Happy Earth Day, from the Climate Emergency Committee.
When we established our committee a few months ago, one of the first items on our to-do list was to take a look at the carbon footprint of ourselves, as streets dot mn. Carbon emissions need to drop, and there’s no reason why we as an organization should be exempt from a drop.
“But we’re not a major contributor to emissions, is it worth our while?”
Of course it is! We all need to do better so we can, as they say, all do better.
Step one in reducing your emissions is figuring out how much you’re causing to be emitted, so we decided to do an audit.
For small organizations like ours, the process of doing an audit is strange. Most of the carbon audit resources we could find were geared toward individuals, industrial processes, or at best, office buildings. For streets.mn, there’s no dedicated workspaces, so most of the carbon emitted would be from our website, our board meetings and social events, and then the deeply miscellaneous stuff that goes along with having an organization.
I found a website that uses some simple tests to provide a rough draft calculation of your carbon footprint, websitecarbon.com. It estimates our footprint at 66.24 kg of CO2 equivalent in a year, and says that our website is “cleaner” than 67% of other websites. I asked a friend to check on the tests they’re running, and they appear to be very rough estimates – but the numbers aren’t coming out of thin air, at least. It uses a lot of assumptions, the most interesting of which are at the top of their gitlab, and those assumptions in turn rely on other assumptions. Basically, it’s a hard problem, and we couldn’t find anyone who’s figured out how to do a truly accurate calculation for a website.
Take a big grain of salt with that 66.24 kg: when I ran the figures a month ago, it estimated 63.11 kg. Have the calculations gotten more accurate, visitor numbers gone up, or was it changes to our website? Hard to say!
It’s nice that our website hosts have committed to sustainable energy, assuming that commitment has carried through into practice, but what about all the side services and add-ons we use? Our payment processors, our gravatar add-ons? What about the computers/internet connections we use to write posts and comments from? What about the costs of the server racks? Are the people who go to work at the server facilities driving there or taking the bus? It’s not possible to take responsibility for every step in the chain: even the Low Tech Magazine, which runs almost entirely off a single solar panel, had to stop at the computer components for the server they were running on.
If you have a better carbon footprint calculator, sound off in the comments. We will take a starting point of ~66 kg/yr, and work to reduce our carbon emissions from there.
Next time: We’ll talk about carbon footprints for events.
Editor’s note: Pine is the co-chair of the streets.mn Climate Emergency Committee, and they have been leading the carbon audit process. Click here for more information about volunteering for streets.mn and our committees.
In order to document streets.mn’s carbon footprint, you’d need to at least start by calculating the carbon footprint of all computers, cables, wiring, etc. used in writing, maintaining, and hosting of the website. The number is much, much higher than this calculator estimates.
This point was addressed in the article.
Starting somewhere is what it’s all about. This post addresses the site and its hosting. Individual writers and editors are an outer layer of the carbon footprint “onion” that the climate committee can add to our list.
Thanks for your work on getting this process going, Nicky! It is such a huge step to have an estimated footprint for the website hosting. I look forward to your next installment in the “carbon audit” series!