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Carbon Neutral – The Hidden Language

June 1, 2009 by Darishma


Since his YDC in 2008, Gord Mcgee has been working on the Carbon Neutral project for the Ashram, pulling together facts and figures to create a workable plan of how to move  towards our goal of being carbon neutral by the Ashram’s 50th birthday – 2013.  Gord gives us the latest scoop on the progress of the project and his own learning from the process.

We are doing really well – we have completed a full inventory of the Ashram’s emissions, and those include both direct and indirect emissions. Direct emissions are from sources that the ashram owns or has direct control over – ashram vehicles, propane use, refrigerants, heat sources etc. Indirect emissions are from things that the Ashram doesn’t own or directly control the production of – i.e. electricity, but also things ranging from guest travel emissions, to paper use, to the transportation of goods to the ashram, to employee commuting, etc.

The process was challenging. The Ashram decided to measure all emissions sources (both direct and indirect) and many organizations really only measure their direct emissions. The Ashram wants to demonstrate leadership in this area, so they’re going for the full meal deal! As a result, a lot of the information is quite hard to find. Just what are the emissions generated to create the supplies that come into the Ashram? How many emissions are released by refrigerants? Many leading organizations on climate change have excellent information to help calculate the big ticket items like jet-travel, car travel, heating systems and electricity use. However, they don’t have much information on things like how to measure the emissions from the waste you produce and send to the land-fill, etc.

So there was a lot of hard work done at the Ashram, by Monica, Diana and others to gather the information to determine how much of what is being used, how far it’s being transported etc. Then they had to research what the emissions factors are for each source of use or product (how much C02 is released when 1 liter of fuel is burned, or 1kw/hr of electricity is used, etc).

What’s interesting is that none of it is easy. For example, the Ashram gets its electricity from FortisBC. Fortis uses mostly dams for its generation so the energy is pretty clean. BC Hydro on the other hand imports a lot of electricity from Alberta, where there is coal generation, which has really high Co2 emissions. So you have to know exactly where your electricity comes from and do your homework to make sure the supplier’s information is consistent with up to date research.

The results from the inventory are interesting.

What they show, in a way, is what we learned from our pilot project last year – that guest travel emissions are about 90% of the ashram’s overall carbon emissions.  a very rough estimate is around 470 tonnes. We are working to refine that by setting up a better system with guests to determine their travel routes and forms of travel. The ashram itself only directly emits about 44 tonnes. The geothermal installation reduced the ashram’s direct emissions by about 60% with a direct reduction of about 76 tonnes of CO2 emitted each year. That is huge!!

So the ashram now has baseline and we move on to next steps, which are about setting targets to reduce our emissions across the various sources and also developing a plan to offset those emissions that we can not reduce. The development of those plans are now underway!

GordDiana & MonicaOn a personal experience side, it’s been great to work directly on the issue of climate change within a community that I interact with. It has been powerful to see that when a community like the ashram turns its attention to an issue, it can supply so many resources to work on it, in ways that are very difficult to do when we live on our own or in a more nuclear family. The Ashram was able to have Diana, Monica and myself dedicate a lot of time and research to it and I really appreciated that opportunity.

Its hard at times because the idea of climate change can seem so overwhelming. It seems like almost everything we do emits C02, and the best science available says we have to be reducing our present C02 emissions by about 90%. I try to stay away from doomsday thinking but the more I read, the more I see that life as we know it is going to be severely challenged and threatened all around the world if we don’t make significant changes in the way we live, individually, and as societies around the world. For example, The thought of reef systems just winking off in the next  couple of decades because of increases in water temperature is hard to swallow. Think of all the fish systems, bird and animal ecologies, human ecologies, that are tied into those reefs.

In the winter I noticed that the climate change stuff was overwhelming me to the point where I was choosing not get in any car, to spend my weekends just walking along the beach near my house in Vancouver, etc. When I  needed to build some boxes for a garden, I needed a  hammer and was torn about whether to buy one… more C02!! ‘Shouldn’t I just make my own from a stone and wood? But I don’t know how to do that!’  My thinking was getting rigid and I was beginning to feel entrapped by it all. I went off to Victoria for a weekend get away with a friend (by bike, bus, ferry) and managed to swallow the idea of Co2 coming from the ferry and bus ride. While at my friend’s house, I used Hidden Language in pachimottanasana the surrender pose and took the question of ‘what do I need to surrender or let go of’ into the movement. I also asked ‘what quality can I bring in to help accept where I’m at?’ I was stressed by this whole climate change fear and I knew I needed to find a way through it.

And what I noticed was that I was pressing my upper body forward to my knees, I was pushing for perfection… and was becoming rigid and creating pain in the process. I eased up and re-entered , feeling for that fine magical line between complacency and rigidly pushing my body past its limits. The quality I needed was moderation. Set my goal to live more simply, it can be a long term goal. But I don’t need to expect ‘perfection’ of myself – that is a bar that will continue to just recede into the horizon as I work to it. Rather, moderation helps me to stay humble, to remember I am just one person and though my actions are important, they are not in and of themselves destroying this world. I am both a part of damage to the world and a part of its regeneration.

