Jun 17 2010

Things to Consider

Where would you start to calculate the footprint of any activity, especially one as variable as “training”?   First, ask yourself why you want to know the footprint.  Do you want to:

  • Compare one method ( eLearning) to another method (week-long seminars)?
  • Calculate a baseline from which to measure improvements over time?
  • Calculate precise values for regulatory or financial purposes?

Comparing two or more methods requires less information than calculating precise values.  Like most things, if you start with something simple, adding detail (complexity) to it as warranted will be easier and faster than starting out with the fine detail.  The purpose of the Footprint Wheel on the home page of this site was to promote using virtual technology whenever possible.  It is an awareness piece, not intended to be used for regulatory or financial reports.  The steps to calculate the values in the Footprint Wheel are valid even if you need more precise measurements.  You will just have to consider more aspects and gather more data on the impacts.

The steps:

1. What Processes do you need to consider?

Make a list of environmental aspects and impacts associated with the processes of face-to-face training and eLearning.  For the Footprint Wheel, they are:

  • Building facilities training (not used otherwise); material production and transportation, land use
  • Furnishing training facilities (furniture, electronics; production, shipment, disposal)
  • Using facilities (air conditioning, heating, water use and treatment)
  • Printing of paper materials used in face-to-face, including drafts/mistakes that are thrown away
  • Production of non-paper materials used in face-to-face
  • Shipping of materials to training site
  • Traveling by instructors and participants to training site, daily commuting or extended stays
  • Living arrangements for instructors and participants who are not commuting

Include assumptions.  For this analysis, the assumption was that with virtual learning, there would be a negligible increase in computer usage because in 2007 most office workers had at least one work computer and one home computer, all being served by network servers connected through intranet and Internet equipment.  To be completely fair, if everyone did everything electronically, the environmental impact of computers would rise.

2. What are the Aspects of those processes?

From the processes, make a list of environmental aspects associated with them.  An aspect is a output of your process that you can touch (and possibly measure) that will affect the environment.

  • CO2 (metric tons) – every process above contributes to this aspect.
  • Freshwater used (gallons)
  • Water treated (gallons)
  • Electricity used (KWhr)
  • Heat produced (therms)
  • Crude Oil (barrels)
  • Noise (decibels/hour)
  • Light pollution
  • Pollution (from chemical used in production and disposal)
  • Non-productive time (person-hrs)

Locate data on each of these aspects as they relate to your processes.  Search the web, talk to others in your industry, find industry data online, ask your employees and co-workers for usage data… Don’t rely on one source and read everything with a critical eye.  For the Footprint Wheel, these three were excellent starting places:

  • The Oil Drum – discussions about energy and our future.  This site gave me a great starting place for calculating the impacts of travel.
  • CarbonFund.org – I used their formulae for calculating the carbon footprint of travel and office activities.
  • Ecological Footprint analysis of The Countryside Council for Wales offers a comprehensive look at how our daily activities impact the environment.

Each of these sources led to several additional sources.  Because many of the aspects are algebraically equivalent to others (e.g., carbon dioxide per therm is a known value), it made sense to pare down the list to these three aspects:

  • Carbon Dioxide (pounds)
  • Crude Oil (barrels)
  • Non-productive Time (hours)

The next thing to do is to calculate the the change to these aspects – increase or decrease – due to your actions.  This change is known as the Impact and is discussed on the Calculations page.

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