Help Your Guests Track Their Carbon Footprints

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

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