City of Elk River GHG Baseline Assessment

I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition.
— Bill Gates

In March 2016 the City of Elk River engaged paleBLUEdot llc to prepare a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) baseline inventory for City Operations emissions.  This report is the first time that City Operations baseline data has been comprehensively collected and calculated.

The City of Elk River is committed to improved sustainability.  Since 1997, the City has been a designated Energy City by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency – a designation of the City as a geographical focal point for the demonstration of efficient and renewable energy products, services, and technologies. In October 2011, the City began engagement in the Minnesota Greenstep Cities Program sponsored by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  Greenstep Cities is a challenge, assistance, and recognition program supporting cities in achieving sustainability and quality-of-life goals.

This Greenhouse Gas Baseline Inventory report is designed both to meet the requirements for the State of Minnesota Greenstep Cities program, but also to provide a framework for on-going dialogue in support of the City’s Energy City designation and overall sustainability interest.

Click here to view infographic

Click here to view infographic

Click here for summary GHG Baseline Assessment

Click here for summary GHG Baseline Assessment

The Carbon Footprint of Cigarettes

The true face of smoking is disease, death and horror - not the glamour and sophistication the pushers in the tobacco industry try to portray.
— David Byrne

One of our followers of our Twitter Account asked us about the carbon footprint of cigarettes.  An interesting question that sent us digging through our database and resources to try to answer.  Though not a common item to think about when it comes to your carbon footprint, the case of cigarettes is a great example of how all of our choices as individuals contributes to our personal and our collective carbon footprint. 

Some who might ask this question may think about the smoke we see rising from the cigarette itself as a non-contributor to the product's carbon footprint - after all tobacco plants, like all other plants, consume carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to grow.  So that means a small portion of that will be sequestered into the soil through the plant's roots while the balance of that CO2 will be released back into the atmosphere at the end of the plant's short life when it is smoked.  That would lead us to believe that the smoke itself is just borrowed CO2 being released back into the atmosphere as a part of the fast carbon cycle.  Alas, there is not just tobacco in that puff.  In the case of cigarettes, the plant's CO2 is joined with a very long list of additional chemical compounds infused into a cigarette...over 4,000 of them in fact.   These compounds contribute not only to the health risks of cigarette smoke but also to the carbon footprint of consuming cigarettes as well as the overall environmental impact of the industry.

Photo by Derecke Sanches via Flickr

Photo by Derecke Sanches via Flickr

Photo by DigaoSPBR via Flickr

Photo by DigaoSPBR via Flickr

The full source of a cigarette's carbon footprint is the same as for everything we choose to consume as individuals: the use of fossil fuels in the harvesting, manufacturing, packaging, storage, shipping, and distribution of the product.   

For the first portion, the harvest and manufacture of a cigarette, a study of a Pakistani cigarette manufacturer, these aspects of cigarette production added up to 0.6 g of greenhouse gas emissions for every cigarette produced - equal to 1/2 the weight of the cigarette itself.  This number, however, reflects the tobacco harvest and cigarette processing energy consumption.  It does not include the energy consumption and emissions of the other ingredients of a cigarette.

Cigarette contents according to RJReynolds

Cigarette contents according to RJReynolds

As noted, there is a massive list of other ingredients that go into a cigarette.  The list is so long, in fact, I will admit here that I do not have the gumption...nor calculator durability... to calculate the embodied carbon footprint of every item on that list.  Looking at that list, however, you need to visualize that all of those components have raw materials harvested somewhere, a manufacturing process where chemicals are combined to make compounds, frequently with external thermal requirements to achieve a certain temperature.  Each of those components then need to be packaged and shipped to the plant that is combining all of them into the finished cigarette.  An extremely conservative estimate (that is, likely much smaller than reality) would be a carbon footprint equal to the weight of the chemical compounds. 

When it comes to a cigarette's carbon footprint, however, one ingredient stands out: Carbon.  Carbon is actually the second largest ingredient in a cigarette behind tobacco.  This material, added as a heat source, weighs in as 10% of the cigarette's total weight and when lit will combine with oxygen to create 3.67 times the weight in CO2.  Totaling the additive ingredients of a cigarette, we have 0.44 g CO2e for the added carbon and an extremely conservative 0.18 g CO2e for all the other compounds.  Adding that to the 0.6 g for the manufacturing and we have 1.22 g CO2e per cigarette.

Worldwide tobacco production.  Map by AndrewMT

Finally, we have to include the impact of shipping the product from its source to the end users. Tobacco is grown worldwide only in select regions whose climate conditions support the plant, meaning it must be shipped significant distances to the consumers who choose to smoke them.  According to detailed transportation carbon footprint studies by the European Chemical Transport Association there are 62g of greenhouse gas emissions for every kilometer of transport for every ton of payload.  If we assume the average transportation from tobacco farm to cigarette plant to distribution center to store to the consumer's living room is 1,500 miles then shipping each of those cigarettes totals 0.17 g of additional greenhouse gas emissions.

1 Cigarette (visuals by Carbon Visuals)

1 Cigarette (visuals by Carbon Visuals)

1 Year's Worth of Cigarettes

1 Year's Worth of Cigarettes

Global Cigarette Carbon Footprint

Global Cigarette Carbon Footprint

Based on this we can say that for every cigarette smoked, there is a minimum of 1.39 g of man-made greenhouse gas emissions...roughly 12.8 cubic inches of atmosphere which is about 42 times the volume of the actual cigarette.  For the typical smoker consuming 20 cigarettes a day that's 22.4 pounds CO2e annually.  As of the year 2,000 there were 5.5 trillion cigarettes consumed worldwide every year, which is responsible for ‪16.9 billion pounds of greenhouse gases produced every year by cigarette consumption.  That is over 150 billion cubic feet of man made greenhouse gas emissions annually, which would fill a cube 1 mile high by 1 mile wide and 1 mile deep.

The Atmosphere We Create - The Typical American Carbon Footprint

The Atmosphere We Create - The Typical American Carbon Footprint

Over the last few years, the number of Americans who report being familiar with the term “Carbon Footprint” has gone from the minority to the majority.  Most people now not only know the term but also want to see us act on making meaningful reductions on our greenhouse gas emissions.  We have a much better chance of successfully changing our behavior - and our environmental impact - if we understand what makes up the aspects of that impact and prioritize our efforts accordingly.

Balancing Actions With Priorities is Solution To Climate Change

Balancing Actions With Priorities is Solution To Climate Change

Statistics indicate that for most of us, our values include mitigating climate change and making changes to improve our environmental impact.  The US Federal Government and a few select State governments provide $21.5B in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.  One third of that subsidy, $6.5B annually, directly subsidizes oil exploration both within the United States as well as overseas - that is almost as much as the entire funding the EPA receives.  What could we accomplish if we were to simply stop public funding of oil exploration?

Time To Stop Funding Climate Change

Time To Stop Funding Climate Change

In 1949 the United States consumed 32 quadrillion BTUs of energy.   By 2013, our total energy consumption grew to almost 98 quadrillion BTU’s.  Per person, that is an average of 314 million BTU’s, almost 50% increase in per capita consumption.  Over that 64 year time span, that works out to an annual increase of 0.6%.  Considering all of the technology driven lifestyle changes that have taken place in those 7 decades, the increase actually seems pretty reasonable. 

What might surprise you is that throughout that entire time frame, renewable energy has played a role in powering our country.