Leveraging the Pandemic to Reduce Carbon—for Good
Update: Lord Aeck Sargent corrected its white paper based on new data on flying. We have revised this article to reflect that.
Did you fly in 2020? Hardly anyone did, and that had a huge impact on the carbon footprints of all kinds of businesses. Architecture firm Lord Aeck Sargent (LAS) tracked six months of 2020 operational carbon emissions compared against six months in 2019.
730,687 avoided miles
LAS has been measuring and offsetting its operational carbon emissions since 2007. In 2020, because of COVID-19, the offices were closed, hardly any meetings were held in person, and there was virtually no travel for conferences. The carbon savings (after accounting for increased energy use at employees’ homes) from avoided commuting, rental car travel, flying, and office energy use totaled 291 metric tons.
Does Zoom really work?
Although in-person meetings are vital for certain scenarios—and clients are still requiring them at times—virtual meetings can be just as effective, and sometimes more so, argues Fletcher. “In my personal experience, creatively collaborating has gone extraordinarily well,” Fletcher told BuildingGreen.
Jim Nicolow, FAIA, director of sustainability at LAS, said he’s gotten pulled into more meetings on smaller projects that he wouldn’t normally have been included in had they been held in person. “We’re seeing opportunities to draw on more of the team more often,” he said.
And Fletcher noted that interns were able to attend client interviews, which would have been unheard of if everyone were flying to meetings.
“There’s good and bad,” though, said Nicolow. “Zoom fatigue is real.”
The reduced 2020 footprint is a boon. The question is, can that success continue after the global pandemic ends?
To “bounce forward” from the pandemic, the white paper recommends a “simplified evaluation policy for air travel approvals to enable informed decision-making about whether a meeting must be done in person.” Carbon impact, income, and other factors could be included in evaluations to create a “strategy for more transparently considering the significant … climate-change emissions associated with air travel.”
Additionally, the report recommends continued working from home for employees since, based on a survey of 200 LAS employees, it appears to increase job satisfaction and have other positive effects. Assuming only half of workers are in the office on any given day, the firm could avoid almost 74 metric tons of carbon emissions from commuting. “That’s seven car trips around the equator,” says the white paper. Additionally, “at an average annual cost of $7,000 per desk, that would suggest $525,000 per year in excess office rent that might be avoided.”
Don’t forget the buildings
Operational emissions from architecture firms can clearly be massive, but ultimately they are dwarfed by the long-term emissions of the buildings those firms are designing. “As impactful as travel was, it’s still the decisions we’re making on buildings and building efficiency” that matter most, Nicolow said.
For more information:
Melton, P. (2022, July 20). Leveraging the Pandemic to Reduce Carbon—for Good. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/newsbrief/leveraging-pandemic-reduce-carbon-good