Bricks, Carbon, and Guilt-Free Ice Cream

By Scott Boylston

When confronted with abstract ideas or large numbers, most people prefer to be given concrete examples. This is especially true when it comes to matters of sustainability. Very few people, for instance, will remember that the creation of a large solar array can reduce CO2 emissions by 570 million pounds a year. If, however, they are told that the CO2 reductions is equivalent to taking 50,000 cars off the road, or equivalent to planting 300,000 trees, well, they’re more likely to remember something of the conversation.

But what about the people who have 3 cars, and could give a lick about trees? How can you make CO2 emissions more meaningful to them?

We’ve thought about that, and we think there’s an answer. Some people love trees and hate cars…other people love cars and hate trees…still others don’t think much about either of them at all. It’s possible, as sustainability advocates attempt to reach broader audiences, that we might need to move away from such iconic images, and instead focus on imagery that’s more meaningful to larger numbers of people.

For instance, who doesn’t like ice cream?

Everyone can relate to ice cream. And everyone can certainly understand the appeal of guilt-free ice cream (how else to describe ice cream that is net neutral in carbon emissions?).

What on Earth are we talking about?

As a part of Initiative Two, we’ve been working with the developers, contractors, and property owners of the Savannah Gardens redevelopment in order to facilitate higher percentages of material reclamation from the remaining buildings. A few things are in the works in regards to Mercy Housing’s welcome center in the Phase One redevelopment at Savannah Gardens (above and beyond the studs-to-trusses project that we’ve featured in the past). Just this past Saturday, 8 volunteers gathered in a lot that’s across the street from the newly constructed welcome center, and still sprinkled with the debris from the recent demolition of the old buildings.

We gathered to collect and de-mortar 500 bricks, so that they can be laid into the lobby of the Mercy Housing welcome center across the street by NorSouth Construction. In the next few weeks, tongue-and-groove sheathing that was reclaimed from a roof of a deconstructed house last summer will also be installed in the building as flooring for some other common areas, and a wall display will eventually feature the story of our reclamation efforts.

In order to expand the reach of such an effort—or to frame it in a way that might resonate with a broader audience—we went seeking information about the carbon footprint of ice cream, simply so we could playfully translate the emission reductions that resulted from 3 hours of work by 8 volunteers. We were fortunate to find Unilever’s study about ice cream and CO2 emissions.

Eight people in 3 hours (with the essential help of 1 general contractor) prevented the need for the manufacturing of 500 new bricks in this world, and in doing so we reduced the amount of carbon emissions for the redevelopment project by 105 lbs of carbon.


But what does that mean?

Following Unilver’s research, we were able to determine that the amount of carbon reduced by this small act was equivalent to the carbon footprint of about 240 ice cream comes. In other words, for about every 2 bricks that we prepared for re-use, someone could enjoy a ‘net neutral’ (guilt-free) ice cream cone (please note that calorie-free and guilt-free are not the same). In other words:

Your welcome.

For every 2 bricks that we prepared—for every 2 new bricks that do not need to be manufactured—someone in America can take pleasure in a climate neutral ice cream, and feel the yummy all the way to their core.

The rest of the equation aims to suggest the larger gains that could be made if 8 people and 1 willing contractor in each American city with a population larger than Savannah could do the same thing. With 181 cities being larger than Savannah, the equation looks a little like this:

Or 8.7 metric tons of carbon never emitted.

Not bad for 3 hours of work by less than 1,500 volunteers across America.

We’re having fun, of course. Our math, though admirably researched, may be flawed a wee bit. And we know that ice cream, once manufactured, has to be kept really cold, and how ironic that we would pick something that probably required more carbon to maintain its temperature than to manufacture it.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. It was hot when we did the work, OK? We had ice cream on our minds. And besides, with a big 92-year birthday bash on the same day for Leopold’s, how could you blame us?

Not only are we non-profit,we’re open source.

Anyone interested in our designer spin-off product, please do have at it:

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