This Earth Day, the Aquarium of the Pacific announced its commitment to climate neutrality, as did over two dozen other members of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership. To achieve this goal, the organizations must track their Scope 1, 2, and 3 carbon emissions to reduce their impact on the planet. For nearly a decade, the Aquarium of the Pacific has tracked Scope 1 and 2 emissions––those which are directly caused by the facility’s on-site activities. They have recently begun tracking Scope 3 emissions, which are those associated with the indirect impacts of the facility. 

Scope 3 emissions are much more difficult to quantify than Scope 1 or 2, therefore they are broken up into 15 categories. Our practicum team has been assisting the Aquarium of the Pacific with tracking 3 categories: employee commute, business travel, and procurement. Of these, procurement is the most difficult to quantify as it requires significant research to quantify the emissions of everything the Aquarium purchases in a given year. As such, our team has “zoomed in” on procurement specifically for events put forth by the organization––as this aligns with our overarching project goal to improve event sustainability.

For any given event, there are 3 primary variables: food, drink, and cutlery. Through our research, we have determined best practices for each.

For food, meat is the most significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. At the top of that list is beef, followed by lamb, pork, and poultry, in that order. The most sustainable practice would be serving only vegetarian food, however, event planners are wary of this for fear of complaints from attendees. This mindset applies to drinks as well, as event hosts want their guests to be well taken care of.

For drinks, the biggest emissions culprit is beer, followed closely by wine, while liquor/spirits have a significantly lower impact than both. That being said, hard liquor is typically not served alone, meaning the emissions of a full cocktail are a bit closer to that of a beer or glass of wine. 

Considering the concerns of event planners regarding not serving certain food/drink items, it is the responsibility of the Aquarium to inform its guests of the impacts their food/drink choices have on the planet. To do this, our team developed a menu, which shows the carbon cost of what’s being served (see here: Emissions Menu). This menu can be adjusted to the emissions of each specific dish being served, making it an effective and versatile communication tool.

Ideally, this strategy can help guests make informed, sustainable decisions at events. It has the potential to reduce demand for less sustainable dining options and even push event hosts to opt for removing unsustainable options from menus entirely.

For cutlery, our team determined that reusables are always better than single-use items, on nearly every front (cost, waste, water usage, and air pollution) after only a year of use. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Aquarium was forced to transition to single-use cutlery at events, for public health concerns. In this transition, the Aquarium tried to offer as many compostable items as possible, in an attempt to reduce plastic waste from events. However, our research shows that the impact of compostables on the planet is roughly equivalent to that of plastic if it is not properly disposed of. Sadly, the City of Long Beach lacks the infrastructure required to compost single-use “compostable” cutlery items (which can only be composted at a large, industrial facility). This means that when it comes to single-use cutlery, there is no obvious choice between compostables and plastics (especially given the fact that compostable cutlery often comes at a premium price). As such, it is our best practice recommendation that the Aquarium of the Pacific transition away from single-use cutlery at events and work to reinstate reusables as quickly as possible.

We hope that these recommendations will allow the Aquarium of the Pacific to significantly reduce the carbon emissions from its events, ultimately moving the organization forward in its goal to achieve climate neutrality.