We’re revisiting how we communicate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions prevented through repairs at events and I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can do this better.
While we’ve got pretty good calculations in place, we think we can do a better job helping people understand exactly what ‘we saved x kg of CO2e’ actually means.
What does 'CO2e' mean? (click/tap to expand)
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most famous greenhouse gas driving climate change, but there are others too, such as methane. These different greenhouse gasses have different properties. For example, methane traps much more heat than carbon dioxide, but breaks down more quickly in the atmosphere. So, to express the global warming potential of a mix of these gasses, we compare them all to the impact of carbon dioxide over a set period, usually 100 years. This is expressed as ‘carbon dioxide equivalent’, or ‘CO2e’. For more detail, the Guardian have a useful explainer
At the moment we compare the amount of CO2e saved by your event or group to an activity that produces greenhouse gases, such as driving, watching TV, or manufacturing sofas.
Here’s an example from @Stuart_Ward’s latest event with Reading Repair Café and then for Reading Repair Café as a whole
(Note: we’re aware of 2 problems with the ‘hour of TV’ bit: 1. it should be ‘hours’ and 2. actually, it should be days of TV! That is now fixed on the site - this screenshot is old!)
These ‘equivalencies’ need updating as the data behind them is quite old now.
But before we do that, I’m curious to hear from you…
Are these equivalencies useful for you? Are they easy to understand and do you actually use them to talk about your group’s environmental impact?
And secondly, how do you feel about comparing your emissions savings to activities that produce greenhouse gases (like driving)? We’re considering switching to activities that absorb or prevent greenhouse gases instead, such as planting trees.
For example, here are two options:
- Our event saved 435 kg of CO2e, the same amount of emissions produced by watching TV for 755 days non-stop.
- Our event saved 435 kg of CO2e, the same amount as growing 7 tree seedlings for 10 years.
Which do you prefer?
Hi James. I like it and more specifically the latter. In advertising I seem to remember being told some people move away from a ‘negative’ outcome whilst others move towards a more ‘positive’ outcome. As such I am guessing that some will respond to one and others the other i.e. there is no one answer and what you will get is opinions that slant towards that person preference. There was a study done in the US that looked at wording of signs to visitors of a Petrified Forest, visitors often stole small pieces of wood despite being asked not to. They trialled different signs and the wording had an effect on the rates of theft. I realise that is a slightly left field example but wording is relevant to the resultant action and behaviour of the person reading it, After all that my preference is the tree message with a slight tweak saying our event saved 435kg of Co2e, the same amount as 70 tree years. That’s growing 7 trees from a seedling all the way through to them being 10 years old. A bit wordy I realise…
I like the second one too as the TV one suggests we aspire to be couch potatoes!
But it would also be good to relate it to everyday activities, such as boiling 100 kettles of water or water for x cups of tea.
We should be clear about assumptions made such as using grid electricity with CO2e at Xg/kWh. This factor will change with time as share of renewables on the grid increases.
Thanks both, really useful.
It’s interesting to hear that you both prefer the tree planting approach, although I take your point, Chris, about different people responding better to different messaging.
I also like your suggestion of using ‘tree years’ or years of tree growth Chris. That could be a neater image. I’ll just need to make sure it checks out scientifically and how we could communicate it clearly with as few words as possible. (The plan is to design social-media-friendly infographics that the system will generate for events and groups - so the less text the better.)
James, your suggestion of using everyday activities makes sense to me too. I believe that was the original impulse behind using watching TV and driving. And I take your point about the changing electricity supply. That’s one of the reasons we need to update the current equivalencies - the grid has changed fairly significantly in recent years, at least in the UK.
We’ve been having a discussion internally about whether the consumption-based equivalencies might lead people to think things like “oh, I’ve saved x kg, so now I can watch 2 days of TV with “net zero” climate impact.”
At the same time, we’re also wondering whether tree-planting feels a bit greenwashy, especially with the controversy around many tree-based carbon-offset schemes being worthless.
Finally, we’re hoping to land on something that doesn’t rely too heavily on data or habits from one country (such as national energy mix or boiling kettles), as this tool is used by groups in a number of countries.
