the following ideas into their operations. Energy, transportation, and waste are three good areas on which to focus. Each section will include steps for both big and little investment. These recommendations also include COVID-19 safety methods to reduce your carbon footprint while being healthy. Remember these tips are just suggestions, pick what works for you!

           The first area is focused on the energy used in your home. Switching to all renewable energy may not feasible for every home, but there are steps individuals can take to reduce energy usage in their homes. Some small investments include using efficient lightbulbs, adjusting your thermostat to be higher in the summer and lower in the winter, managing energy use of the TV, computer and other large appliances, and line drying your clothing. These recommendations are low-cost and will help reduce cost and energy usage. High cost suggestions include installing solar panels, upgrading the heating and cooling system adding insulation.

         Transportation is another large sector, accounting for almost 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. One way to reduce your footprint here is to cutback the amount of flights you take. This may be unrealistic for individuals who need to travel for work, but those who can decrease their flights will likely reduce their footprint. If you cannot, try to offset the emissions at home. One example is to either prioritize taking public transportation or biking. Low-cost recommendations for reducing your carbon footprint includes carpooling and biking. High-cost suggestions include upgrading to an electric-powered car. One example is Phipps Conservatory incentivizes employees to either carpool, bike, or take public transportation to work. Reducing carbon emissions focuses on thinking more about how to sustainably travel.

Household waste also called, municipal solid waste, includes plastics, food, textiles and anything else that is thrown anyway. The first concept is to reduce the amount of products an individual consumes. If someone needs to consume products, the next choice would be to purchase something that can be used multiple times. One example is purchasing a reusable water bottle or a reusable bag. Phipps Conservatory has eliminated the use of all plastics in food production in their café. The second concept is to reuse all of the materials that was previously bought. One example of this is buying clothes, electronics, or other materials secondhand instead of new. The last concept is to recycle plastics, food, glass, etc. If we cannot reuse everything that was bought, either composting or recycling is another option for reducing a carbon footprint.

 Further Resources

Reduction of greenhouse gases is one of the most impactful ways a public garden can address climate change. We recently interviewed Norfolk Botanical Garden (NBG) President and CEO Michael Desplaines to learn more about the garden’s carbon reduction solution of transitioning to renewable energy. 

Tell me a little bit about NBG’s approach to CO2 reduction on campus. What types of solar panels are you currently using on your campus? How much of the campus is currently powered by solar?

NBG is committed to becoming a leader in environmental action and advocacy. We want to use our leadership to inspire others and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. We use a power purchase agreement, solar production and a HVAC systems to reduce their our carbon footprint on campus.

The energy production of our solar panels has reduced greenhouse power consumption from the grid by 61%. NBG uses 100% renewable energy purchased from Dominion Energy. 10% of our energy is produced on our campus by solar panels. Our purchased energy is a combination of 34% biomass and 56% solar energy. As of this year, we have consumed 550 megawatts of biomass energy.

NBG uses Axitec-AC-330/156 330 Watt, 72 CELL, 40 MM Monocrystalline Silicon (120) solar panels. Below is the amount of MWh produced onsite at NBG by year:

2018 – 18 MWh
2019 – 55MWh
2020 to date – 44 MWh

We have also upgraded our heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to energy efficient units that utilize environmentally friendly refrigerants. A goal of our transition was to eliminate chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) and the harmful effects of their production. Office buildings account for 49% of carbon load in the world and the change of refrigerants and equipment reduces the carbon footprint by 39%. 

What inspired you to start using renewable energy?

The Virginia renewable energy regulations have changed since our switch, but at the time, utilizing a second party supplier was not an option. We did not consume enough energy to qualify for a switch by state regulations (5 GWh). We weren’t pleased with the percentage of the three energy sources but they have become more in line with our objectives over the years. The primary reason we continued to use the Dominion’s Green Power Program to foster the development of affordable as well as profitable “green energy.”

How did you connect with Dominion’s Green Power program, and what do you see as the key reasons to use their service?

As the energy regulations changed throughout Virginia, NBG wanted to further support the growing renewable energy industry. Dominion’s Green Power Program supports the creation of green jobs, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and further helps to expand America’s renewable energy resources. The primary reason that we continued use of this program is to foster the development of affordable as well as profitable green energy.

Tell us about how you’ve interpreted NBG’s green energy usage for visiting guests. What connections have you made to the community and to individual environmental stewardship?

