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Having been carbon negative for a few years now, I’ve been trying to work out how we can go further. Michael Braungart and William McDonough’s seminal book “Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the Way We Make Things” discusses many problems with the way most manufacturing happens, and some solutions too. Unfortunately the main one, making products that are biodegradable, doesn’t work for us. When someone buys a harp they want to own it for life.

That said, the composite materials of harps and most musical instruments can be separated into wood, metal and nylon at the end of their useable life for recycling.

One suggestion the book makes is that for “technical materials” (as opposed to “biological nutrients” if we make things biodegradeable) such as TVs should be rented rather than sold. This is an idea that has been an important part of our business plan from the outset, and of the over 200 people that have rented a harp from us, a significant propotion have returned the harp after either upgrading to a bigger harp or realising they don’t have the time/motivation to learn it. If we had only made our harps available for sale or pay by instalments, then there would be dozens of harps sat at people’s homes, unloved and unused! Now there’s a sad thought for many reasons.

Since our last update we’ve made a couple of changes. We now offer a 10 year guarantee on all of our harps. If they are technical materials and, if we’re honest, some of them won’t be recycled when they eventually die, it makes sense for them to have as long a life as possible. Having just passed the 10 year mark as a business we feel it would be disengenuous for us to offer a guarantee longer than this, but the first harp I ever made is still going strong, and steady improvements to the manufacturing processes make me feel confident to offer this.

We’ve also upgraded the boxes we send harps in. The new boxes don’t need any modification, which as well as making them easier to assemble also makes them more durable, and now when a customer does send a rental harp back in the box, we can use it again, and the next customer gets a discount on their shipping! We use around 20% fewer boxes thanks to this.

We have also started using local ash for our new harps, which look pretty and are lower impact, as well as being closer when we drove there in a borrowed pickup with trailer. You can read more about that in our previous blog post.

I managed to get a request in just as the funding was finishing for Gloucestershire Target 2030 energy advice service. Neil from there was very helpful and came and did an assessment of our energy useage and ways we could improve what we do. He assessed us as emitting 1,468 kg of CO2 via our energy useage, though 994kg of that was for electricity, which we get from Ecotricity. Since all of their energy is 100% renewable and “deep green” (i.e. the money we pay them goes into making more soures of green energy), I dispute that section of it.

It’s also the case that much of that electricity goes into powering Matt’s plug-in hybrid car, which I would argue saves emissions.

The main suggestions the report made were:

None of that stuff is cost effective for us. There’s only two of us in the workshop, and often only 1, we just set the thermostat at 10 degrees and put plenty of warm clothes on. Mostly Neil patted me on the back and said we’ve done the things we need to do, though he did have some useful suggestions to set monthly reminders to clean our air filters (they’ll use more energy if they’re clogged), and also install tap aerators which save about half the water when we wash our hands.

We might do daylight dimming sensors one of these days too, that seemed like a good idea.

Though I thoroughly dispute Neil’s suggestion that our electricity has emissions, there’s no environmental harm in offsetting it anyway. So using his figure of 1468kg per year, this extrapolates to 3303kg over the 27 month period since we last did this. Tripling it and rounding up, we’ve offset 10 tonnes of carbon with a contribution to a solar plant in India, via the Gold Standard carbon offset marketplace.

Calculations

Different methods yield different results, mostly because you can find different “emissions factors” from different sources. I also like to be able to do a like for like comparison to previous years, to see if we’re improving over time:

These calculations are for the business since we last assessed our carbon emissions in October 2021 (27 months)

Elec use 8550 units = 3800 per year = 855 kg CO2e1 (I would argue that this figure could be reduced further to account for the fact that Matt is now charging his PHEV at the workshop, so the power used for that actually saves emissions)

LPG use 1977kWh per year = 279 litres2 = 451 kg CO2e3

1306 kg of CO per year, or a total of 2939kg over the past 27 months. So not a million miles from Neil’s figure of 1468 kg per year, and a reduction of 18% since the last time we did our calcuations.

1This uses the 2023 figure of 0.22499 kg CO2e per kWh, which is less than it was previously-the energy mix on the grid is helping us out here! And, as previously, our emissions are likely much lower than this as we get our power from Ecotricity, but there’s no harm in using pessimistic numbers.

21 Litre of propane = 7.08 kWh

3CO2 emission factor of 3.01 kge/kg, where 1 litre = 0.537 kg

For any carbon nerds out there, I appreciate I haven’t dived into all of our scope 3 emmissions. For a tiny business like ours it’s just not feasible to calculate it all, but hopefully you can see from our writing that we’ve been trying to reduce them. These unknowns are part of the reason that we triple offset.

If you’d like to, you can read Neil’s full report here: Hands on Harps_T2030 Business Energy Report.

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