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January 14 2011

How I Learned to Measure Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Cloud

We were thrilled when ICLEI approached us for help in creating a web-based tool for measuring greenhouse gas emissions.

Small Towns, Big Impact

Governments of all sizes are making efforts to reduce their impact on the environment. Our friends at ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability believe one of the best opportunities to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions is by working with local governments, which are often more flexible than larger entities. At the same time, they don't always have the tools they need to support change.

The Community Inventory Tool

Meanwhile, we have seen that moving software out of people's offices and into the Cloud – so that your constituents or members can use tools in a web browser – is a great way to extend your impact and increase participation. That is why we were thrilled when ICLEI approached us for help creating a web-based tool for measuring greenhouse gas emissions. Funded by an alliance of nonprofits and utilities, the Community Inventory Tool is initially planned for availability to California municipalities this spring. Moving forward, it will serve as an important step in ICLEI's nationwide efforts to help local governments reduce their carbon footprint.

ICLEI Carbon Tool Pie Graph

Local governments use the tool to create a carbon emissions "profile" for each year. Within each annual profile, they enter electricity and fuel usage for each of eight energy use sectors, including buildings, transportation, and waste disposal. The tool follows strict inventory guidelines developed by climate scientists, and performs conversions between different units used in measuring energy use, such as gallons of gasoline or biodiesel, megawatts of electricity, and metric tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

ICLEI Carbon Tool Dashboard

By comparing energy use year over year – and between various segments and fuel types – it may be possible for local governments to build on successes and discover areas for improvement. To help with this goal, we provided extensive reports that slice and dice the emissions data in various ways that have proven helpful to energy planners. For example, reports can break down the calculations using common indicators, such as gasoline usage per vehicle or electricity usage per resident or building. Future versions may even suggest strategies for reducing emissions based on the data.

How We Did It

Groundwire's database team used the Salesforce.com "Customer Portal" – along with a healthy dose of custom programming and web page design – to roll out the tool on an aggressive schedule in the final weeks of 2010. The Customer Portal saved us a lot of time by providing a framework for authenticating web users and saving their data securely at Salesforce's data centers. Our developers spiced up the website even more with a little free web technology from Google – interactive pie and bar charts – and snazzy pop-up help courtesy of jQuery, a popular web development library.

Evan Callahan is the man. Local is the only way to grasp and work with what is going on. Way to go Groundwire!
Thanks Luke! It seems people are increasingly aware that you can make a big difference by growing food locally (thanks in part to farmers like yourself). But I think this is also where the solution to many other pressing problems lies. At least so far, the large scale efforts to address climate change are falling short, and we need to look closer to home.

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