My previous blog explained that calculation of CO2e is a way to include all greenhouse gases and their global warming potential compared to that of carbon dioxide. What are these other greenhouse gases (abbreviated as GHG)? They include methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride.

The David Suzuki website has a handbook for managing greenhouse gas emissions. The handbook contains very practical ways for measuring and reducing emissions. The first step in managing emissions is to decide which emissions to measure, for example: only those relating to employee transportation, or those related to electricity usage. Then the data from utility bills, accounting receipts, fuel logs, odometer readings, or other sources is collected. Finally, the emissions can be calculated using the data. The general formula for calculating CO2e emissions is: (activity data) x (emission factor) = GHG emissions

The challenge is to find the correct emission factor. I am still researching greenhouse gas emissions calculators and emission factors. However, a simple
calculator can be found on the EPA site. You can type in gallons of gas consumed or kilowatt-hours of electricity and the calculator will convert the amount to tons, pounds, or metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. A good place to begin experimenting is the Household Carbon Footprint Calculator. Once you have determined your quantity of GHG emissions then you can consider ways to reduce or offset it.

Let's set a goal to reduce our carbon footprint by Earth Day 2014!

What are carbon offsets? They are financial investments in projects that directly reduce energy consumption or create renewable energy.
In 2007, half of Vancity Credit Union’s carbon offsets went to local projects. This not only offset the credit union’s own carbon dioxide emissions, but also helped the local economy. That is definitely a win-win solution.
Vancity’s website lists
3 steps to achieving carbon neutrality. In the steps the abbreviation CO2e is used. This means “carbon dioxide equivalent” and is a way to include all greenhouse gases and their global warming potential compared to that of carbon dioxide. Thus, when we see a carbon footprint measured in CO2e, we know that all greenhouse gas emissions have been included in the calculation. Vancity’s three steps are:
1. “Calculate your CO2e footprint by adding up the emissions your organization creates. At Vancity, we used the World Resources Institute's greenhouse gas protocol, and the ISO 14064 standard.
2. Reduce your CO2e emissions by making operational changes to reduce the amount of CO2e you create.
3. Offset what you can't reduce by investing in high quality offsets to balance your remaining emissions.”
I think step 1 is the most difficult and also the most important. We need to be able to calculate our current footprint in order to reduce it and to measure our progress toward carbon neutrality. Stay tuned for more information on this in my next blog.

I have been fascinated by the steps that Vancity Credit Union in Vancouver, Canada has taken to reduce its ecological footprint. Vancity is the largest credit union in Canada. In 2006 they set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2010. They reached their goal two years early and have continued to work on reducing their own environmental impact as well as helping others to do the same.
What does it mean to be carbon neutral? First, the carbon dioxide emissions created by a company are tabulated. The company then achieves carbon neutrality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible and purchasing carbon offsets (more about carbon offsets in the next blog) to compensate for the emissions that cannot be omitted.
In equation form, when carbon emissions – (carbon reductions + carbon offsets) = 0, you have achieved carbon neutrality.
How did Vancity reach their goal? They focused on waste and energy reduction. In 2007, 44% of Vancity’s energy use resulted from employee transportation (commuting). Each year Vancity surveys employees to learn about how they commute. Between 1998 and 2008 the credit union was able to encourage employees to carpool or use public transit yielding a 13% decrease in the number of employees driving to work alone. Vancity also greatly reduced the amount of energy consumed by their buildings. They updated heating and cooling systems to make them more efficient. They also reduced the energy cost of their outdoor signs by 75% by converting to LED lighting and programming them to turn off later at night – when few potential clients would be driving by. Vancity claims that in the last 20 years, their strategies to reduce energy consumption have saved them at least $3.6 million.
For more information, visit the
Vancity website.

How do we measure sustainability? One way to do this from a business perspective is to use the Triple Bottom Line, or TBL. This idea is discussed in an article published by economic analysts, Slaper and Hall, from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. The TBL allows one to measure not only economic growth, but also environmental impact and social impact. I have heard these three areas referred to as the 3 P’s: profit, planet, and people. We are accustomed to measuring financial gain, but measuring environmental and social impacts is less clear. The latter two areas have been regarded more qualitatively than quantitatively.
Slaper and Hall state that the first obstacle to measuring TBL is what unit to use. Effects on planet and people are difficult to measure with monetary value. Another option would be to design an index to allow businesses to compare their performance to a national standard. 
In an index system, each of the 3 P’s can be measured differently, as can the sub-components of each P. Profits would continue to be measured in dollars. Environmental impacts could be measured in terms of concentration of specific pollutants, amount of electricity used, amount of fuel used, and amount of solid waste produced or recovered. Social measures would vary greatly by company. Some companies might measure health, income, or level of education for employees or for the community.
The next step is to analyze the data and determine what actions to take. This involves collaboration between all the stakeholders. It would be difficult to address all the subcategories of the 3 P’s, so stakeholders would have to narrow their focus by prioritizing the subcategories. This focus might be dynamic – changing over time.
A few challenges of a TBL index are that some of the ratings would be based on an evaluator’s opinion, not numerical data. There would be questions about the importance of each of the 3 P’s and the categories in each. However, the benefits of an index system are that it allows flexibility based on the data available for a particular business or project.
According to Slaper and Hall, using the Triple Bottom Line can help a business to be more financially profitable over the long term. Simple steps like reducing energy consumption and waste production are very tangible and have financial benefits. An example of this would be building a LEED certified building that saves on energy costs for heating and cooling and conserves water. These savings add up over time. While the environmental and social factors might seem separate from financial decisions at the present moment, they will have significant impacts on future profit. As consumers become more educated, they will be more likely to support businesses that see themselves as part of a community – a community which includes the environment we all share and the people with whom we share it.