I always think of Pema Chodron’s comment: do what you do as though it’s the most important thing in the world, and at the very same time as though it doesn’t matter at all. So, I’m working towards my goal of light living, and at the same time bringing in compassion for myself and our society for the challenge of turning towards a very different way of living. It makes the journey a whole lot more humane, more gentle. If I just can’t bike somewhere, but feel it is necessary to go, then I’ll look at taking a bus or driving. Each decision I make is a conscious decision. And I keep trying to learn how to lesson my impact.

Bit by bit, step by step, we’ll get there. As our climate changes, and as we learn more and more how to live differently, I’m sure we’ll deepen and deepen in our stretch to the west… that fine line of moderation creating bigger and bigger change.

~ Gord McGee


Yasodara Ashram GHG Emissions (in metric tonnes of C02e)



2008 Emissions


2007 Emissions



2006 Emissions


Propane: Mandala House






Propane: Summer Kitchen






ashram-owned vehicles






Ashram tractor






Oil Heater for Mandala House
















employee air travel




employee owned vehicle commuting




transport of goods to the ashram




outsourced printing and design




landfill waste



guest transportation





Total Scope 1,2





Total Scope 3







Related links: Click here to purchase Swami Sivananda Radha’s Hatha Yoga Hidden Language.
Click here to read “There is No Away” an article about the Ashram’s Zero garbage tapas for the month of May, inspired by the research from the Carbon Neutral Project.

No Comments »

  1. Awesome, awesome, awesome!!! Great article! So glad that I was a part of it. Things are coming along. Gradually the rest of the world will start to gain momentum too! Glad the ashram can be such a shining example!

    Comment by Monica — June 2, 2009 @ 8:58 am

  2. What a thoughtful and informative article. Thanks Gord! I appreciate the facts and your reflections on finding moderation…a key for all of us. For me it is to think of what actions I can take for protecting Divine Mother’s body.

    Comment by Swami Yasodananda — June 2, 2009 @ 10:34 am

  3. Thanks much, Gord, for all your work in supporting our move towards being more carbon neutral. Thanks as well to Monica and Diana; it is great to hear about some of the work they were doing week after week here at the Ashram.

    Your reflection was inspiring — bringing the inner and outer. Finding a way through big questions to something that is ‘manageable’ and real.

    Hari Om

    Comment by Janet Gaston — June 2, 2009 @ 10:59 am

  4. Thanks for your inspirational info on all of that. It’s so great to see the depth the Ashram is going to in figuring out it’s total Carbon footprint, including waste disposal.

    I really hear you at the end of your story about being too rigid and feeling overwhelming conflict with each conscious decision. I get that sensation often also, as do many other people I know. It can be tough, and I see it as an aspect of surrender just as you say, to learn when to let flow what needs, to and to not over indulge in convenience also.

    The part about trying wanting to build your own hammer is especially funny and resonate with me. It’s good to have a laugh about while realizing that technology has it’s place in our evolution and some convenience is here to help us along the way. Finding balance and equanimity is the key.

    Comment by Simon — June 2, 2009 @ 11:48 am

  5. Yay!
    Its so good to see the results of our work!
    Thank you Gord for that wonderful summation!
    I’m so grateful to have been a part of the process; so much still to learn and work towards…

    “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; It’s because we do not dare that they are difficult”

    I think with each conscious choice we make the path to healing ourselves and our world will get easier… we just have to start.

    Love & Light

    Comment by Diana — June 2, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

  6. Thanks Gord for the thoughtful and inspiring article. I too went through a frustrating period of trying too hard to be sustainable. I was often angry and resentful towards those who were apparently doing whatever they wanted without considering the environmental impacts. Riding my bike to work in heavy cold winter rain wasn’t fun. I was sacrificing so why wasn’t anyone else?

    I discovered through a values clarification process that my value of sustainability was in conflict with several other of my key values. Like you, I was limiting my outdoor experiences primarily to ones that I could get to by foot or bike. That was frustrating and didn’t serve me. I’ve found a better balance now of doing what I can without frustration that likely creates more carbon, but there’s less steam coming out of my ears!

    Comment by Sharon — June 4, 2009 @ 11:28 pm

  7. I have my reservations about the veracity of global warming – I’m sure this makes many of you very angry! – but could you answer one question for me, which I really don’t understand. What has buying a hammer got to do with carbon emissions? Are you referring to the manner in which the tool was built (in whatever factory that was, with regard to the carbon emissions in that factory) and the transport of that hammer to your local store (ground transport, railroad, etc??
    Thank you for your response.
    Namaste. Zelda

    Comment by Zelda — June 6, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

  8. Hey Zelda,

    The total carbon usage is calculated with all of the above, what it takes to makes it, what it takes to transport it and everything. I also have my reservation about global warming and I think that it is not the center of the problem. One thing we cannot debate is that we pollute and that pollution is plain stupid. Any ways we can reduce pollution I think is great.

    I do also find it annoying sometime that people are debating if there is global warming or not, or if we are responsible for it or not, we are polluting and our pollution is killing fishes in lake and river. That is a fact and that is enough of a reason to stop polluting (and many more).

    Comment by geoffroy — June 13, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

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