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Baby steps

The Indy moves to reduce its carbon footprint

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During the last year, ClearSky Climate Solutions has successfully helped some of Missoula’s largest local businesses become carbon neutral. The company teamed with the University of Montana in February to “go green” for a men’s basketball game, and with the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival to do the same with its signature event. In each case, ClearSky performed an appraisal of the business, measured the approximate amount of greenhouse gases normally produced—aka, the carbon footprint—and then worked to offset that amount to zero. Sounded pretty cool to us.

So, in honor of Earth Day on April 22, we asked ClearSky to perform a similar appraisal of the Independent. Our goal: to publish at least one carbon-neutral issue.

To get started, ClearSky CEO Keegan Eisenstadt and project developer Stephen Handler visited the Indy offices last week to assess our daily operations. We provided raw data, such as how many miles each employee drives to and from work. ClearSky then put that information into a worksheet that factors not only how much CO2 was emitted during the drive, but also the energy that was expended while drilling for the oil, processing it, turning it into gasoline and shipping it to Montana.

Overall, their report shows we produced approximately 298 metric tons of CO2 last year. That’s not too bad, Handler says.

“The Independent’s overall footprint surprised me as being pretty low—your company travel and air travel in particular were very small contributors compared to other organizations we’ve investigated,” he says.

Even so, the Independent still has some areas that need improvement. Although the majority of the paper’s 23 employees live within a few miles of our Orange Street office, we still manage to drive 778.5 miles every week. (One employee makes up the majority of this total, commuting daily from Hamilton.)

“This is a pretty large proportion of your footprint, and it could be reduced easily by offering more incentives/opportunities for employees to walk/bike/carpool,” writes Handler in his report.

Another main contributor to our footprint is electricity and natural gas use, something Eisenstadt noticed as soon as he walked into our Orange Street offices. The building utilizes an open floor plan, which isn’t the most energy-efficient design. We use approximately 7.49 dekatherms of natural gas on a monthly basis, with that number nearly tripling during the winter months. Our electricity use was even higher—58,700 kilowatts powered our air conditioning, our 25 computers and our light bulbs, not all of which are energy-efficient. Electricity ends up contributing nearly 12 percent—or 25.63 metric tons—of our footprint.

“[The electrical use] would be worth investigating to see where the low-hanging fruit might be,” Handler says. “I’m confident there’s plenty of fat to be trimmed off of that number.”

As to be expected, paper also accounted for a huge chunk of our CO2 emissions. The Indy staff used 185 reams of office paper last year, as well as 10 boxes of envelopes and 10 boxes of letterhead. That use—which doesn’t include printing of the actual finished newspaper—translates to more than a ton of CO2. Despite the fact that we recycle our paper with Missoula Valley Recycling, Clear Sky also estimated we produced 208 cubic yards of waste in 2008.

One major area of the report involves the printing of the actual weekly paper—approximately 22,000 copies, 52 weeks a year, on 60 percent recycled newsprint with soy-based ink. The Independent began printing at the Missoulian last September, and Lee Enterprises declined to provide any information for ClearSky’s report, citing “company policy.”

Handler did offer a rough estimate on the printing costs, figuring a year’s worth of papers weigh roughly 392,500 pounds, or 196.25 tons. After calculating the current cost of newsprint—approximately $670 per ton, according to PaperAge Magazine—Handler plugged the total cost into a tool created by the Carnegie Mellon Green Design Institute to find that newsprint accounts for another 191 metric tons of CO2 per year. That number includes emissions from the paper mill, logging, truck transportation—the whole process.

“This is a rough—very rough—guess,” says Handler.

Nevertheless, that leaves us producing nearly 6 metric tons of CO2—298 divided by 52—a week. To put that number in perspective, an airplane flying 2,000 miles emits a metric ton of CO2. An average household emits a metric ton of CO2 over the course of two months. And one grazing Ugandan dairy cow takes eight months to emit a metric ton of CO2.

We graze zero cows at the Indy, but we’re still committed to producing a single carbon-neutral issue of the paper. Lynne Foland, the paper’s general manager, says the Indy will continue to explore ways to reduce its carbon footprint by conserving  electricity and natural gas. In the meantime, we purchased $90 of carbon offsets to help this issue become carbon neutral.

The idea proves a bit abstract, but Handler says that by investing in certain alternative energy projects, we make up for our own emissions. The Independent chose to invest in the Montana Rangeland Carbon Sequestration Pool, a group of ranchers committed to responsible grazing practices. 

That means that you, dear reader, can peruse this issue knowing that yes, we made a mess in bringing it to you, but at least this time we cleaned up after ourselves.

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