Six months ago we gave up our car in order to reduce The Rubbish Trip’s transport emissions footprint. We’ve since started logging all our transport into Catalyst’s free ACE Carbon Calculator to calculate our transport emissions. We’ve created a handy infographic (below) as our first 6-monthly report-back.
We really regret that we didn’t do this from the beginning of The Rubbish Trip, but such is life. In those first 15 months we still only used our car to get between main centres, while cycling, walking and using public transport the rest of the time. And we’ve never gotten a flight. However, beyond that we can’t tell you what our transport footprint was.
Our inability to account for our first 15 months of transport emissions spurred us to start systematically logging and calculating our transport emissions. We recognise the world is in a state of climate emergency and that we all must start reducing carbon emissions and living within a climate budget, urgently. However, we can’t manage what we don’t measure.
By taking the time to start measuring our emissions, we’re trying to set an example for other NGOs, businesses and households to follow – there’s really no reason why we can’t all be using a carbon calculator to do some carbon accounting! We are the most non-numbers people ever. For us, filing a tax return feels akin to slowly unravelling into a pile of discombobulated yarn. So, if we can manage calculating our emissions, probably anyone can (although, we hasten to add that we’ve probably calculated half of this 6-monthly report wrong, haha. We’re sure cleverer numbers people can let us know if we’ve made egregious boo-boos).
Measuring our transport emissions has been very valuable, revealing to us the following things:
The final thing we want to note is that NZ-specific carbon calculators for transport are unsatisfactory. Economist Paul Callister already noted this in a post he penned in 2016. Three years on, our observation is that although user-friendly NZ calculators now exist, the presumptions underlying the calculations need improvement:
Putting aside that we’ve probably made calculation errors and that the carbon calculators we use don’t have perfect emissions factors for the kind of transport we rely on, this exercise has shown us that it doesn’t matter how well you think you are doing to reduce your carbon footprint, you still need to make actual calculations to back those thoughts up.
By recording our transport and then measuring the emissions, we can see that our decision to go car-free has made a difference, and that the hard slog of getting buses rather than flying around is also worth it. It’s good to know this, for our morale, ha! By the same token though, making these measurements and doing breakdowns of where our emissions come from allows us to see that there’s more we can do and to identify the specific areas that we should focus on improving. We’re up for the challenge!
Measuring emissions is also important because unless we can see what makes a difference and what doesn’t, the average human isn’t motivated to make the effort. It’s our theory that people get much more passionate and excited about waste reduction than they do about climate change because waste is something tangible and visible. Not only can you see the negative impact of waste, which is a propeller for change, but when you DO make changes to reduce waste, you have something to show for it on rubbish collection day – smaller bin bags, less mess, etc. In contrast, reducing one’s carbon footprint is much more ethereal to most people…
Carbon budgeting is one way of making reductions in emissions more real and tangible. So, we’re throwing out the wero to everyone – households, NGOs, businesses and individuals – to start more enthusiastically measuring your emissions and beginning to question some of the things that seem impossible to change. For us, The Rubbish Trip puts us on the road fulltime, which pushes up transport’s total proportion of our emissions profile. It could be easy to argue that “this is inevitable, there’s nothing we can do, our hands are tied – The Rubbish Trip is a nationwide roadshow, after all!” However, we don’t want to waste energy making those arguments. We enjoy putting our energy into making changes! In the end, it’s all about how you frame it – a miserable sacrifice, or a challenge or a game?