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Katharine Wroth is a senior editor for Grist.org. Her work has appeared in Special Places and other environmental publications.
OK, they’re not as harmful as their belching brethren on factory farms, thanks to the agricultural management practiced by The Trustees. But methane does waft from the Appleton herd into the atmosphere, joining greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles, buildings, farms, and factories worldwide – and quietly altering life as we know it.
Climate change is no longer a “someday” concern. Its effects are already being seen and felt, in the form of extreme weather, migrating species, warming oceans, and declining snowpack. And the scientific community agrees that if we simply stay the course, we will threaten water resources, crop production, and human health – in short, our very lives.
“The potential damage to the planet, to international civil order, human health and nutrition, species change, and economic activity [is] dramatic,” says Trustees board member Ted Ladd. “No one should be passive about understanding the issue and taking some steps to mitigate impact.”
That’s why The Trustees are meeting the issue head on, crafting a plan to reduce their own carbon footprint and to inspire members and others to join the fight.
To get a handle on just how many greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere from Trustees properties, operations, and events, the organization conducted a thorough audit. The result: 1,891 metric tons a year. It’s an easy figure to remember because of a poetic coincidence: 1891 is the year the organization was founded.
It’s not an enormous number by any means. To put it in some context, consider that total U.S. emissions annually are about 7 billion metric tons, with the state of Massachusetts contributing about 22 million of those. Which means 1,891 is, as Planning and Stewardship Director Lisa Vernegaard puts it, “a drop in the bucket.” But when it comes to fighting climate change, every little bit counts.
So The Trustees have devised a comprehensive plan for taking action, from driving less to recycling at events, from strengthening properties to spreading the word. The plan includes three main goals: become carbon neutral, nurture resiliency in the landscape, and inspire people to take action.
It’s an ambitious undertaking, but the motivation is clear. As Vernegaard says, “Climate change is already here, and it’s poised to undermine all the things we have worked to protect for 118 years.”
It’s a goal embraced by many entities, from college campuses to entire countries: becoming carbon neutral. It doesn’t mean emitting no carbon; at its most basic, it means balancing your emissions with a reduction in emissions elsewhere. In the best-case scenario, it also means reducing your emissions as much as possible – which is exactly what The Trustees intend to do.
A key component of the plan, which aims to achieve neutrality by 2017, is to retrofit many of the organization’s 265 buildings to make them more energy efficient. A major overhaul was just completed at the farmhouse at Long Hill in Beverly, including the installation of organic insulation, soy-based foam insulation, programmable thermostats, and Energy Star appliances. Now three more projects are in the works: renovation of the Old House at Appleton Farms to become a visitor center, which kicked off this past fall; retrofit of a farmhouse into office space for The Trustees at the newly acquired Bullitt Reservation in Conway, which began in November; and an upgrade to the Westport Town Farm, pending approval by the state legislature, planned for the spring. All three should qualify for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
“The greenest building is the building that already exists,” says Jim Younger, Trustees Director of Structural Resources and Technology. Younger expects that these updates will improve energy efficiency at the properties by 40 percent. The projects will also demonstrate how easy and cost-effective it can be to make the same types of changes at home. “Visitors can come and see real-world solutions,” says Appleton Farms manager Wayne Castonguay. “These are not wild, unreachable things.”
The plan calls for, among other things, converting 25 percent of Trustees vehicles to alternative fuel; reducing mowing and the use of synthetic fertilizers; installing solar arrays on the ranger stations at Wasque Reservation on Martha’s Vineyard and Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge on Nantucket; composting food waste at events; and buying green power.