So here’s what I’m thinking:
- We should introduce a ‘trees planted’ metric, perhaps using similar language to your suggestion, Chris.
- We should also have a consumption-based metric as an alternative, so you can choose which type of equivalency you prefer. Agreed, James, that this should be something people can relate to, though I think we should avoid anything that relies on the national energy mix (as this changes over time and from country to country).
Does that make sense as an approach?
I think it’s really interesting what Chris said about positive or negative vision. I guess we’ll never have the right way to compare it, but it gives a rough idea. And I agree it’s time to change the “scale” of equivalents. Not sure about the treeplanting though. As you said, with all the polemics and greenwashing it can include… A lot of companies use that argument as greenwashing, so maybe too touchy for people who know about the tricky part. But at least this “scale” is well-known by everyone.
What I prefer in the idea 2, is that it’s positive, and makes more of a “what did good” than “what “”“bad””“we have prevented from happening”
“watching TV” indeed doesn’t tell me how much energy a TV consumes. The driving is more relevant I guess, a lot of people drive and know how much fuel driving 81km represents.
I don’t have another idea for now, but it’s obvisouly better if it’s something people can relate to, as “not throwing away X sofas” for example. The “physical” amount is important. Maybe in m3 or something.
And indeed the culture of everyone is different, so the comparison will, in every way, speaks to some and not to others.
Maybe @Jonathan_Vigne and @Simon_Fremineur have some inputs to add, other ideas or as how our network (Belgium) would see this.
Firstly - yes the equivalencies are useful…I’ve used them in lots of presentations and our infographics to summarise our year, in the past. I think it makes some very rough idea of what we’re talking about.
Secondly - I’m not a fan of the TV or driving option, as I think it can lead to people thinking they can then do x & y because they’ve saved carbon…and TV and driving aren’t things that we’d suggest anyone aspire to.
I like the idea of something more positive, although tree planting seems to be the answer to everything in the press etc and that isn’t enough…and varies massively by tree species of course too Although the benefit is that treess are a global thing.
I can’t think of an alternative at the moment, but things going through my mind are something around…no…it’s too late and my brain is done in just words % carbon footprint of a country/Apple…carbon saved by having a vegan diet for x days…oyster restoration projects…ok mind, definitely a bit fried. But maybe something that compares to another carbon mitigating strategy, to help us pitch ourselves as a key part in the solution to carbon? (Maybe not very average person friendly). I’m stopping now
I like the idea of comparing with other carbon mitigating strategies but would like to see an example so that I can tell how it works in practice. Am also wondering if it would be possible to use volume of waste as I find it hard to visualise 1kg CO2 etc.
For our data, I’d discovered the ‘export event stats’ function which seems useful but I can’t understand how to get the ‘share event stats’ to work - possibly the usual technical shortcomings I have.
Thanks Florine, Clare and Margaret, really helpful feedback.
It sounds like there’s some enthusiasm for the idea of a positive or climate-action metric.
I agree that tree-planting isn’t perfect, but I think it’s a reasonable balance, being both fairly relatable (not everyone has planted a tree, but it’s fairly easy to imagine) and not too ‘preachy’ (like number of meals switched from meat to vegetarian could be, I think). As mentioned, tree planting is also quite a universal and static measure - it’s fairly global and doesn’t really change over time.
@Margaret_Hersee, the ‘share event stats’ function currently only gives you the option to embed the stats in a webpage that you control using an ‘iframe’. An iframe is essentially a way to display one webpage on another webpage. But you need access to the code of your site to use it, so it’s not the especially simple. As part of the work we’re discussing here, we’re hoping to add a new feature that you can use to generate pictures/infographics for your group and events and share them as normal images on social media.
Here’s an example:
At your last event, you saved 197 kg of CO2e. Using tree-planting as an example, we would add a new option to ‘share event stats’ that creates a picture a bit like this:
You could then share this picture on social media, whatsapp groups or where ever you like.
Other carbon mitigation strategies could be things like:
We’ve saved 197 kg of CO2e by repairing broken stuff. That’s like…
- Switching 26 meals from beef to vegetarian (or 85 meals from chicken to veggie)
– a bit preachy maybe?
