Golf Courses

Reduce Energy Consumption = Reduce Carbon Footprints: A Win-Win Situation for Golf Courses

Golf course owners and superintendents are enduring a perfect storm of financial pressures, expectations of high quality playing conditions, and concern about global warming. We have good news for you: it is possible to save money and reduce the "carbon footprint" without negatively impacting playing conditions.

The advice we provide can be implemented in the planning/development phase as well as the operational phase.

First, following are some basic principles, followed by sound advice.

What is a Carbon Footprint? This is a descriptor of natural resources consumed directly or indirectly that were ultimately derived from life forms and which emit a form of carbon, mostly carbon dioxide and methane, e.g., oil, wood, and coal. A carbon footprint is mitigated to a certain extent if the carbon consumed is from a renewable resource, such as managed forests. Ultimately, a facility's or individual's carbon footprint is a measure of the net amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs; see below) emitted directly, e.g., driving a car - - or indirectly, e.g., turning on the lights when the power plant fuel source is oil or coal.

Back to Top

Is Global Warming by Greenhouse Gases Really Happening? Yes. According to the US EPA and others (see below), the average temperature of the earth's surface has increased approximately 1.2º F to 1.4º F since 1900. In addition, atmospheric concentrations of the principal greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) are higher today than at any point in the last 650,000 years.

Three cautions: (1) People like to quote the fact that the eight warmest years on record (since 1850) have all occurred since 1998, but these short-term trends are less meaningful than the long-term trends. (Some scientists interpret the data to indicate no global warming trend in the near/short term.) (2) There are data from ancient ice cores that indicate past, pre-historic temperatures and concentrations of CO2 have significantly fluctuated repeatedly, but there's a consensus among most atmospheric scientists that most of the recent temperature and greenhouse gas increases are due to human-related activities. (3) Similarly, there is good evidence to suggest Europe and Greenland were warm between the years 900 and 1300, but Europe experienced "The Little Ice Age" between ca. 1500 and 1850. This indicates natural fluctuations on a much narrower time scale than 650,000 years. The figure below demonstrates these temperature fluctuations as estimated by seven different methods.

Back to Top

Are Human Activities the Sole Source of Global Warming? No. In fact, the earth’s annual mean temperature would be dozens of degrees cooler were it not for the presence of naturally-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. See also below the conclusions by Richard Lindzen.

Back to Top

Uncertainties and Opposing Viewpoints This is probably the most polarized scientific issue today. A majority of climate scientists conclude that human activities are the principal cause of recent global warming; a small minority disagree. But there seems to be little tolerance for opposing viewpoints on both sides, a behavior pattern that is inappropriate for scientists.

There are many uncertainties in the analysis of global warming and its future implications. For example, it has often been stated that CO2 levels have never been this high. A recent paper by Foster et al. (2012, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, vols. 341-344, pp. 243-254) indicates CO2 levels were approximately 400 ppm during the middle Miocene period, approximately 15-17 million years ago. This number is slightly higher than the current global mean. The researchers applied boron isotope analysis to marine plankton residues from deep ocean cores in the tropics.

Other key uncertainties in this area include the role of clouds as part of negative and positive feedback mechanisms, and the time for the climate to reach equilibrium in response to various stimuli such as CO2 increases. MIT professor Richard Lindzen acknowledges that global warming is occurring and that human activities are part of the cause, but questions the magnitude of temperature increase predictions (e.g., R.S. Lindzen, 2007, "Taking Greenhouse Warming Seriously," Energy & Environment, 18(7&8):937-950). He also states that the human activity contribution to recent surface warming is approximately one third. Many disagree with his criticisms of modeling uncertainties and conclusions, and a group of UK scientists criticized his recent address on the subject to the House of Commons (Lindzen-Global Warming address to House of Commons).

In conclusion: global warming is happening, humans are causing a significant but difficult-to-accurately-quantify fraction of it, and the public debate should be more respectful.

Back to Top

What are Greenhouse Gases and What are their Sources? Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are chemicals that trap heat radiation that would otherwise be reflected back into outer space. The chief GHG of concern now is CO2, although CH4 is also a significant GHG.

There are many sources of these GHGs. The most significant sources appear to be fuel consumption (gasoline, coal, heating oil, jet fuel, etc.), followed by - - in no particular order - - land clearing, volcanoes, livestock and livestock waste, and certain agricultural activities. Global warming itself may generate more GHGs in higher latitudes as frozen soils warm, but this is not well documented. Agriculture - - like turfgrass management (see below) - - can also provide the benefit of carbon sequestration, i.e., the incorporation of GHGs into plants and/or soil. This counteracts the global warming process.

Golf Courses Can Reduce Their Energy Consumption and Reduce Their Carbon Footprints

Anything a golf course can do to reduce energy consumption will also reduce the golf course's carbon footprint, as long as those actions do not significantly increase the amount of waste generated.

Following is some general information on U.S. emissions as a function of energy use, followed by a pie chart of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The table demonstrates that CO2 is the principal GHG generated by electric utilities, and that a relatively small amount of energy conservation can reduce your GHG emissions significantly. This information provides context for our work.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector
Makower et al., 2008

Back to Top

Energy Conservation and Carbon Footprint Reduction for Golf Courses. For most US golf courses - - with the possible exception of those in arid/semi-arid/tropical/sub-tropical climates - - fuel costs are a significantly greater portion of the operating budget than electrical costs. Fuel is used for mowers, trucks, utility carts, tractors, spray rigs, and heat. Therefore one can reduce the energy budget and reduce the carbon footprint by optimizing the efficiency of the internal combustion engine and the drive train.

