Offsetting My Residency’s Carbon Footprint

Photo: making compost in the Dignan Street Community Garden.

In a month’s time, I’ll be flying to San Francisco to start the Fulbright Wallace residency at Headlands Art Center. As the work I’ll be making there focuses on our relationship to the earth, my aim is that the residency and what it produces sits lightly on the planet. Living in Aotearoa means the flight itself will be the largest producer of CO2 emissions. So I decided to attempt to offset my flight by making compost in our home and community garden.

I researched the CO2 emissions caused by my flight and how much I could offset that by making compost. The results varied massively. So my carbon footprint calculations aren’t going to stand up to any sort of scientific scrutiny. That said, I’m still interested in keeping track of this. Allowing some creative license, here are my initial calculations.

I spearheaded an initiative for our community garden to receive food scraps from our local Countdown supermarket every week, diverting it from landfill. With this and other materials, I’ve made 12 cubic meters of raw compost, with the support of the other community gardeners.

Over time, that reduced by 75% to 3 cubic metres of finished compost. Depending on the moisture content, this equates to approximately 3 tonnes of rich compost, full of microbes.

Plants use photosynthesis to convert sunlight into sugars. After the sun sets, these sugars are drawn down the plants’ roots and into the soil as exudates. Spreading compost on plants increases the amount of microbes . These are attracted to the exudates, increase the CO2 that the plant takes out of the atmosphere and lock that carbon up in the soil. One study in America calculated that for every tonne of compost spread around plants, 0.24 tonnes of CO2 is drawn into the soil. By these calculations, my 3 tonnes have given me a credit of 0.72 tonnes of CO2.

In addition, by diverting the food scraps to the compost, we save the CO2 they would have emitted in landfill. According to one American study, every tonne of food scraps reduces the amount of CO2 emissions by 0.46 tonnes. Roughly a third of my 3 tonnes of compost were food scraps, taking my CO2 credit up to 1.18 tonnes.

I chose to use to calculate what my two flights are really costing the environment. Their calculation was 2.332 tonnes CO2. This means I still have 1.152 tonnes of CO2 to offset. I plan to do this with more compost creation which I hope to continue during the residency. I’ll also be looking into other ways I can keep my footprint light while I’m there.

I have to admit that these figures can in no way measure the absolute joy, peace and sense of interconnection with all life that comes from making compost, growing food in it, eating the produce and putting the scraps into the compost. That’s my real motivation.

Local Composting Initiative

Without fully comprehending why, I’ve recently become obsessed with compost. I take any opportunity to turn a bin, collect fallen autumn leaves, admire the worms multiplying, smell the rich humus and get my hands in a pile to feel the heat generated.  I went to a talk  about The Magic of Soil by Phil Gregory who was very convincing that that soil sequestering carbon can save us from climate change.

This put a fire in my belly and in collaboration with other local groups, we proposed a local composting initiative to utilise the organic resource produced by households in Tāmaki Makaurau. During World Composting Week, I made a submission to Auckland City Council on behalf of Transition Towns Point Chevalier and Dignan St Community Garden. We joined hands with Kelmarna City Farm and Organic Community Garden, For the Love of Bees, NZ Box Compost Bins and Go Well Consultancy.

It is part of the research I’m doing for the residency at Headlands Art Centre in San Fransisco in September.


The Exquisite Wound in Te Whanganui- a- Tara Wellington.

I’m very pleased to be able to announce the dates for The Exquisite Wound exhibition in Te Whanganui- a- Tara. Expressions Whirinaki in Upper Hutt are going to be the new hosts for the show. It will run from February 16th- April 7th 2019 which is during The New Zealand Festival.

The 26th Annual Wallace Art Awards exhibition, is still on at The New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts until March 25th. If you are in Te Whanganui- a- Tara and haven’t seen it yet, it is well worth a visit. Check out my two channel video made with composer Charlie Ha, I Am Here.

The Academy Gallery is open daily 10 am – 5 pm at 1 Queens Wharf and entry is free.


The 26th Annual Wallace Art Awards exhibition

The 26th Annual Wallace Art Awards exhibition is about to open in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. It has a selection of 50 of the awards’ finalists and winners. This includes ‘I Am Here’, the video that I made with the amazing composer Charlie Ha.

Some of my personal favourites of this really diverse collection of works are; ‘Haar’ by Jack Trolove, ‘Know Your Meat’ by Teresa HR Lane, and ‘Harmonic People’ by Andy Leleisi’uao, who won the Paramount award.

‘I Am Here’ is from ‘The Exquisite Wound’ exhibition that is touring Aotearoa New Zealand. Future dates will be released as they become available.

The 26th Annual Wallace Art Awards at Pah Homestead with ‘Haar’ by Jack Trolove.

The 26th Annual Wallace Art Awards at The Academy Galleries, 1 Queens Wharf, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, from February 19th- 25th March, 2018


Fulbright- Wallace Art Award

At the awards ceremony on September 4th, I was very honoured to win the Fulbright- Wallace residency. I will be going to Headlands Centre for the Arts in San Francisco for three months from September 2018. The application process was rigorous and highly competitive so I was surprised and very excited to find out I was shortlisted. The Director of Fulbright New Zealand, Penelope Borland interviewed me along with four esteemed artists who have all been recipients of the award; Richard Maloy, Ruth Watson, Phil Dadson and Steve Carr.

I Am Here, the two channel video work I made in collaboration with composer Charlie Ha, is in the Wallace Art Awards exhibition, representing The Exquisite Wound. This video and the work of all the finalists and winners can be seen at The Pah Homestead in Auckland until 12th November 2017. The exhibition tours to The Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville and then on to The Academy Galleries, in Wellington.

Rebecca at the Wallace Art Awards with collaborator and composer Charlie Ha, Penelope Borland, director of Fulbright NZ and Helen Clark.