As a result, and discussed in Part 1 of this series, when we talk about climate action plans and greenhouse gasses, I find it nearly impossible to have that conversation without talking about “stuff”. I would argue that any climate action plan that omits stuff – the stuff we buy, the stuff we use, the stuff we throw away – is at best incomplete.
There is a new math of greenhouse gas accounting by which some people are viewing and evaluating everything, as detailed in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series. How do you use this math to show the impact of your recycling and sustainable materials management (SMM) efforts? And perhaps more importantly, how do you share that information with people not fully immersed in the climate change lexicon?
In my opinion, what really makes WARM effective is the EPA’s companion tool, the Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.
The equivalencies calculator gives context that people can relate to. WARM, like most climate action metrics, presents its results in units called “CO2 equivalent”. While that might be useful for climate-change wonks or emissions reports, I defy anyone to tell me what a metric ton of CO2 equivalent is. The Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator solves that. Plug in your CO2e data from WARM and it will give you a bunch of very-relatable alternatives.
With the GHG equivalencies calculator you can easily show the magnitude of your recycling impact. That impact can be shown as the equivalent number of cars taken off the road or houses worth of electricity eliminated. But, stop for a minute and think that through from a climate action perspective. In that scenario, taking a car off the road means getting someone who normally drives almost 12,000 miles per year to completely give up a car (not just reduce their work commute, or shift those 12,000 miles from an owned car to a shared car). Eliminating a household’s total electrical use means a lot more than just switching to a few LED bulbs or using a power strip. In both cases, the equivalent means convincing someone to take the kind of extreme action that environmental documentaries are made about. I like my odds better of convincing people to recycle a little bit more.
Playing with the calculator also lets you do some customized equivalencies to make your data even more relatable.
Do you have a student group trying to convince the campus police to switch all their vehicles to Prii? Some quick math about the number of gallons of gasoline that would save each year allows you show the greater impact that could be had by using those students to convince their peers to do a better job of recycling beverage containers each weekend.
Is it almost spring break? Some math on the distance to Daytona, South Padre, or Lake Havasu, lets you show the impact of recycling in relation to the emissions of a spring break road trip. That might help you reach folks at a time that are thinking about anything but recycling.
Are you trying to convince people to recycle at a tailgating event, alumnae weekend, or outdoor campus picnic (or congratulate them for their efforts at such an event)? Relating the climate impacts of their recycling or SMM efforts to the emissions of an equivalent number of propane grill tanks gives people an event-specific reference. Such a reference may make your recycling message more relatable and help you to reach folks who would not be drawn to traditional recycling messages.
What is the impact of your recycling or SMM efforts? Have you shown the value of those efforts compared to other sustainability initiatives? If so, have you done so in a way that is relatable to the campus community?