The next big budget eater on a golf course is electricity. In addition to internal power needs (lights, computers, and shop equipment), significant electrical consumers are irrigation pumps and electric carts. Some examples follow.

  • A typical car that is driven 200 miles/week (10,400 miles/yr) generates 11,800 lb/yr of CO2 *. At 22 miles/gallon and $2/gallon, this equates to $945/yr for gas. A 14% improvement in mileage due to good maintenance procedures would yield annual cost and carbon footprint savings of $142 and 1,770 lb, respectively.
  • A golf course can use up to 5,000,000 kW hr/yr in electricity in desert areas. This could equate to $550,000, which could yield 6,000,000 lb of carbon emitted/yr. One could easily reduce costs by 25% by doing the following: spread some energy usage into off-peak hours; change incandescent bulbs for fluorescent bulbs/fixtures; review the electric bill for accuracy; switch to Energy Star-labeled equipment, windows, etc; use solar-powered irrigation controllers; and obtain incentives from the local power utility. The first actions would also reduce the golf facility's carbon footprint.

*US EPA. November 2000. Global Warming - What's Your Score? Office of Air and Radiation, Office of Atmospheric Programs, EPA-430-K-0-007.

Back to Top

Carbon Footprint Calculator. We developed the first valid on-line carbon footprint calculator for golf courses ( See the CARBONSAVE section below for more information.

The U.S. EPA has developed an easy-to-use and helpful carbon emissions calculator for individuals and families. It is not an overall carbon footprint calculator, because it does not address issues such as carbon sequestration (lawn, outdoor plants), use of lawn mowers, etc. However, its evaluation of our habits in the areas of driving, recycling, and home energy use can be extremely educational and helpful. The link to the EPA website is

Back to Top

CARBONSAVE®. Your final step should be to contact us. We can do an energy and carbon footprint audit. This service is provided in conjunction with the Staples Golf (, who are experts on energy cost savings at golf courses. Once you hire our team, we will send you a detailed questionnaire to complete. The various pieces of information we will request will include your recent energy and water bills. We will use this information to make specific recommendations and calculate your potential for savings. Please also budget for at least 30 minutes of your time on the phone. We will then send you a report that will include an energy and carbon footprint analysis and, most important, specific, feasible recommendations.

Our analysis will incorporate the fact that golf courses provide an environment whereby carbon is sequestered, which mitigates against carbon loss. This carbon sequestration occurs via plant growth, increase in soil organic carbon, increase in root zone mass, and thatch production.

Please call us for a price quote, and provide us with the following information when you make the request: the number of golf holes, the size of your maintenance building, and the number of mowers. Click here for brochure.

Environmental Footprints. We should be concerned about our total environmental impact, not just our carbon footprints. See, for example, the following study.

Carbon, Land, and Water Footprint Accounts for the European Union: Consumption, Production, and Displacements through International Trade

Kjartan Steen-Olsen *†, Jan Weinzettel †, Gemma Cranston ‡, A. Ertug Ercin §, and Edgar G. Hertwich
† Industrial Ecology Programme and Department of Energy and Process Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway
‡ Global Footprint Network, Geneva, Switzerland
§ University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands
Environ. Sci. Technol., 2012, 46 (20), pp 10883-10891
DOI: 10.1021/es301949t
Publication Date (Web): September 26, 2012
Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society


A nation’s consumption of goods and services causes various environmental pressures all over the world due to international trade. We use a multiregional input–output model to assess three kinds of environmental footprints for the member states of the European Union. Footprints are indicators that take the consumer responsibility approach to account for the total direct and indirect effects of a product or consumption activity. We quantify the total environmental pressures (greenhouse gas emissions: carbon footprint; appropriation of biologically productive land and water area: land footprint; and freshwater consumption: water footprint) caused by consumption in the EU. We find that the consumption activities by an average EU citizen in 2004 led to 13.3 tCO2e of induced greenhouse gas emissions, appropriation of 2.53 gha (hectares of land with global-average biological productivity), and consumption of 179 m3 of blue water (ground and surface water). By comparison, the global averages were 5.7 tCO2e, 1.23 gha, and 163 m3 blue water, respectively. Overall, the EU displaced all three types of environmental pressures to the rest of the world, through imports of products with embodied pressures. Looking at intra-EU displacements only, the UK was the most important displacer overall, while the largest net exporters of embodied environmental pressures were Poland (greenhouse gases), France (land), and Spain (freshwater).


IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate National Research Council (NRC), 2002: Abrupt Climate Change, Inevitable Surprises.

Makower, J., M. Wheeland, T. Herrera, and J. Bardelline (Eds). 2008. State of Green Business 2008.,;

National Research Council (NRC), 2005: Radiative Forcing of Climate Change. National Academy Press, Washington, DC. National Academy Press, Washington, DC

National Research Council (NRC), 2006. Surface Temperature Reconstructions For the Last 2,000 Years. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

US EPA websites: and