Nearly 400,000 visitors explore our beautiful gardens every year. Our environmental messaging is a prominent feature both in-person and on our website. Along with our website’s sustainability page, our visitor center features the performance dashboard for our solar panels and a floor banner highlighting all our environmentally practices. Our popular garden tram tour points out our solar panels as the tram passes by them. Our gift shop features books on climate change and alternatives to single-use plastics.

The “Green Scene” section of our newsletter focusses on our environmental initiatives and the improvements we’ve made around campus, encouraging readers to follow our lead. Our robust adult educational programming focuses on environmental education. This past April, Convert Solar was scheduled to give a class on green energy but it was cancelled due to the pandemic. For the past two years, we have held a symposium focused on climate change featuring local climate scientists and city leaders.

Our engaging outreach program also allows us to connect with a broader audience within the community. Our goals are always to promote the beauty and importance of the natural world and inspire folks to action to protect this resource and solve the environmental crisis.

What advice would you give to another institution that is considering a transition to renewable energy?

We would suggest the combined solution of using a power purchase agreement and installing solar panels. Another useful recommendation is to promote your energy usage and advocate for others to follow. We would also recommend picking a reputable renewable energy company to work with and paying close attention to their advice.

Signing ceremony logo via un.org

You’ve probably heard it mentioned frequently, and it appears right at the top of our list of goals, but you may be wondering — what exactly is the Paris Agreement, and how does it apply to your garden?

On April 22, 2016 and in the months following, 197 parties joined in signing the Paris Agreement to strengthen efforts in combating global climate change.  The Agreement’s aim is to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” To achieve this, the Agreement required all signatories to put forward their “best efforts,” or unique climate reduction plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).  Nations are expected to strengthen and report on their success in the following years.

The Paris Agreement identified crucial aspects necessary to address climate change, including temperature goals, global peaking of emissions, adaptation and strengthening resiliency, education and public awareness, as well as others.

The United States: Commitment and Withdrawal

Through an executive action, President Barack Obama signed the United States’ commitment to reduce carbon reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025.  In June of 2017, President Trump signaled his intent to withdraw for the Paris Agreement. However, the structure of the agreement requires three years of participation before officially withdrawing. The earliest that the United States could formally do so is November 4, 2020. Despite the federal government’s intention of withdrawing, many businesses, nonprofits, cities, communities, organizations, universities, faith groups and other entities have signaled their intention to honor the commitments made by the US.

Heads of delegations pose for a group portrait at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), which led to the signing of the Paris Agreement. Le Bourget, France, November 30, 2015. Credit: Presidencia de la Republica Mexicana via Flickr

We Are Still In

After President Trump expressed his intention for withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in June of 2017, numerous cities, communities, organizations, universities, faith groups and tribes created the We Are Still In movement. The campaign declares a commitment to uphold the Paris Agreement standards and the responsibility of acting to prevent further climate change. We Are Still In is a diverse coalition with bipartisan and cross-sectoral support demonstrating their environmental leadership to fulfill the United States climate reduction commitment. Organization of the We Are Still In coalition strategy efforts and Administration is led by The World Wildlife Fund Climate Nexus and Ceres. More than 3,900 mayors, CEOs, governors, tribal leaders, college presidents, faith leaders and others have decided to take on this role of environmental leadership. We recommend joining their number as a first step toward pledging your commitment to address climate change.

The Three Emission Scopes

Precisely categorizing and tracking emissions when calculating a carbon footprint is vital. A three-scope emission system was created to help organizations calculate their carbon footprint. The system is divided into three tiers, called “scopes,” which focus on where greenhouse gases are released. The first scope includes all of the direct emissions released onsite which includes fuel combustion and consumption. The use of gas boilers and fleet vehicles, and air-conditioning leaks are also included in the first tier. Scope 2 emissions includes all indirect emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the organization. Emissions produced indirectly include purchased electricity, heating and cooling, and steam generated offsite. Scope 3 is categorized by all other indirect emissions related to activities by the organization which include employee travel, commuting, solid waste disposal, wastewater treatment, and from transportation and distribution with purchase electricity. Placing certain organizational activities into each scope can be useful for accurately measuring impact.

See the source image
Diagram credit: VitalMetrics Group

Next Steps: Complete Energy Audit

Creating innovative solutions starts with one question: Where do we begin? When pursuing reduced emissions, the first step is to complete an energy audit. The audit will provide an opportunity to analyze current emissions and energy use patterns throughout the entire organization.

