How to Reduce Carbon Emissions: Energy Management and Audits

How to Reduce Carbon Emissions: Energy Management and Audits

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

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