UCAR/NCAR calculates its greenhouse gas emissions

In late September, Sustainable UCAR announced preliminary results from the first-ever inventory of UCAR/NCAR's annual greenhouse gas emissions, showing that electricity use is by far the organization's largest source of emissions (about 81%), with business travel in second place at about 12%.

Pie chart showing UCAR's greenhouse gas emissions for 2007.

UCAR/NCAR made a commitment to examine its greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on climate change when joining the Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Leaders Program in 2008. Following EPA protocols, Sustainable UCAR calculated emissions from building operations, vehicle fleet, and business travel, using fiscal year 2007 as a baseline. The inventory includes facilities and property for which UCAR has operational control, covering Foothills Lab, Center Green, the Mesa Lab, Research Aviation Facility, Marshall Field Site, Mauna Loa Observatory, and leased office space in Washington, D.C.

It is typical for the lion's share of emissions at office-based businesses and research institutions to come from electricity usage, according to Sustainable UCAR's Kimberly Kosmenko. The inventory found that the majority of UCAR's electricity usage (61%) goes into cooling and heating buildings, lighting, and machinery and appliances. The remaining 39% goes into powering and controlling temperature in the ML supercomputing center.

Adding up air miles

Other sources of UCAR/NCAR's emissions include business travel (12%), research aircraft (6%), owned and leased vehicles (<1%), gas and propane (<1%), and refrigerant leakage and fire suppression emissions (<1%).

Business air travel paid for by UCAR/NCAR amounts to more than 20 million miles annually, according to the inventory. Doug Nychka (IMAGe) helped Sustainable UCAR develop a methodology for calculating these miles, advised the data collection process, and conducted statistical analysis.

In order to determine the number and distance of UCAR-paid flights taken by travelers in fiscal year 2007, Doug and the team selected a random sample of travel authorizations and then extrapolated the total distance of flight segments in the short-haul, medium-haul, and long-haul categories in order to accurately calculate the total emissions. (Because additional fuel is burned in takeoff and landing, the average emissions per mile are greater for short-haul flights. Long-haul flights have the highest efficiency on a per-mile basis.)

What now?

Now that UCAR/NCAR has a baseline greenhouse gas inventory, the organization's next step is to consider emissions management goals. "At this time, our primary focus is on identifying opportunities to reduce our electricity usage," Kimberly says. "Because electricity usage leads to the majority of our emissions, it's the natural place to begin mitigation efforts."

The organization is considering three possibilities for reducing electricity use: producing renewable energy onsite, modifying purchasing and usage of electronics and appliances to reduce energy demand, and improving the overall energy efficiency of building systems. 

Sustainable UCAR plans to compile and release inventories for fiscal years 2006, 2008, and 2009 by the end of 2010 in order to reveal trends over time. Greenhouse gas inventories will be completed annually in the future. The program will keep staff updated as plans develop.

Staff interested in making greener purchasing choices and reducing resource use at the office can find tips on Sustainable UCAR.