My journey to a net zero carbon and hopefully carbon positive life (and art practice)
Process, Baselines and Footprints?
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” ― Lao Tzu
As promised, this chapter is about my process and thoughts on constructing a more detailed carbon footprint baseline with respect to my art practice and life.
It’s been some time (around 18 months) since my last update and as we are all too aware, the world has changed. On the surface, assessing where we are may seem a bit inconsequetial, but when one really looks at what is happening across the board in science, technology, socio-economics and politics, the world is a bit scary in some parts (British understatement) and really exciting in others.
There has probably never been a time when stepping up to making changes in our lives is so important.
Change can be difficult, so I wanted to make a map to discover where I was and where I wanted to be. I love a good map.
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.
- Lewis Carroll
Extract from Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony, in Eight Fits (London: Macmillan & Co, 1876)
So the following is an overview - a kind of process map of what’s been happening since 2021 in my plan to develop a sustainable and carbon neutral art practice.
First, I needed to calculate my carbon footprint to create a baseline or starting point.
In 2021, I used the WWF calculator as a good general starting point for my life and home. The calculations from WWF were great to help estimate my general carbon emissions based on lifestyle and consumption habits and it’s specific to the UK so factors in country emissions as well. These calculators typically ask questions about your energy use, transportation, diet, and other activities, and use this information to estimate your carbon footprint.
I then used the calculator at Carbonfootprint.com to calculate the footprint for my work. The tool provides options which allowed me to add in information specific to my making so I could get a footprint for my practice.
This included the basic materials I use to make my work, such as
clear glass (Glasma) - carbon information from Glasma (1)
colour rods (Kugler and Gaffer) – extrapolated carbon information(2)
energy used* in the making (both gas and electric) from the studios hired for the sessions (*info/data kindly supplied by the studio owners)
travel to and from the hired studios (mileage)
energy* and water required for the finishing of the pieces in my home studio (* kWh above normal household usage(3) , water was measured)
(1) Glasma provided the tCO2e for their pelletised batch and for it’s melting. I also confirmed the pot melt energy use with the hiring studio.
(2) tCO2e information was not available from the manufacturers for the colour so I used the clear glass/Glasma information and multiplied by 2 to get an approx value.
(3) As my studio was at my home the basic heating, water and lighting studio requirements were included in my home footprint.
(4) I did not include the footprint of my packaging but where possible bought packaging made from recycled materials
(5) Shipping – I used verified carbon neutral transport for shipping to exhibitions and for pieces sold.
It’s not an exact science but this information gave me a good idea of where I was and became my ‘you are here’ moment in terms of carbon.
As you can see from the graphic, my carbon footprint came to 7.52 tonnes of tCO2e which is almost 2 tonnes higher that the UK average. This was expected due to the inclusion of my work.
I purchased 9.00 tonnes of tCO2e offsets based on verified carbon reduction projects and UK tree planting. The additional amount, around 16% was to help cover things not included in the calculations.
This meant that during 2021-22 by making some lifestyle changes* (see additional information) and using offsets, both my life and practice were carbon neutral.
It should be noted that this has not been externally verified but it has encouraged me into bigger more sustainable changes with regarding my life and practice. This was a very exciting time and is just the beginning...
The next chapter brings us up to date...to 2023 and what we are doing now.
I used information from many sources to identify the easiest things I could do to reduce my carbon footprint. This article on top tips to reduce your carbon footprint from the Energy Saving Trust was a great starting point.
Here are a few of the changes I have worked on over the last 18 months. It seems to be about making conscious decisions about things. Most are pretty easy to do and can be factored into daily life and in many cases reduce our bills:
Use energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs: By using appliances and light bulbs that are Energy Star certified (check the new standards), you can save energy (££) and reduce your carbon emissions. I did this as I updated my house, a little at a time so it was cost effective.
Plant trees and support reforestation and sea grass projects: Trees and sea grass absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so planting and supporting reforestation and sea grass planting project efforts can help offset carbon emissions. You can volunteer for many rather than working on your own and meet new lovely people. Win-Win.
Reduce your water usage: This is not immediately obvious but it’s very important. Water treatment and transportation can be energy-intensive, so using water efficiently can reduce your carbon footprint. This also saves ££ if you have a water meter.
Support renewable energy: Switching to providers with verified renewable energy sources can help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and lower carbon emissions. Many like Octopus have schemes to help save money (using electric at off peak times) and are trialling new technology like V2G where your electric car (if you have one) can be used to help balance the Grid. Exciting times!
Fly less and offset your holiday flight emissions: If you are flying for your holiday, consider offsetting the emissions of your flight. This is a bit controversial so a little research can be of help. Checkout this article written in Jan 2023: https://www.ontheluce.com/carbon-offsetting-flights/ and decide for yourself. If you do decide to offset, checkout https://www.goldstandard.org/
Grow and Eat more plants: Animal agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing your consumption of animal products can help reduce your carbon footprint. This can be a difficult one. I have a ‘tree seed’ allergy and a soy intolerance so going 100% plant based isn’t much of an option, but choosing local, ethically produced sustainable products is and growing fruit and veg is fun, even in patio pots or on window ledges.
Walk, bike, or take public transportation: I live in a rural location, so this is not always possible, but planning trips with multiple stops and an optimised route can really help and driving less is good for both saving fuel and carbon impact. Transportation is a major source of carbon emissions, so using alternative modes of transportation can significantly reduce your carbon footprint.