- Switching 6 houses from a gas boiler to electric heating for a year (or 8 flats)
– depends on the national energy mix - different in every country
Assuming, probably falsely, that the whole UK repair movement rescued, say, 48 toasters (probably way off the mark but just for example purposes), how about:
“We rescued 48 UK toasters last year”
We could add (if it’s true!) - “we’re beating the French, 48 to 37”
This has saved us as a nation expending xxKg of CO2, (or better, yy tones of steel, elec etc - embodied carbon)" worth £xx to each owner.
What I’m trying so badly to express is the ‘residual effect’ or repairing something that would otherwise be thrown away. That repaired Toaster could last for another ten years, saving every day, so how about “my toaster is saving us all xxKg per month - how much could yours?”
I know that individual things like toasters are not recorded but they could be, making the figures far more accurate imho. The five categories that are currently recorded seem not as suitable to the task as they could be in my experience so far - so maybe reforming them would help bring new dataviz opportunities?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Chris. I think I see where you’re coming from.
At the moment, the intention is to help individual groups communicate and celebrate their impact, rather than focus on the collective stats for any given country. (Ultimately, we’re not in competition anyway).
I agree that it’s the residual effect of fixing something that we need to express somehow, hence the plan to use CO2e saved as our primary metric. I think the thing we’re grappling with is how to visualise what ‘x kg of CO2e’ actually means, as it’s a pretty abstract measurement for most people.
Totally agree too that recording more detailed repair data can make the figures more accurate. For reference, it is possible to record individual items, including toasters. There are currently 47 items categories available - more info on those here: How to log repair data from your event. Happy to help if you’d like more info about how that all works
Agreed with what @Chris_Murphy and @Florine_Paquay say, I think finding a really intuitive measure that works for everyone will be difficult. And I don’t think it matters too much whether its immediately graspable. I think on a behaviour change level the point is mainly to get across that repairing has a positive environmental impact (and vice versa, that not repairing has a negative environmental impact). So IMO psychologically a positive message is better conveyed with a positive equivalent.
e.g. if I’m thinking about the equivalent time me and other volunteers have put into the local repair cafe, in a negative framing of a negative equivalence it could be a bit demoralising to think that everyone’s hard work this month has been offset by 2 sofas. (notwithstanding all the other benefits of the cafe of course!)
Personally I like your visual of trees planted @james . I can imagine the trees growing and drawing in the CO2e and feel good about it. Agree there’s an issue with them being co-opted for greenwashing with carbon offsetting. But that’s not what we’re doing… and like @Clare_Seek and @Margaret_Hersee mention its perhaps better to use a carbon mitigation comparison that’s already got some traction.
I do also like what @Margaret_Hersee and @Florine_Paquay mentioned about something which helps understand the actual volume of CO2e itself, rather than what its equivalent to consuming. I can personally picture better a sphere of CO2e the size of a house (and think about keeping that out of the atmosphere) than I can e.g. driving X miles. But hard to actually draw that ourselves (these people do something like it https://www.realworldvisuals.com/)
tl;dr - trees fine for me
Hello, I am new, so apologise if this wrong spot to pipe in. If the purpose of the dashboard visual is to engage “newbies” then it would need to be very relatable. Even though I personally am very passionate about reuse, climate change, seeing CO2 emissions is not tangible for me. Its abstract for my simple brain. So knowing how many reuse cycles 1 repaired toaster is doing, is immensly impressive for me. Its like wow… that work for 1 repair, has helped x people… and of course the emission and so forth… Plus alot of other social benefit. That is more relatable to me. As we all know what a toaster is. Further we all know how often we have replaced ours in the past. So the visual metric unwittingly can act as an education feedback loop too…
I prefer dashboards, so I can refresh and segment the data, so it is more relatable to me. Nothing is better when I can drill down on a visual to see the actual data. That builds confidence and trust.
Secondly, If the visual is for celebratory feedback. Hey repair team, look at what your hard work has done. In this case, I would do a visual based on the specific repair team preferences. They are known stakeholders, so we can ask them. For example in one recent group, I asked them. And the reply was we just want to see “how many requests” we have solved, by month, total then by category.