Many different types of audits exist today; two examples are a preliminary audit which focuses on a period of time or a detailed audit which focuses on financial estimates of energy, technology, or control savings. Energy assessments are a systematic approach to increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption. Local electricity companies can finish the audit with suggestions about reducing energy usage and replacing faculty technology.

The Climate Toolkit will publish a future blog post to dig deeper into energy auditing so you can find a solution that works for you. We look forward to helping you reduce your emissions and honor the Paris Climate Agreement at your institution!

If your garden would like to join the conversation, please download and complete our survey and return to ceo@phipps.conservatory.org.

Deep Dive: More Resources

The following resources helped us write this story. We recommend them for those who wish to dig deeper into this topic.

  • The EPA provides a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resource document that explains the sources of GHGs, global emissions, national emissions, facility-level emissions, and the carbon footprint calculator. This is a useful resource to begin to  calculate an individual’s carbon footprint.
  • The United Nations for Convention on Climate Change explains what a Nationally Determined Contribution is. Each party of the Paris Agreement is required to create an outline for their greenhouse reductions.
  • This resource explains the steps taken during the Obama administration to reduce fossil fuel use and carbon emission in the United States. The United States’ Paris Agreement INDCs are also listed on this source.
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Earlier this year, Phipps collaborated with students from the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business on an assessment of the Climate Toolkit and survey of current and potential participants. With your responses, we are currently developing plans to update the website and project scope. Two surveys were distributed to organizations; one for current Toolkit participants and one for organizations who have not yet enrolled in the program. We were heartened to see that every partner believes that this toolkit delivers value to their organization, and received lots of good ideas to increase that value in the months to come.

Interest in Climate Solutions

Twelve Climate Toolkit partners completed a 17 question survey on topics including motivation, value of the toolkit, improvement strategies for the project to more effectively drive the sustainability of the organizations. One common theme throughout the survey was the passion that each garden has for addressing climate change: 92% of participants believe that addressing climate change is important to the institution. Another theme shown throughout the survey was the willingness to learn and to explore new sustainable operational systems. For those who completed the survey, 92% of participants answered that they joined the Toolkit to learn more about implementing sustainable practices and to connect with other gardens.

Challenges

The Toolkit survey asked about challenges and obstacles organizations face when addressing climate change. The feedback was clear: creating solutions to complex climate issues is perceived as difficult. The survey then asked participants to identify certain difficulties when creating solutions to complex issues. 92% of participants answered that time and resource constraints are significant implementation challenges. When asked to further explain, partners disclosed that time, money, resources, pandemic, energy and staff capacity are all significant barriers. 72% of participants answered that periodic meetings of toolkit participants and webinars to discuss certain initiatives would be helpful.

Another theme shown throughout the survey was the willingness to learn and to explore new sustainable operational systems. For those who completed the survey, 92% of participants answered that they joined the Toolkit to learn more about implementing sustainable practices and to connect with other gardens.

Prospective Participants and Barriers to Entry

Eighteen organizations that are not yet involved with the toolkit completed an eighteen question survey about challenges, impressions about the website, reasons against joining, climate change, etc. The survey displays a gap between wanting to address climate change and current activities to address climate change. The first set of questions asks about how climate change is perceived throughout the organizations. 66% of non-participants answered that climate change was a priority for the organization.
Timing and cost barriers were again cited as issues. 56% of individuals decided to not join the toolkit because they did not adequately research the toolkit, and the same number believed that undertaking goals in the Toolkit was either too costly in terms of time or money. The theme that the institutions do not have enough time, money, and resources was displayed throughout the survey.

Improvements

The survey asks institutions about further improvements to the Toolkit platform such as how to improve the website, which information would be valuable to share, other additions to initiatives, and additional expectations of the joining company. This section brought forth a number of good ideas, including the addition of a monthly newsletter, new standards around water usage, and a section dedicated to advising visitors and members on how to be more sustainable at home.

Phipps is excited to have this feedback and work together with our fellow Climate Toolkit participants to maintain regular communications and improve the value of the Toolkit platform over the coming year. Working toward a shared goal, public gardens can lead the global movement to address climate change, and we are here to aid any garden with sustainable goals in mind.

If you or a garden you frequent would like to join the conversation, please download and complete our survey and return to ceo@phipps.conservatory.org.

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