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World Resources Institute

World Resources Institute
Walking the Talk

Visit WRI's Green Office Space.

Global climate change has the potential to spawn droughts, floods, violent storms, spread human disease and cause irreparable damage to Earth's systems. Solutions are only as effective as the strength of participation they are able to catalyze. It is vital that groups advocating swift action to address climate change take such measures themselves. In so doing, their examples can do more to galvanize action than anything they may say in the absence of such leadership.

Embracing the challenge of "walking the talk," the staff of the World Resources Institute (WRI) voted in April 1999 to reduce the organization's net CO2 emissions to zero by 2005. As a first step, the staff agreed to reduce emissions by 7% below 1990 levels in Fiscal Year 2000 (FY2000) - and to produce annual progress reports.

"We hope that our own effort will inspire reduction commitments and action by others," WRI said in announcing the initiative in April 1999, adding that "we will pursue reduction options and share information from our efforts in ways that enable others to take action. While we cannot quantify the impact of these outreach efforts, we believe that we can play an important role in helping other organizations - especially similar small- to medium-sized enterprises - to achieve emissions reductions as well." It was this desire to share lessons learned and encourage action that was the impetus behind the development of

First Year's Progress

When WRI made its commitment during FY1999, its estimated annual CO2 emissions were 1,663 tons, compared to estimated CO2 emissions of 1,500 tons in 1990. Just meeting the FY2000 goal meant cutting net CO2 emissions to 1,395 tons - an ambitious cut of 16% in only one year.

Net emissions are calculated by estimating emissions and then subtracting "offsets" to those emissions. Offsets include such options as carbon sequestration (that is, removing carbon from the atmosphere, for example by growing trees) and reducing emissions from some other party. Among the principles established by WRI was to pursue reductions in emissions first before investing in offsets.

Making the goal especially challenging was WRI's move in 1999 to a "green" office in Washington, DC. While this contributed to a significant reduction in the organization's FY1999 emissions compared to the previous year, it made it all the more difficult to reduce emissions further in FY2000 and beyond.

WRI's emissions are indirect, originating not from onsite combustion of fossil fuels, but mostly from use of electricity generated from fossil fuels at power plants and air miles traveled by WRI staff. Despite efforts to reduce emissions from these sources, it was clear near the end of FY2000 that WRI's emissions were not much less than a year earlier - and still well above estimated 1990 levels. While WRI was able to reduce emissions from electricity use by conserving and improving efficiencies, these gains were outweighed by increased air travel. Consequently, to achieve a significant reduction in net emissions for FY2000, WRI had to rely more heavily on offsets than it had hoped.

Trexler and Associates, Portland, Oregon-based climate mitigation experts, provided a portfolio of offset options for WRI to review. The staff elected to choose a project that was within the US, approved by the Climate Neutral Network, and that was designed to reduce emissions as opposed to sequestering carbon. Additionally, staff decided to offset the organization's total CO2 emissions for FY2000, thus achieving the FY2005 goal early. The offsets purchased by WRI will contribute to a project that combines the upgrade and replacement of boilers in Portland public schools to reduce CO2 emissions. Existing oil steam boilers will be exchanged for lower CO2 emitting natural gas-fired steam boilers and increased efficiency will be achieved through the installation of computer monitoring technology.

Strategies for FY2001

In FY2001, WRI plans to redouble its efforts. Electricity users in Washington, DC will soon be able to choose their power providers. WRI will work with its building managers to obtain electricity generated from energy sources with lower greenhouse gas emissions. The opportunity to purchase green power through another of WRI’s Environment and Business projects, The Green Power Market Development Group, will be explored. The Green Power Market Development Group is the only partnership of its kind with an exclusive focus on helping corporations buy green energy. WRI is also looking to technology for such innovations as web-based event marketing that could not only expand its connectivity capabilities, but also lessen WRI's dependency on paper. WRI will also revisit the potential for providing conference materials on CD-ROM. Finally, WRI hopes to reduce staff travel through increased use of teleconferencing and by exploring other alternatives to travel such as videoconferencing and telecommuting.

Lessons Learned

One of the most important lessons WRI has learned since announcing its commitment is that large emissions reductions are difficult to achieve over a short period of time - even when the people involved are dedicated and well-informed. This is particularly true for an organization that occupies leased office space and frequent international travel is often a critical component of its work.

A second issue relates to the accurate estimate of emissions. It can be hard - and time-consuming -- to accurately account for all of an organization's major contributions to CO2 emissions. After a year, WRI has a system in place for monitoring its CO2 emissions from key activities: energy consumption, paper use and air travel. In the coming year, WRI will work to refine its tracking methods and ensure that its calculations are accurate, simple for others to understand and emulate, and consistent with another WRI Environment and Business program, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative. The Initiative is a unique multi-stakeholder collaboration that is designing a system to measure and report business greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, there are the issues of management and accountability. WRI is learning as it goes and is generating the changes necessary to make CO2 reduction efforts part of its everyday operations. Eventually, WRI will integrate the data-tracking element of its commitment into its Accounting Department. WRI also recognizes that the rapid emissions reduction it seeks requires the focused attention of a staff person. To this end, WRI has hired a permanent staff member whose responsibilities include overseeing the commitment and developing and implementing reduction strategies. Finally, the key to success will be the continued motivation and endorsement of the organization's entire staff. The cost associated with the FY2000 offset purchase was shared across all eleven WRI programs. Thus, each program has a financial incentive to reduce its contribution to the organization's overall CO2 emissions. In the coming year, WRI will continue to engage its staff in this endeavor and seek their input and support.

WRI's experiences over the next few years in reducing its CO2 emissions and improving its tracking methods will help inform its mission to encourage and assist other groups to successfully realize emissions reductions of their own.

Additional Information

New "Green" Office Welcomes WRI and the World. "Working with Its Values: Creating a Better Environment for People through Smarter Design." Press release (dtd 15 April 1999) from WRI.

Walking the Talk: WRI Announces Commitment of Zero Net Emissions of CO2 by 2005. Press release (dtd 27 April 1999) from WRI.  

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