A Smaller Sandprint

A recent Sandpit on the topic of energy efficiency gave us reason to pause and consider the carbon output of our own work. Given that we travel to hotels or meeting venues to work with our clients, and that very often the people we work with are collected from far-flung locations to come together for innovation workshops and sessions, it dawned on us we might be churning out a fair amount of CO2.

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Since today is Earth Day, it felt like the right subject to ponder.

Our initial problem statement: How to minimize our carbon footprint? We invited the participants at our recent energy efficient event to offer suggestions first of all on how we could measure our carbon output, so we have a benchmark against which to improve. And then we invited any ideas they might have about controlling our carbon output.

An obvious way to attack this problem is to think about all the ways to cut carbon output, to travel less and on more efficient means of transport, to be conscientious about the equipment we use, its condition, how long we leave it on, how much energy we consume. These are all good things to consider, and many of our initial ideas were in this vein.

Then one of these clever scientists challenged us to pose the question differently: How might we create an event/workshop that actually has a negative carbon impact (or a positive contribution)? How might we move beyond the idea of a carbon-neutral or carbon-zero event? Could we actually reduce the carbon in the atmosphere after each workshop? How might we go better-than-zero carbon?

(This is why clarifying the problem is such an important part of the creative process. We could easily come up with a lot of interesting, useful ideas for minimizing carbon output. But something shifted when we re-framed the question to a more compelling challenge. Our adrenalin surged, eyebrows raised…this was a more intriguing problem.)

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Here’s a new objective: better than zero.

One idea: solar ovens are emerging as a popular solution to the challenges of wood-burning cooking stoves in poor and developing countries. Burning wood puts carbon soot into the atmosphere and adds to the problems of deforestation and ecological imbalance. The collection of wood is time consuming and is often done by women and children under less than ideal – sometimes dangerous – circumstances.

What if Knowinnovation donated a specified number of solar ovens to needy communities every time we did a workshop, in such a way that our contribution would more than offset our carbon debt, it would pay forward?

That’s just one idea. What else could we do to not only neutralize our carbon footprint, but to do more than our share? How can we make the world a little less polluted after every workshop we run?
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Know Further: Learn more about being carbon neutral. Curious about solar ovens? Visit the solar cooking wiki.