Dear Kids, (Colleagues, Customers and Friends of sustainability),It's Christmas time again! How about an “Environmental screening of Christmas Eve”? Everything is possible if you have data at hand so let’s go for it!
About 2 billion kids live on earth.
Considering that just a fraction (15%) of all kids believe in Santa Claus his workload is reduced to about 350 million kids to serve. Using an international average we see about 3.5 kids per household.
This means about 90 million households to serve; if we further assume that at least 1 kid per household has behaved well all year (maybe an optimistic assumption according to some parents).
Considering an even distribution of the households over the earth means 1.2 km distance between each household. So the total distance to be served by Santa for the Christmas delivery is over 100 million kilometres.
Further considering that any kid receives a mid-sized toy set of about 1 kg mass consisting of a mixture of plastic, metal, paper and textile, would sum up to a load of almost 300,000 tons of toys on Santa’s sledge (conservatively neglecting the weight of the sledge, the reindeer and his own weight; consistently reported to be overweight).Inventory
Opening up the GaBi DB and collecting the individual Global Warming data of polycarbonate, polyolefin, ABS, steel, aluminium, paper and textiles, and doing the magic toy mix of materials ends up in my calculation at about 3 kg global warming related emissions per 1 (kg of) toy due to the supply of materials. Now if we consider the production of the toys as well another 2 kg Global Warming related emissions will be released.Impact
The materials and production of the toys would have an impact on Global Warming Potential of almost 1.5 million tons CO2 Equivalent in total.
Sounds a lot, but in fact is just about 1% of the daily average Global Warming Potential of the world.
So one could argue this could be acceptable for such an important day and mission.
Considering that a reindeer can pull 150 kg at maximum we would need 2,000,000 reindeer for the job.
Reindeer eat about 2 kg of fodder in a day, this means 4,000,000 kg of straw (equalling just another 1000 t of GWP, see GaBi DB) so not too bad as well.
However the transport speed of the sledge is the key. Travelling 100 million kilometres to serve all related kids in one day means an average speed of over 1000 km per second; considerably faster then known rockets can fly. This means the sledges must definitely be propelled through some technical means. Taking the fuel consumption of standard cargo plane turbines (being over 1000 times slower) from GaBi database and scale it linearly on the required speed (knowing fuel consumption increases rather exponentially with speed) would result in 17,400 billon tons CO2 Equivalent of Global Warming Potential for transportation, exceeding the yearly Global Warming Potential in some orders of magnitude (in just 1 Christmas day!).Interpretation and conclusion
Looking at the facts I can only hope that Santa does not exist, as his service would have terrifying impacts on our planet. If he exists, this environmental screening reveals that even under extremely conservative (by the way, ISO recommended) assumptions, mankind would probably only survive one Christmas before a global climate collapse would cause extinction. My dear kids, be nice to your parents rather than believing too heavily in Santa. The planet would probably not survive your desire to meet him.
Fortunately due to the magic of Christmas it all just works! Have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season.