Water is one of the essential resources that botanical gardens need to support plant life. Gardens need to irrigate plants, but we also need to do it in a sustainable manner. Reducing waste water can better improve groundwater flow, ecosystems, and reservoirs, lower financial costs, and addresses climate change by reducing the need for energy-intensive treatment. For these reasons, the Climate Toolkit has recently added two new goals directly related to water management. If you have achieved or are planning to achieve these goals, please let us know so we can add this information to the database!

Phipps Conservatory used water metering to analyze their consumption of water and leak management to minimize their water loss. In this article, we are going to define water efficiency, Project Drawdown water strategies, EPA water conservation strategies, and water metering within botanical gardens, and explain how the system helped Phipps Conservatory significantly reduce their water waste.

Project Drawdown: Leak Management

Project Drawdown focuses on reducing global carbon emissions by releasing critical information on climate solutions. The nonprofit has released solutions on Transportation, Electricity, Food and Agriculture, Health and Education, Industry and Buildings, among other topics.   One of the issues listed within Project Drawdown is Water Distribution Efficiency which “addresses leaks in water distribution networks.” A significant amount of water is lost when pumped to different users within the distribution system. Water utility companies use electricity to pump water throughout their system and is consequentially one of the biggest consumers of electricity. Leaks and cracks can cause a significant amount of water to be pumped back through the pipes to replace what was lost causing more electricity to be used. Project Drawdown recommends either using pressure management or active leak detection to increase water efficiency across campus.

Leaks can be detected using a variety of methods, including water metering, leak detection and pressure management. If an organization installs pressure valves, leaks and cracks can be detected, inspected and sealed. If pressure management and active leak detection is used precisely, Project Drawdown can estimates that water losses “can be reduced by an additional 38 – 47 percent globally by 2050.” Reducing waste water can significant save capital while reducing current carbon emissions.

EPA Efficiency Strategies: Water Metering

The EPA released a guide on the best practices of water efficiency which includes: Water System Management, Leak Management, Metering, Conservation Rate Structure, End Use Water Conservation and Efficiency Analysis, and Water Conservation and Efficiency Plan.

Water Metering can be defined as measuring the flow of water into a system and is designed to track and measure the amount of water used for irrigation and water processing. Water Metering allows users to understand how much water you are using and where you are using it, which will then help you strategize ways in which you can reduce water use.

Phipps Conservatory

Conserving water is essential to addressing the problems related to having combined sewage system in Pittsburgh. When there is significant amount of precipitation, the system overflows sewage and rain into the local rivers. Conserving all water from precipitation and reusing as much sanitary and municipal water is essential to preventing this. Phipps’ water system that is sorted into three sections: sanitary, municipal, and rain water . Phipps utilizes rain barrels, rain gardens and a lagoon to capture water. Water that is stored is used to irrigate their plants, saving potable water in the process. Phipps recycles the sanitary water from the three buildings on its lower campus by circulating the water through a settling tank then constructed wetland and sand filters. The final stage runs the cleaned water past a UV light to kill any pathogens before it is recirculated to flush toilets.

In 2012, water metering was installed throughout the Phipps campus. Phipps’ water metering system is spread out throughout the conservatory, allowing staff to target leaks and cracks. In most cases, research on water metering is focused on potential savings and reduction efficiency within urban systems and residential areas. Phipps Conservatory focused on their current infrastructure to improve their water systems.

With the help of water metering, Phipps found that it used a total 12,050,000 gallons of water throughout the conservatory in 2012. 53% of the total water was used for water features and process water and 44% of the total water was used for irrigation. Phipps realized that there were significant water inefficiencies and waste within their system. Instead of completely rebuilding the system, Phipps focused on upgrading the current infrastructure. This plan consisted of replacing water features with models featuring control boards, timers, and level sensors to reduce overall waste water. In addition to water metering, control boards also allow for leaks and cracks to be easily identified. Water consumption fell at Phipps by 45% and saved about 5.5 million gallons of water. Phipps continuing to improve the systems and technology.


  1. Phipps recommends using the Living Building Challenge’s Water Petal for guidance on construction and existing retrofits.
  • Focus on the reduction of waste water throughout the campus not the financial savings! Return on investment is not applicable for water reductions because this is a slow process completing each small goal at a time.

