Thursday, November 13, 2008

Northgate's Carbon Footprint

We do indeed have one, but how does it compare?
Maile Smith, November 13, 2008

Earlier this year I calculated Northgate's first, i.e. baseline, carbon footprint. We will update our carbon footprint analysis annually. Our carbon footprint is one way to measure the impact of our operational activities on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. The guidance for this analysis was the "Greenhouse Gas Protocol", developed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Resources Institute. I also used a companion document called "Working 9 to 5 on Climate Change: An Office Guide".

The organizational boundary for the study encompassed our Oakland and Newport Beach offices and all full-time employees. The operational boundary encompassed:
–Scope 1 direct emissions from company car use
–Scope 2 indirect emissions from office electricity
–Scope 3 indirect emissions from employee commuting, business travel (car and air), and paper use

Measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide (1,000 kg), Northgate's 2007 carbon footprint was:
–Scope 1 direct emissions = 8.0
–Scope 2 indirect emissions = 60.2
–Scope 3 indirect emissions = 158.7

So how do we compare to other environmental consulting firms that have reported their emissions to the California Climate Action Registry? One annual emissions report for a large, nation-wide firm reported no direct emissions (i.e., no company vehicle use) for 2006 for their US operations. Their Scope 2 emissions from energy use was 2,623 tonnes. Another large, multi-national firm reported 107 tonnes of Scope 1 emissions and 165 tonnes of Scope 2 emissions for their California operations. It is unclear if either firm accounted for employee commutes or travel in optional or de minimus emissions calculations. This makes it difficult to compare apples to apples, as Northgate's baseline appears to comprise elements that the others do not.

Is there room for improvement? Definitely. Aside from keeping the lights on, the largest contributors to our carbon footprint are employee commuting, paper use, and airline travel (in decreasing order). And although many Northgate staff already use public transportation, we should continue to encourage mass transit use as well as carpooling, biking, and walking. We have already made strides to increase the recycled content of our paper, and efforts are underway to reduce paper use overall.

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