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The New Math, Part 3

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. So, if it is impossible to talk about climate change without talking about stuff, how does the business of stuff fit into this new math?

Calculating climate impacts

For folks trying to understand or show the magnitude of their climate-related sustainable materials management efforts, there is an excellent tool by the U.S. EPA called WARM (Waste Reduction Model). WARM has a web-based calculator that allows you to compare and contrast the impacts of a variety of sustainable materials management options.

Are you currently throwing away too much paper and want to see the impact of recycling? You can do that. Just pick the row for paper. Then, under the Baseline Scenario put your tonnage into the “tons landfilled” column. Next, under the Alternate Scenario, put the same tonnage into the “tons recycled” column (i.e. you want to see what would happen if that paper was recycled). You can even refine the results based on information about your landfill. For example, if you know that you are sending your stuff to a landfill that recovers the landfill gas to make electricity, you can adjust the results accordingly.

Are you already recycling something but want to see the impact of a waste reduction program instead? You can do that too. Just plug your recycling tonnage into the baseline scenario and use waste reduction as your alternative scenario.

Do you have a program that is at risk of being cut? Do you need to show the impact if something that is currently being recycled got thrown away again? In WARM, you can do that as well. Just put recycling into the baseline scenario and the combustion or landfill disposal alternative.

With WARM, you can even evaluate compound alternatives. Say 50 tons of paper that is landfilled in your baseline scenario becomes 10 tons of paper source-reduced and 40 tons of paper recycled in your alternative scenario. Just remember that this is like an accounting ledger in that the total tons for each material need to match in both the baseline scenario and the alternative scenario.

However, in my opinion, what really makes WARM effective is the EPA’s companion tool, the Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, which I will talk about in Part 4 of this blog series.

What is the impact of your recycling or SMM efforts? Have you shown the value of those efforts compared to other sustainability initiatives? And if so, have you done so in a way that is relatable to the campus community?

Don’t forget to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our 2014 Earth Week Series.

Written by

Roger Guzowski
Roger Guzowski

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