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Natural Resources and Parks

King County, Washington

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DNRP
Feb. 8, 2012

Study reveals complex picture of greenhouse gas emissions in King County

Goods and services from outside county more than double local carbon footprint

Emissions produced by goods and services from outside King County and consumed here more than double our collective footprint, according to the first comprehensive study by a local government in the U.S. to quantify the impact of consumption upon climate change.

“This new study changes the way we look at our carbon footprint,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine, in releasing the results today. “The bottom line: buying local is not only good for our economy; it’s good for the planet as well.”

The new study, entitled “Greenhouse Gas Emissions in King County,” was produced by King County in partnership with the City of Seattle, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.
 
The study documents that per-person sources of greenhouse gas emissions generated in King County are half the national average, thanks to abundant clean energy and the particular mix of industry in the region. However, it also reveals the
hefty greenhouse-gas price tag of goods and services produced elsewhere and consumed here by King County residents, businesses and governments.

Historically, efforts to curb greenhouse emissions have focused on transportation and building sources, sources over which local government can have the greatest influence. While these remain key emissions sources, the County’s study offers a more complete picture of its environmental footprint, as it shines a light on emissions associated with the production and consumption of food, goods and services.

According to the study, which is available at www.kingcounty.gov/climate, emissions from local sources increased 5 percent in King County between 2003 and 2008. However, per-person emissions decreased slightly during this time – a period of significant economic growth – largely due to reduced driving and the increased fuel efficiency of vehicles.

Smart land-use planning, such as developing sustainable, walkable communities, and preventing waste and increasing recycling, are also clearly having a positive effect on the County’s overall environmental impact.
 
However, emissions associated with local consumption by residents, governments and businesses, including from the production of goods, food and services from outside the County, were more than twice as high as emissions that occurred inside the County’s borders. This key new finding underscores the local challenge of addressing King County’s global environmental footprint.

The study also underscores the idea that strengthening the Puget Sound region’s industrial base will help curb global sources of emissions, so long as new energy for industry continues to come from renewable sources and energy efficiency projects.

K.C. Golden, policy director for Climate Solutions, a Pacific Northwest-based nonprofit focused on practical and profitable solutions to global warming, called the County’s emissions study a significant step forward.

“How can any single community take meaningful responsibility for the ultimate global challenge: climate change? With these new inventories, King County is breaking new ground in answering that vital and difficult question,” Golden said. “This report represents a genuine breakthrough for communities that want to deeply understand - and seize - their opportunities to deliver effective climate solutions.”

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for the effects of climate change are key County objectives that are formally adopted in the King County Strategic Plan. The County is implementing many projects and programs where it is uniquely positioned to have a substantial impact on reducing emissions, including its energy, green building and recycling programs, and transit, vanpool and commute trip reduction services.

This research shows that additional efforts, such as reducing waste food or purchasing sustainable and low-impact products can help to create a broader and deeper impact on global greenhouse gas emissions. Other key findings include:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing goods and services, including materials and manufacturing, comprise more than 60 percent of all emissions associated with consumption. Using these goods and services, such as fueling a car or powering a refrigerator, represents more than 25 percent of consumption-based emissions. By contrast, transporting, selling and disposing goods and services together represent less than 15 percent of consumption-based emissions.
  • Through a consumption lens, the largest sources of emissions are relatively equal, with personal transportation contributing 16 percent of overall emissions, followed closely by food (14 percent), services such as health care and banking (14 percent), goods such as furniture and electronics (14 percent) and home energy (13 percent).

While local governments primarily influence emissions through transportation and land use decisions, they can also help to reduce emissions from foods, goods, and services by strengthening our local clean-energy economy and helping residents and business think about green purchasing alternatives. King County is working on several related next steps, including:

  • Using the findings of this study to inform work with King County cities to develop a countywide greenhouse gas emissions reduction target and monitoring framework;
  • Implementing the 2010 King County Energy Plan and supporting community energy efficiency and renewable energy projects;
  • Building the manufacturing base in King County and encouraging residents to buy locally;
  • Continuing to provide County residents practical alternatives to driving their cars;
  • Using the data to help inform environmental purchasing efforts – both for governments and to support consumer and business choices; and
  • Conducting additional research into key sources of emissions, including those associated with food.

Related information

Climate Change

Department of Natural Resources and Parks