Thursday, September 4, 2008

My UU Carbon Footprint

Last year my Unitarian Universalist travel produced over 5 metric tons of carbon dioxide - even driving a Prius! That's over 20% of my total footprint for an entire year. The culprit, of course, is the coast to coast travel, primarily to attend UUA Board meetings. Multiply this footprint by other Board and Committee members, Commissions, Task Forces, and an annual General Assembly.

To this add what is close to a doubling of the cost of flying from Oakland/SFO to Boston, and we appear to have a situation that is not sustainable (literally). Recognizing both the ecological and financial cost of the way we do business, the UUA Board has chartered a "Virtual Teams Taskforce" (VTT), chaired by Finance Chair Lyn Conley and including Roger Thompson and Tom Loughrey from the Committee on Committees, Megan Selby and LoraKim Joyner from the Nominating Committee, and Harlan Limpert and Mark Steinwinter from the UUA staff. We have identified other key stakeholders (such as UU Ministry for Earth) to be part of this effort.

In addition to cost and carbon footprint, how many good people are excluded from participating in UUA committees and events because of time and other obligations? How do we best use technology to strengthen inclusion? How do we build trust without ongoing personal face to face interaction? How do our religious values impact what we do in this situation? We will be wrestling with these and other questions - as always I am interested in your thoughts.


Paul said...

One place to start is to develop a carbon budget for UUA board activity, as well as UUA activity as a whole.

This should also be done in concert with benchmarking each board members' personal carbon budget, so the members can see, as you've done, the incremental greenhouse gas burden from board business to their own footprints.

As quality carbon offsets become more available, that might be one option, but that really is not yet the case. Otherwise, reducing air travel to a bare minimum (for everything that we all do) is the biggest piece of most of our pies.

Anonymous said...

Linda, thank you for thinking about the impact of physical travel yours & others good work as trustees or committee members causes on our earth. And for explaining it.

As the "Virtual Teams Taskforce" (VTT) goes down this road, it will be interesting to see what they come up with. I am someone who has worked several decades in telecommunications and is forever facinated with the latest technology, so I know that there will be a lot of suggestions to sync up everyone virtually.

However I want to share a conversation I had with a fellow GeekGirl many years ago who worked for small start-ups. She, like many of my tech friends, was puzzeled at my travel schedule as a union activist, officer and negotiator. She asked why we met face to face instead in an online chat (text) or video confrence. It is always hard to explain to someone who doesn't live in your same world the complexities of the need to stregnthen connections based on ideals & principles rather than a profit motives. Yes, you can do a lot on a conference call, email or through a closed listserve, and we did/do most of the time. But there is something about the coming together with your peers face to face, to spend time working through problems and finding common ground. Traveling distance out of state means you are likely to spend time together both during meetings and afterwords breaking bread together, chatting, and perhaps confiring during the travel itself. Somewhere in all of that communing hopefully a bond has been made that when we speak again via telephone, fax or email there is a solid connection.

This is not to say that some travel can't be eliminated. Recently my brother in the PNW changed jobs and uses PC teleconfrencing with his boss and peers 3 hours away on a daily basis. Yet he still must drive that distance for face to face meetings monthly, and still needs to fly occationally to meet with customers or attend industry confrences.

My own job assigned my a fancy new computer with an amazing screen and I have been experimenting a little with how that video confrencing thing works.

Enthisiastically yours,

Art Ungar said...

I remember the era before Picket/Elliot when the UUA Board stayed in a hotel. I was opposed to the expense and management difficulty of owning a bed & breakfast. However, I changed my mind when I saw the affect that staying together had on the working of the Board.

That said, the members from the West Coast must spend two days in travel for each Boston meeting, as well as the climate impact. There needs to be a balance achieved, and I think that means most meetings by video conferencing.

Art Ungar