More Resources

Water Distribution Efficiency

Best Practices to Consider When Evaluating Water Conservation and Efficiency as an Alternative for Water Supply Expansion

Studies Showing Multiple Water Management Systems

International Living Further Institute Water Petal

Reducing carbon emissions in horticulture work starts with switching from fossil-fuel-powered to electric equipment. Not only can investing in electric horticulture equipment minimize costs, but the tools are often lighter and quieter. Many brands have a statement of product sustainability and a commitment to social responsibility. We asked staff from San Diego Botanic Garden, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Phipps Conservatory and Hillwood Estate for recommendations on their favorite electric horticulture equipment. Here’s what we learned!

Stihl is best known for their chainsaws but now have multiple highly-rated electric horticulture tools, produced to environmentally friendly standards. Stihl received the most mentions out any other company or product, with Norfolk Botanical Garden, San Diego Botanic Garden, and Mount Auburn Cemetery all using these tools. Mount Auburn used Stihl’s battery-powered trimmers, blowers, and chain saws. The San Diego Botanic Garden also uses the Stihl’s electric blowing equipment.

Mean Green Mowers is a brand of electric lawn mowers. A charging station of solar panels are offered for each lawn mower that is purchased. Mean Green Mowers also offers helpful tips for purchasing electric equipment, addressing climate change in the garden and committing to sustainable horticulture on their blog. Phipps Conservatory and Mount Auburn Cemetery use Mean Green Mowers for their lawn care. Note that Mean Green Mowers may require a supplemental tool for leaf mulching in the fall.

Ryobi is an automobile company that offers a variety of electric horticulture tools. Ryobi’s line of electric horticulture equipment including a weed whacker that Phipps currently uses on their campus

The Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens uses the Greenworks 40-volt blower to clean the greenhouse floors. The electric tool is “lightweight and have been used at Hill Wood for about eight years”. The life span of the blower is about three years.

The Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens is also testing the EGO 56 volt, 7.5 AH backpack blower. The backpack lasts about 45 minutes if not consistently used. The blower can be consistently turned on and off compared to the gas powered blower. Director of Horticulture Jessica Bonilla recommends using the blower as a “first line of defense” and “not when actively raining/snowing”. Below Verra Pfaffli is using an EGO blower to remove leaves at Hillwood Estate.

Veera Pfaffli

On Wed., Dec. 9, our first Climate Toolkit Webinar covered topics including energy reduction, on-site generation and transitioning to renewable energy, and featured presentations from Mt. Cuba Center of Delaware, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens of Pennsylvania, and Norfolk Botanic Garden of Virginia. Watch the presentation above, and sign up for our newsletter for announcements of future webinars.

We are currently faced with decisions that will either inhibit or advance the health of ourselves and our environment. Every change that you can make in your organization can positively impact the surrounding environment and people.

Mitigating carbon emissions for an entire organization or botanical garden can seem incredibly difficult, but the key is knowing where to begin – and this guide will help you get started! The Climate Toolkit suggests that you begin to manage your energy by conducting an audit, establishing a baseline and identifying the most effective tools for mitigation. This guide will explain a summary of what sustainable energy management systems and energy audits are, why to use both, examples of other gardens that embrace net-zero energy, and further recommendations.

Three Scopes of Emissions:

The World Resources Institute Greenhouse Gas Protocol categorizes emissions sources with three scopes for the purposes of tracking, which provide a good organizational-level model to begin considering your emissions impact. As paraphrased from from their website:

  • Scope 1 covers direct emissions from owned or controlled sources.
  • Scope 2 covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the reporting company.
  • Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain.

While all three scopes should be tracked and audited for a comprehensive approach to energy management, Scope 1 and 2 emissions make a good starting point for expansion and represent the emissions that are most within an organization’s ability to track and control, and will be principally discussed in the rest of this article.

What Is an Energy Management System?

Energy management can be defined as “the process of monitoring, controlling or conserving energy in a building or organization.” Every company’s energy usage is measured in some form, even if only to generate billing for electricity or other services, but the focus here is to use a system to reduce energy usage and carbon emissions.

Sustainable energy management takes a regenerative approach to considering energy use in that it looks not just at individual components but the overall system. Think of sustainable energy management as a continuous cycle — an ongoing process to assess and improve performance — rather than finite goal. The first step of a sustainable energy management system is completing an energy audit.

