Thermal image of cars

A thermal image shows the energy use of cars.

Photograph by Tyrone Turner, National Geographic

What is a carbon footprint anyway?

Carbon footprint is the term generally used to describe the level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by a specific activity. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluoro-carbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). To simplify matters—and since CO2 is the most prevalent GHG—these emissions are expressed in terms of CO2 equivalent based on a conversion table that uses the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Global Warming Potential (GWP) factors.

How does the National Geographic Society measure its carbon footprint?

The Society has measured the carbon footprint of all of its activities, services, and products. These include:

- Emissions associated with heating and cooling of our buildings

- Any fossil fuels used to heat water, operate our kitchen, light our buildings, or power our appliances, computers, and tools

- All electricity we consume in the operations of our buildings and any rented space occupied by NGS staff in North America

- All products we produce, including magazines, books, direct mail, CDs, television programming, film, digital media (website), NG Channel programs, etc.

- All business travel and accommodations

- All travel and accommodations booked through NG Expeditions

What is the Society's carbon footprint?

The chart below shows the total carbon emissions for the Society's operations in 2012. The numbers include all carbon emissions associated with the manufacturing and distribution process, including paper mill operations, printing and binding our magazines, books, catalogs, and direct mail and distribution of all these products whether by rail, ocean freight, or truck all the way through to business or home delivery.

This chart documents by source our total carbon footprint (excepting our employee commuting). It does not include the emissions that we have offset through various Carbonfund certified programs.

National Geographic carbon emissions

How is the Society reducing its carbon footprint?

The Society is continually looking at ways to cut its own energy usage and working with its suppliers to reduce theirs.

Some of the things we have done to date to reduce our emissions:

-       Purchasing Windpower RECs (renewable energy credits) for all the electricity used in our buildings and leased spaces in North America

-       Purchasing offsets in a reforestation project in Panama to cover all of our natural gas use and steam used in spaces we lease

-       Purchasing offsets in various projects for our Adventure travel for each trip we offer

-       Purchasing offsets in a forest preservation project in the Amazon region of Brazil for our business travel

-       Reduced our electrical consumption by 17 percent from 2002 to 2014, by eliminating excessive lighting, changing to more efficient bulbs, shutting off our computers during off hours, changing our temperature settings, shutting down boilers during off hours, closing our buildings for ten Fridays during the summer months, etc.

-       Reduced our natural gas usage by 21 percent from 2003 to 2014

-       Reduced our water use by 41 percent from 2002 to 2014

-       Eliminated all bottled water sold on our campus

-       Actively promoted car pools, working from home, and use of public transit

-       Implemented building upgrades to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED EB) gold certification and to earn Energy Star ratings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for our buildings

-        Joined Climate Leaders (EPA) and Climate Savers (WWF), committing the Society to an additional 10 percent energy reduction by 2015

These are just some of our carbon reduction initiatives. In addition we are actively working with our suppliers (for paper, printing, transportation, postage, data storage, digital media, etc.) to find ways to reduce their emissions on our behalf. We are committed to walking the talk, to lead by example, and to thereby inspire others to care about the planet.