What is Run the Alps’ carbon footprint?

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This is another in a series of articles that are part of our Run the Alps Sustainability Project. Check out our Sustainability Project to see what we’re doing to reduce our impact as a company. We welcome your input. 

In our last article in the Sustainability Series, How climate change is affecting the Alps, we explained how global warming is one of the biggest threats facing the alpine environment today. While temperatures have risen by 2.5°F in France over the 20th century, they have risen by 3.6° F in the Alps during that same time. Many alpine species and communities are struggling to keep up with this unprecedented rate of change.

The Mer de Glace has retreated by two kilometers since 1850. At that time it was so large that it reached all the way into Chamonix. In the last thirty years, warming has increased Mer de Glace loses to three to five meters every year. (Photo © David Thexton Photography.)

With this in mind, Run the Alps founder Doug Mayer and I met up for coffee this past fall, to try to determine the carbon footprint of the company. We wanted to identify every potential impact – including baggage transfers, hotel rooms, meals and even the pre-trip material Run the Alps sends to guests.

After an hour, we had developed a pretty extensive list. Next came the hard part: figuring out the carbon cost of each activity. Getting an accurate number for the carbon footprint of an object such as a guidebook can be extremely difficult. Here’s the sort of challenge we faced:

The true carbon footprint of a plastic toy, for example, includes not only the direct emissions resulting from the manufacturing process and the transportation of the toy to the shop: it also includes a whole host of indirect emissions, such as those caused by the extraction and processing of the oil used to make the plastic in the first place. If you think about it, tracing back all the things that have to happened to make that toy leads to an infinite number of pathways, most of which are infinitesimally small.
(Mike Berners-Lee, from the book, How Bad are Bananas – The Carbon Footprint of Everything.)

Luckily for us, we were already in touch with the UN Global Climate Action team and they kindly helped us with a breakdown, which made for interesting reading. Here’s what we found out. 

Total Carbon Footprint of Run the Alps

Yearly Footprint (Office and staff commuting)
= 12.89 tons*

Average Trip Footprint (Seven guests and one guide)
= 6.94 tons* (This excludes the international travel of guests. We’ll get to that later!)

*These totals includes an additional 10%, to assure we’re covering the impact.

It’s worth noting here that there are many greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide. Methane, for example, is 25 times more potent per kilogram than C02 and nitrous oxide is a head-spinning 300 times more potent in terms of its warming effect. As a single activity can result in many different greenhouse gases being emitted, the usual convention is to express carbon footprint in terms of the CO2 equivalent. (The totals given throughout this article are expressed as such.)

At 3842m elevation, the Aiguille du Midi is the highest lift-accessed mountain in the world and a highlight of any trip to Chamonix. During the winter of 2018-2019, this lift was forced to close as its foundation became unstable due to melting permafrost. There are real concerns for the future structural integrity of the Aiguille du Midi and other mountains as permafrost continues to thaw throughout the Alps. (Photo: © Dom Daher, freerideworldtour.com.)

The Breakdown

The figures provided below have been provided by the UN Global Climate Action Team and are expressed as C02 equivalent:

Yearly Costs to Operate Run the Alps – 12.89 Tons

  • Run the Alps office space: 5.89 tons*
  • Run the Alps partner, Alpinehikers office space: 5.89 tons*
  • Run the Alps founder commuting from Chamonix to United States, once per year: 1.11 tons

Notes
An average 25 square meter room in the US will use 11.77 tons of CO2 equivalent per year.

Average Per Trip: Transport – 5.16 Tons

  • Baggage transfers: 1.62 tons
  • Average guide commute to meet clients: 2.08 tons
  • Guest transfers from Geneva to Chamonix and return: 1.46 tons

Notes
The largest transport impact by far on our trips is the international flights of our guests. This number is significant enough that we decided to exclude it from these calculations. We’ll discuss it– along with our thoughts about how to mitigate it– in an upcoming article.

Comparison of the land area in the Mont Blanc region that is at 0 degrees C or lower in mid July, with the land area that is predicted to remain at 0 degrees C in 2100. Predictions show that only the highest mountain tops will remain below freezing in the summer. (Image © CREA Mont Blanc – Source C. Randin and N. Zimmerman.)

Per Trip: Pre-Departure – 0.48 tons

  • Seven guests each buying some new gear: a new jacket, trail running shoes and running vest: 0.14 tons
  • Materials provided from Run the Alps: 0.34 tons

Per Trip: Food – 0.41 tons

  • Three meals per day for eight people for nine days.
  • On an average Run the Alps trip, 50% of our guests are omnivores and the remaining half are pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan:

Three meat eaters: 0.19 tons
Three pescatarians: 0.14 tons
One vegetarian: 0.042 tons
One vegan: 0.037 tons

Notes
Yearly footprint of an average meat eater in the US = 2.5 tons
Yearly footprint of a non-beef diet in the US = 1.9 tons
Yearly footprint of a vegetarian diet in the US = 1.7 tons
Yearly footprint of a vegan diet in the US = 1.5 tons

Per Trip: Accommodations: 256.32 kg

On an average trip there are eight people staying in a 3-star hotel for eight nights and two people sharing per room = 256.32kg

Note: 8.01kg is the average footprint of an occupied hotel room in France.

Glacier retreat gamchi glacier

A comparison of the Gamchi Glacier, Switzerland in July 2011 (above) and June 2018 (below) showing the rapid rate of glacial retreat (Photo: © Simon Oberli at Swissglaciers.org)

Work out your own carbon impact

If you are looking for a climate offset solution for your own organization, the UN Carbon Neutral Now Pledge is a fantastic initiative with which to get involved. The team will help you work out your carbon footprint and support you in reducing your emissions — and offsetting what you can’t reduce.

If you are an individual and would like to determine your own carbon footprint, there are many excellent carbon footprint calculators online. If you fly a lot, then the ICAO calculator is one of the most accurate to work out the carbon emissions of your flight. Once you know your carbon footprint, you may want to consider ways to reduce or offset it

If you are interested in learning more about the carbon footprint of everyday items,  the book How Bad are Bananas – the Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee is a fantastic and very enjoyable book to read. It covers everything from a cup of tea to flights, and even volcanic eruptions!

The Run the Alps Stewardship Project

Of course, our carbon footprint is just one of the environmental impacts of Run the Alps. There are many others, including trail erosion, noise pollution, habitat disruption and cultural impacts. We will be addressing all of these impacts in later articles as part of our Stewardship Project.

Our Stewardship Project is a place for us to explore environmental issues in an open forum. We hope to contribute to the conversation surrounding sustainable tourism and we welcome your ideas and feedback. The issues discussed as part of the project will inform how we operate and grow as an organization.

Other articles in our Stewardship Project Series

Jennifer Stretton is an International Mountain Leader based in Chamonix. She has a degree in Geography and is editor of the Stewardship Project for Run the Alps.

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