APS Takes Steps to Address its Carbon Footprint

By Tawanda W. Johnson, APS Press Secretary

As a follow-on to its recent assessment of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, APS is taking steps to address the impact of the emissions from its largest GHG sources, including emissions from member travel to and from select APS national and annual meetings.

“APS has demonstrated its commitment to addressing climate change through this critically important assessment of the Society’s carbon footprint. Moreover, the Society isn’t just talking the talk. It’s walking the walk by embracing solutions to climate change – one of the most pressing issues of our time,” said William Collins, division director for the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Collins also serves as a member of the APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA).

In 2016, after issuing its Statement on Earth’s Changing Climate, APS conducted a GHG inventory of its daily operations and select associated activities. The first portion of the inventory covered two emission categories: Scope 1 (direct emissions from APS-owned sources) and Scope 2 (indirect emissions from purchased energy).

An independent firm audited the results, which were publicly posted online, making APS the first scientific society in the United States to broadly assess and publish its emissions.

The GHG Inventory Advisory Committee, overseen by the APS Panel on Public Affairs, manages the inventory project. Additionally, APS selected Anthesis – a global specialist consultancy skilled in GHG inventory development – to support the committee and assist the Society in determining its inaugural inventory.

APS previously released results from Scopes 1 and 2 last year. Scope 3 results have now been released and include emissions from member travel to and from six of the largest APS national meetings. Emissions from APS meetings are nearly 15 times larger than those of the Society’s daily operations. Given the GHG impact of APS’s Scope 3 activities, the advisory committee offered a list of recommendations for mitigation. APS is already acting on a number of them.

Although there is no way to make air travel a “green activity,” APS has developed an opportunity for its meeting attendees to mitigate their travel emissions. Rather than purchasing carbon offsets, which have often been criticized as being insubstantial, the Society will provide members with an estimate of their carbon footprint and encourage them to donate to an environmental organization of their choice. If they prefer, APS offers members a suggested place for their donations.

In addition, the APS Meetings Department will incorporate language in its request for proposals to future host cities, asking that they provide information related to their environmental and sustainability policies. APS will also provide meeting site selection teams estimates of the GHG emissions for attendee travel to and from the list of proposed meeting locations. These steps will allow the selection of locations that, in addition to providing the necessary lodging, meeting space, and logistical requirements, also enable lower GHG emissions.

“That information will be provided to the site selection teams. Our aim is to help inform them of the potential GHG impact of hosting a meeting at various cities and venues,” said Mark Elsesser, manager of science policy for the APS Office of Government Affairs (APS OGA).

As part of the Scope 3 assessment, APS is also exploring options to address GHG emissions associated with its investment portfolio. In the meantime, APS continues to focus on Scopes 1 and 2 by investigating the purchase of renewable energy certificates for electricity used by the Society at each of its three locations. APS OGA staffers are also working with building management at the National Press Building and the co-owners of the American Center for Physics to improve the energy efficiencies of the buildings, where possible.

“APS is on the right track with the necessary solutions to address climate change, a critical issue that poses the risk of significant environmental, social and economic disruptions around the globe,” said Dan Dahlberg, a professor of physics at the University of Minnesota and vice chair of POPA.

To learn more about APS's GHG inventory and to read the report, go to the GHG Inventory Project page.