Monday, April 15, 2013

Reducing our Carbon Footprint

Reducing the carbon footprint of an organization is not easy. It is not about just one thing, whether that be changing lighting, or getting fuel efficient vehicles, it is about a holistic approach and long-term attention.

In 2006 the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority was the first park agency to sign on to the Cool Cities/Cool Counties goal of reducing the carbon footprint of our agency. The local governments that have signed up with these efforts have voluntarily pledged to reduce their carbon footprint over time, an effort that will help us address the root causes of global climate change.

As a natural resource agency we see the impact of sever climate in a very direct way. The freakish derecho storm with hurricane force winds that hit Northern Virginia last July caused significant damage throughout the parks. The 2009 December and 2010 January snow storms that crippled the mid-Atlantic had a major impact on our operations. When major storms of one kind or another hit they have a large impact on parks and park operation. And these storms are becoming more frequent as a result of global climate change.

With the signing of the Cool Cities/Cool Counties pledge, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority initiated a number of steps that have been effective. We started tracking all of our energy consumption (building, vehicles, everything) and reporting it monthly to all of our facility managers. We also instituted an annual recognition for the facility with the greatest percentage of energy reduction. These efforts raised the profile of energy consumption and rewarded success.

We also had every facility come up with a site specific energy conservation plan. We passed a policy that looked at ‘life cycle costs’ rather than just purchasing based on lowest price. This life cycle cost focus helps factor energy consumption into any purchasing decision. Since 2006 we have added electric utility vehicles to 5 parks, we have replace worn out cars with hybrid vehicles when possible, and we have built our first LEED building that won a Gold Certificate. All of these steps have helped. We currently employ a wide range of alternative energy technologies from solar, to geothermal. Our two holiday light shows use all LED lighting, and our nature center at Potomac Overlook is an energy focused education center (another first in our field).

What has also happened since 2006 is that our operations have grown rapidly. We have gone from 20 to 25 regional parks, our enterprise operations which contribute 84% of our operating revenues have grown by over 30% which is a measure of greatly expanded usage and activity within our parks.

So what are the results?

We convert all of our energy usage into tons of CO2 carbon emissions, so we know exactly what our carbon footprint is. And for 2012 our carbon footprint was just about equal with energy usage we had in 2005 and 2006. This same total usage is great news considering the expansion of our system and growth in usage!

One way to look at carbon output in relationship with overall usage in the parks is to look at tons of carbon per Million dollars in enterprise revenue. In this calculation enterprise revenue is a measure of overall park usage.

More on Cool Cities:

More on Cool Counties:

Our latest energy conservation awards went to the following parks:

Brian Knapp, NVRPA Chair, Stella Koch, NVRPA Vice Chair, Brad Jackson, Fountainhead, Matt White, Sandy Run, Paul Giblert, NVRPA Executive Director
Fountainhead, Sandy Run and Bull Run Marina -25.58 %

Brambleton Golf Course -14.24%

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens -12.22%

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