Sarah Nunberg, fellow at the American Academy of Rome, and I chatted about carbon footprints and some surprising things you probably don't know but should be aware of.
About Sarah Nunberg & the carbon footprint in art (and cultural heritage) preservation
Sarah is a fellow at the American Academy for six months (Adele Chatfield-Taylor Rome Prize) from February to July, 2022. Her project while she's here is Advancing Sustainable Practices in Cultural Heritage Preservation. She's creating a Tool and Library software program based on life cycle assessment (LCA) that will enable conservators and historic preservationists to make educated choices, lowering their environmental impact by easily incorporating sustainable practices into their activities ranging from treatment to storage and exhibition materials.
Lifecycle assessment is a way to put a quantitative value on our actions and the materials we use.
So as an example if you're shipping art you should look at the crate: the wood, the insulation material and packing. Next you put a quantitative value on what you're using for the shipment of that work of art, and establish what the carbon footprint is. Then you need to consider how you can do it better to lower your carbon footprint.
Consumers need to pressure industry to provide more sustainable materials that can be used. Instead of wooden crates perhaps crates that are reusable, or packing that's more sustainable and biodegradable than the foam that's been used in the past.
Right now the carbon calculator Sarah has developed along with colleagues and engineers has 1200 items. It's used by conservators, artists, and anyone preserving cultural heritage.
Calculating our carbon footprint in day-to-day life
We need to be cognizant of every aspect of our life because everything we do leaves a carbon footprint. Think about navigating on the Internet or our travel and food choices, Zoom calls, ironing a shirt, even walking through our door and the dissipation of heat. The important thing is to be aware of the impact of each and every action in our life and to make positive impact where we can.
There are lots of carbon calculators available that you can use. The Footprint Hero says these are the seven best for 2022.
Sarah suggests that everyone should read The Carbon Footprint of Everything. After we chatted I grabbed a copy of the book and there's not a single area of our day-to-day life that author Mike Berners-Lee doesn't cover in depth and in a way that's easily understandable to the layperson. You might also be interested in his first book, How Bad Are Bananas.
Some carbon footprint facts that may surprise you
Should you replace old appliances & cars with newer energy efficient ones? Probably not.
Most of us think the right thing to do is to get rid of your old car and get an electric car, and to dispose of your old appliances in favor of energy efficient appliances. As it turns out the most sustainable approach is to use your car and your appliances as long as possible before getting rid of them. This seems almost counterintuitive but the carbon footprint of getting rid of inefficient cars and appliances while they still have a useful life create a greater carbon footprint.
Is wax paper preferable to plastic wrap? No.
Although we think that a paper product is more natural and sustainable than plastic wrap not so for wax paper. Wax paper uses a petroleum based product in production so choose plastic wrap instead.
Ditch the beef and lamb in favor of poultry, seafood and vegetables
There are many reasons we should all limit our red meat intake not the least of which is what's better for our body. But the carbon footprint of beef consumption is disastrous.
Lambs and cattle are both ruminants and belch off high quantities of methane gas which is 28 times more potent than CO2. If you eat a kilogram of beef it has 83.3 kilograms of CO2 equivalent whereas chicken is only 3.8. In other words the carbon footprint of beef is 22 times worse than chicken.
Stick to chicken and seafood when possible, or pork, and of course vegetables. If possible avoid beef and lamb.
Air travel, surgical procedures, & the internet...to name a few carbon footprint offenders
Surgical procedures leave perhaps the biggest carbon footprint of everything we do in our lives. Air travel also leaves a large carbon footprint, and also navigating on the Internet or Zoom calls. These are all aspects of our life that add quality and enjoyment to our existence. Should we say no to a surgical procedure because of its carbon footprint? Or not fly to see friends and family because of the carbon footprint of air travel? It doesn't make sense to eliminate these positive aspects of our modern day life. Instead we can make an important carbon footprint impact in many other ways that are easy to achieve like eliminating beef consumption.
The fellows at the American Academy of Rome focus on culinary sustainability and low carbon footprint at each and every meal. This is thanks to a program created by food icon Alice Waters and practiced by each and every chef that comes through the Academy. Here's what current head chef Kyle Pierce has to say about the American Academy's Rome Sustainable Food Program.
A few simple steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint at home
Eliminate beef from your diet.
Buy local and seasonal ingredients.
Ditch excess packaging and reuse bags and packaging.
Use the grill instead of gas and electric stove.
Choose reusable items and ditch single-use items.
Make your house greener: install low-flow faucets and use LED lightbulbs. Add solar panels and wind energy options.
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