Apologises again if I am not using this tool correctly as very new still to online posting. Please feel free to correct me where I go wrong. Thankyou for your time.
Hi, absolutely no-one equates watching TV or growing seeds with CO2 emissions and so these figures are meaningless to then and without context, yet everybody can relate to miles driven or air miles flown (miles or Km) so these are the more relevant metrics.
Thanks for the feedback Suz and David.
@Suz, completely agreed about the need for any visual to be relatable. Our main intention is to help people understand the climate impacts of buying and disposing of everyday products, and how repairing them when they break (i.e. using them for longer) can reduce these impacts. So as you say, they’re intended to be educational first and foremost.
I also agree that a raw CO2e figure is pretty abstract for most people. Our hope is that we can make it more tangible by using an equivalency (e.g. ‘equivalent to driving x km’ or ‘planting y trees’). It’s just a question of which one we choose.
As an aside, in case you haven’t seen the kinds of impact stats we generate for repair groups yet, here’s one of my local groups and here’s their latest event for some context - feel free to take a look
@David_Sanders thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I think you’re right that driving and flying are more obviously connected to CO2e emissions (certainly compared to watching TV), though I’m not sure I entirely agree that no-one makes the connection between planting trees and capturing CO2.
As we’ve touched on above, we’re hoping to move away from driving for two main reasons. First, it could get quite hard to measure and harder to understand as electric vehicles become more common and the sale of new petrol cars is banned (from 2030 in the UK, for example). But the second, and perhaps more important, is essentially what Clare said above:
Do you disagree with the idea of using a more positive equivalency, David, or is it just the planting trees example we’ve discussed so far that don’t resonate for you?
@james “people understand the climate impacts of buying and disposing of everyday products”
I gather you mean “durables”, rather than “consumables”.
For me, this objective fits into one of the EMF’s goals (Ellen Macarthur Foundation), “keep materials in circulation” (where we dissemble and use parts) or extend life (repair and continue to use or donate to community library). EMF use animation videos. My experience of these short videos has been they are highly effective in education. Some (like the sound affects in the cucumber one’ of package elimination are actually priceless!
data story. 1: big picture context
this one: is longer version at 3.42min ‘an essay’ – focus is entire system
Explaining the Circular Economy and How Society Can Re-think Progress | Animated Video Essay
For me, aiming at the 30 sec youtube ‘short’ format could be ideal
For me, this animated essay introduces the concept of ‘toasters’ ‘bikes’ ’ fans’ with arms and legs…
and the visual of the landfill ‘saved’ — > ‘renewed’
data story 2: challenge
What are the top 5 durables that have been repaired ? What are top 3 then are brought in and are not repaired? This data could give us our challenge story. We need help with this… Challenge hubs are a great way to invite newbies as it shows them what the current community really needs help with to solve.
data story 3: pic an element that is often discussed in the field teams, something that is a ‘repeat conversation’. Make this a data story.
Are the majority one-off repairs, or do the same items keep coming back (even after 2 years)
First step for me, is get clear on the “actual story that the community wishes to tell”. Write it out in long form. Then working out the climate impact in a number is easier. So for example if we went with ‘animated toasters and other durables’. We could have a goal of x to y. X shows a pile where. no repair for the last year in UK say and compare to with repair teams. So the visual is communicating how many durables kept out of landfill, kept materials in circulation. The number say is 24 one month, 34 next month, 6 months xx… (all this updated in the video short)
Hopefully it makes sense, and I have not confused.
- other animated examples by Ellen Macarthur Foundation - long form
Elimination of plastics – uses humor (cheeky) and magic hands + with Bam… xx CO2 saved’
materials in circulation
Keep materials in circulation – uses analogy ‘like telling a story to your grandama’
- 30 sec format using 30sec snippet format (youtube short)
With shorter format, I have found real-life pictures, work incredible well. It gives that instant aha. The amount of C0z and in languaged in relatable context is the popup message. So in USA "This is roughly the distance from New York City to Los Angeles and back. " aka east to west coast and back!
The Ocean Cleanup… system 003 trash gathered from ocean… https://www.youtube.com/shorts/ijg1smtVFIQ
EMF materials in circulation
A post was split to a new topic: Changing product categories