Where to Begin: An Energy Audit

An energy audit is an assessment of current energy usage. Outside firms or your utility provider can conduct energy audits and assess your campus’ energy system. The average commercial audit will cost between $1,000 and $15,000 depending on the size of your campus and the complexity of the audit. Audits completed internally can also be useful, assuming a generous amount of time for staff to complete such an analysis.

Among self-analysis tools, the EPA’s Simplified Greenhouse Gases Emissions Calculator is a comprehensive tool that any organization can use to get started. Phipps Conservatory is planning to begin use of this tool for its own internal tracking. If your organization would like to join us by trying this tool or a similar tool, please reach out to us; your experience will be valuable in helping to determine best practices for other gardens to employ.

Energy audits can evaluate specific energy usage systems, building envelopes, building systems, operations and maintenance procedures or building schedules. When striving to reduce carbon emissions, an energy audit can be helpful to show which buildings and areas are using the most significant amounts of energy and where targeted reductions can have the greatest benefits. The audit will create an energy usage and emission baseline that can be used as a standard for comparison to after changes are implemented.

Based on the data, auditors create cost and energy recommendations. The audit creates a baseline of energy usage and financial data which is then compared to the recommendations. Energy audits will save money by helping to prioritize the “low hanging fruit,” or the interventions you can take which will yield the greatest immediate impact. As you progress in your audit recommendations, savings may be related to the long-term and in some cases there may be no savings other than to people and planetary health – but all are important to comprehensively addressing these issues and providing a high-level example for others.

Examples of an Energy Management at Public Gardens:

Two organizations that have successfully reduced their greenhouse gas emissions are the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. NYBG created a sustainable energy system that consistently measures and further reduces their carbon emissions. Phipps created a sustainable energy platform that significantly reduced their carbon emissions and actively engages employees.

Research supports the use of energy audits and energy management systems for an overall reduction of carbon emissions. NYBG currently relies heavily on an annual carbon and energy audit to determine areas of high carbon emissions and have improved their energy systems by converting to a cleaner natural gas heating system, upgrading their AC systems, refurbishing their ventilation system and participating in demand management and outreach programs. Through these efforts, NYBG reduced their carbon footprint by 53% per sq. ft., saving the garden roughly $300,000 annually. They have invested in a long-term commitment to consistently improving their energy system to reduce their carbon emissions.

During their multi-phase expansion, Phipps operated with the understanding that human and environmental health are interdependent. They knew that the new and renovated buildings needed to be beautiful, functional and efficient. The three most recent projects, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, Nature Lab and Exhibit Staging Center are all net-positive, meaning on-site renewables generate more electricity than the buildings need. Since that expansion, Phipps has reduced their overall carbon dioxide emissions by 56% per square foot and now uses 100% renewable electricity that is either produced on-site with solar and wind or purchased offsite.  If organizations cannot produce renewable energy on campus, Renewable Energy Certificates can be purchased from their electricity provider. While not as effective in addressing climate change as on-site generation, using RECs can support renewable energy and green innovation and jobs. Purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates is a first step in the right direction to commit to carbon emission reductions.

Each month, Phipps’ facilities team collects gas, electricity and energy data and compares it to past performance to identify irregularities and anomalies. Additionally, a committee representing each of the institution’s departments meets to review the data and share ideas of operational changes that can further increase efficiency and reduce emissions.


The Climate Toolkit gives three suggestions to every botanical garden and organization wanting to reduce their carbon emissions.

Conduct an energy audit

The first recommendation is to conduct an audit and determine carbon emission and energy baselines. It is helpful to identify the sectors that contribute the most to emissions, often giving you a good place to start.

Talk to your energy provider

The second recommendation is talking to your energy provider about purchasing renewable energy. Phipps currently does not produce enough electricity onsite satisfy the demand of the entire campus, but they are able to purchase renewable energy to account for what is not produced on campus. Your electricity provider may be able to suggest available renewable energy options or other solutions.

Examine operational-level carbon emission

The final recommendation is to assess and analyze carbon emissions on the operational level. Incentives and programs may help employees, guests and other stakeholders reduce their carbon emissions. At Phipps, employees who sustainably commute (biking, walking, public transportation or carpooling) are financially compensated.


Botanical Examples of Energy Systems

Audit Resources

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:


    • 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

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

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.


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.


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

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