If you find all the talk about “carbon footprints” and “carbon offsets” a bit baffling, read this post. You can also check out your own carbon footprint while you’re at it if you like ….
WHAT IS A CARBON FOOTPRINT (and what can you do about it)?
We’ve been hearing about our “Carbon Footprint” for some time now, but what does that really mean?
Your “footprint” is the amount of greenhouse gases you or a group emit into the atmosphere. For example, by flying airplanes, driving cars or using electricity, you are sending off carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Whatever the collective amount of green house gases you put into the atmosphere in your day-to-day lives determines the size of your footprint, or in other words, your contribution to global warming.
There are two types of footprints: A primary footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide you directly put into the atmosphere (through transportation, for example). The secondary footprint is what you put into the atmosphere indirectly (through the lifecycle of products used).*
Your footprint is usually measured in metric tons. To give you a little perspective, the average person generates about one metric ton of carbon a month– a ton is roughly equivalent to driving 3,000 miles, flying 3,500 miles or using 1,600 kWh of electricity. It’s easy to “guesstimate” the size of your footprint. There are many footprint calculators available online. Here’s a household emissions calculator available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help you out.
Why is a carbon offset one solution?
Assuming you just carbon calculated (see how to do this directly above), you know just how awful you were to our environment this past year. However, we’re here to help, so you should know about a reversal of sorts that few seem to take advantage of, probably because it’s kind of confusing. You see, greenhouse gas reduction programs offer a way to put back into the environment what you take away through “carbon offsets”– ways of reducing carbon emissions through solar, energy, reforestation, wind projects, etc.
According to the greenhouse gas reduction program Terrapass: “A carbon offset is a certificate representing the reduction of one metric ton (2,205 lbs) of carbon dioxide emissions, the principal cause of global warming. Although complex in practice, carbon offsets are fairly simple in theory. For example, if you develop a project that reduces carbon dioxide emissions, every ton of emissions reduced results in the creation of one carbon offset. You can then sell these offsets to finance your project.
There are hundreds of different types of carbon reduction projects. For example, a wind farm generates clean energy, which reduces carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants. In order to finance its operations, a wind farm can sell these reductions in the form of carbon offsets.” Thus, the more successful a project is, the more carbon offsets they are able to sell. Those wishing to offset the harm they cause to the environment can “buy” these offsets in order to fund their projects.
After estimating your footprint, the carbon calculator will tell you how much money you should donate (or, in other words, how many carbon offsets you should “buy”) towards reversing your effect on the environment based on the amount of metric tons you produce each year. (This is, truly, a rough estimate) . Your money is then used to help fund projects (usually of your choosing) that work towards reversing your effect on global warming. Every program has different costs per offsets and programs you can help fund.
Read below. This information should help you get started reviewing programs that would work best for you.
Choosing a Program
Opting to participate in carbon offsets sounds good in theory, but it’s important to be aware of how your money is being spent and choose the most efficient organization with the best programs that fit how you want your money spent. Here are a few that check out with us:
1. Carbonfund.org: Carbonfund allows the consumer to choose where they want to apply their offsets. According to their web page, “We know some people prefer renewable energy, while others prefer trees or efficiency. We also know some people have issues with various carbon offset types. So we figured: It’s your money, your carbon, your choice. When you donate, you can select your preferred carbon offset type. Or choose the basket and leave the decision to us.”
Carbonfund.org charges $10 per metric pound (2204.6 lbs) of carbon reductions. That’s about $4.54 per 1,000 lbs. Programs that you can apply your offsets to are all listed here, and largely deal with methane reduction, citing that methane is “23 times more efficient as a greenhouse case than carbon dioxide.” They also have projects promoting the use of solar and wind energy.
2. Terrapass: Terrapass is also heavy on projects that deal with the destruction of methane by means of farm power and landfill gas capture. They also have programs dealing with clean energy from wind farms. All projects can be found here.
TerraPass carbon offsets cost $5.95 per 1,000 lbs of carbon reductions. Though they recognize that their offsets might be more pricey than some you can find online, they also say that because of the more strict requirements each project must meet they’re well worth the difference.
Now that you’ve sorted out this whole footprint/offset business, go and celebrate Earth Day in a way that makes a real difference — but you should go ahead and plant that tree, too.