The Eco-Audit: A Study of the Carbon Impact of Asia Society Northern California

A few months back, we here at the Asia Society Northern California had the pleasure of hosting an event with Tori Zwisler, executive director of Jane Goodall Institute's Shanghai Roots and Shoots program. As part of her mission to educate Chinese businesses about the environmental impact of their day-to-day business, Roots and Shoots, along with Environmental Resource Management (ERM), developed the Eco-Auditprogram. Using high school and university volunteers passionate about the environment, the program evaluates business practices, calculates the carbon footprint and suggests steps to reduce carbon impact while improving workplace conditions and efficiency.

Just recently, the Eco-Audit program expanded to Seattle, and has been adapted to be conducted internally by participating companies. However, we here at Asia Society Northern California were curious about our own impact, and, with the help of Shanghai Roots and Shoots, performed our own review of our carbon footprint. Read on to see how we did (the results were certainly surprising!). 

After a one hour training session with the Shanghai Eco-Audit manager Tatiana Ramirez, and equipped with easy, step-by-step instructions, we were ready to start the audit. The audit process is divided into three sections:

  1. Walk-Through: A simple checklist in which we walk through the office and take note of the office environment and employees’ resource use and behavior
  2. Employees Survey: We survey the staff and interns of ASNC with 6 brief questions about their transportation and computer use habits
  3. Employees Interview: We interview the office staff about our environmental policies

The first step was pretty simple, and we learned quite a bit about what we were doing right and wrong. For example, we did well on our reuse and recycling efforts for paper, as well as having kitchen appliances and supplies to encourage bringing our own lunches and thus avoiding take-out waste. However, we fell significantly short in our air quality assessment--having very few office plants and lacking low-VOC (volatile organic compound) inks for our printers.

We also had to calculate how much energy our office uses--a tricky task as we pay a flat rate for our office space, and as the building's energy cost are divided up by different meters and floors. However, using the electric, gas, and energy bills, we were able to calculate our approximate usage based on our office's square footage compared to the total of our building. 

The employee survey of our nine-person office revealed that we did quite well in terms of local office transportation (every single member of our office takes public transportation), as utilizing efficient power settings for our computers and printing double-sided. However, despite these environmentally friendly practices, we found that our air travel numbers were pretty surprising. During the 2009 fiscal year, our staff took several business trips to Shanghai and New York, as well as a number of domestic flights, accounting for 6,555.92 kgCO2--almost two-thirds of our office carbon output for the year.

Finally, the interview section revealed that, while our office members try to be as environmentally conscious and energy/resource efficient as possible, we need specific policies and guidelines that we can follow, such as easily visible checklists for powering down computers and appliances before leaving the office.

In all, our office produces 16,415.92 kgCO2 annually, a number that we here at ASNC are committed to bringing down. Some of our goals are to bring in more plants to help improve office air quality, to try to limit our flights through better use of telecommuting alternatives, and to provide durable or compostable kitchenware to limit landfill waste.

In the end, this audit was an eye-opening experience, revealing how everyday business practices that we take for granted can actually have a significant impact on the environment. Through more efficient and environmentally conscious practices, we can not only improve our effect on the environment, but also see financial benefits and improvements in our well-being and productivity. We would encourage any office, large or small, to participate in this program, or to independently evaluate their own business practices to see where they might be able to improve efficiency and sustainability. For more detailed information about the audit and our findings, click here for a PDF copy of our final report.

Finally, we here at the Asia Society Northern California would like to thank everyone that had a hand in making this audit possible: Monika Picardo and Garry Cook of CB Richard Ellis for answering questions about the building and providing the raw data; Tori Zwisler and Tatiana Ramirez for their help in setting up our audit and guiding us through the process; and finally Shanghai Roots and Shoots and ERM for providing the materials and resources. Be sure to check the Eco-Audit site for more information about the program and ways to participate.