by Trey Anthony Owens, Summer Intern

Our July Sustainable Breakfast Series featured a conversation on “Pathways to Carbon Neutrality & Net Zero” between three local panelists and an expert moderator. The group discussed their unique paths to achieving their carbon goals, and the successes and challenges they encountered while working toward their vision. As panelist Sayu shared, “People are afraid to be first since there are risks, but there are risks in doing nothing.” Audience members took away inspiration for setting their own carbon goals. 

The moderator for this event was Christie Baumel, Deputy Mayor for the City of Madison with a purview that includes sustainability efforts at the City. Baumel presented the city’s sustainability goals of 100% renewable energy by 2030 for municipal facilities and fleets and net carbon neutral community wide by 2050, and emphasized the importance of partners like Sustain Dane within the community to help achieve those goals. Next, she introduced the panelists: 

  • Francisco Sayu of Sustainable Community Partners LLC, who brought a sustainable engineering and systems design point of view
  • Andy Weiland of the Oregon School District who has the perspective and experience as a public school district business manager with the first net zero school in Wisconsin; and
  • Scott Andersen of Artisan Dental who is the Stakeholder Stewardship manager at Artisan Dental, which is a B corporation and first carbon neutral general dentistry practice in the United States. 

Sayu started the conversation by explaining the similarity and differences in scope for net zero and carbon neutral.  Net zero refers to net zero energy consumption in buildings, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building is equal to or less than the amount of energy created on site from renewable sources. In comparison, carbon neutral refers to all operations for a business, organization, or individual producing no net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, especially through offsetting emissions by planting trees.

Artisan Dental took thoughtful steps to calculate all of their emissions produced by everything from their equipment to their energy use. They reduced their footprint where they could and then offset the emissions left over. Andersen explained that their journey started with purchasing 100% renewable electricity from MG&E’s Green Power Program in 2015. Now in 2021, they offset the rest of their emissions with projects to increase biodiversity to be completely carbon neutral. 

Next, the conversation shifted to how to start setting and achieving sustainability goals. Weiland shared that when setting their goals, the Oregon School District wanted to do something big for the environment.

School buildings last a long time and the issues surrounding the environment are pressing. Senior management and community support helped make their vision a reality.

Sayu built off of what Weiland shared by talking about how the Oregon School District was able to achieve their goals by focusing on building design. He shared that it is much easier to make a building sustainable when you first build instead of attempting to after it is built. He also stated that a net zero building is not complicated if you have the correct engineers designing your building who understand your sustainability goals.

Andersen provided his unique perspective on how businesses can set and achieve their goals.

He says that one of the most efficient ways for a business to decrease their carbon footprint is by using 100% renewable energy, which is possible even when you don’t own your building. Andersen also provided a unique aspect of how customers are attracted to businesses that are doing something for good, and that it has helped grow his business.

Another topic covered during the webinar was the future of achieving carbon neutrality and net zero. One trend for the future brought up by Andersen is the use of carbon labels on items to tell the consumer how much carbon an item used to be produced. He explained how this trend may be a way to help consumers be mindful of what they are buying to allow them to make better decisions for the environment. When talking about the future Weiland said he hopes their net zero school can educate students about sustainability and he also hopes that it can set an example for other school districts. Sayu hopes to see the use of benchmarking of buildings and how sustainable they are, and he emphasized he does not want to do this to make some buildings look bad, but as a way to help them improve how their building operates.