New tool to calculate nitrogen footprint
Everybody talks about our carbon footprint, but what about our nitrogen footprint? Reactive nitrogen costs the world billions of dollars in human health and damages caused to the ecosystem. It is a form of nitrogen released in the environment from daily activities such as food consumption, travel and energy. The damage caused to the Great Barrier Reef is a significant example of damaged caused by nitrogen run-off from agriculture. In fact, Australia has a large nitrogen (N) footprint at 47 kg of nitrogen per person each year that is largely driven by a diet rich in animal protein as well as a high level of coal use for energy.
The nitrogen footprint of an institution is the sum-total of all the individual and institutional activities that take place in a workplace.
Researchers from the University of Melbourne have helped create the first tool that can calculate the N footprint of an organisation. To understand Australia’s N footprint better, they used the University of Melbourne as an example. They found that the University of Melbourne has an N footprint of 139 tonnes of nitrogen, with three factors playing central roles: food (37 per cent), energy use (32 per cent) and transport (28 per cent).
The N footprint of an institution is the sum-total of all the individual and institutional activities that take place in a workplace. In the case of the University of Melbourne, activities such as powering laboratories and lecture theatres add to the N footprint, along with food like meat and dairy being consumed. The researchers found that nitrogen is emitted from food production processes, whereas emissions from energy use are mainly from coal-powered electricity use and emissions from fuel used during business flights.
They also modelled the steps they need to take to reduce the N footprint at the university, which can be reduced by up to 60 per cent by transitioning to clean fuel sources such as wind or solar and reducing air travel emissions.
By using N footprint as a tool, an institution can assess and monitor the sustainability of its operations and governance.
Source: Journal of Cleaner Production
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