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.
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.
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.)
The figures provided below have been provided by the UN Global Climate Action Team and are expressed as C02 equivalent:
An average 25 square meter room in the US will use 11.77 tons of CO2 equivalent per year.
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.
Three meat eaters: 0.19 tons
Three pescatarians: 0.14 tons
One vegetarian: 0.042 tons
One vegan: 0.037 tons
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
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.
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!
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.
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.