Carbon Crusaders


MakeMeSustainable on Telephony Online
May 11, 2009, 7:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Originally posted on Telephony Online.

Cell phone recycling off to slow start

Discarded mobile phones generate huge amounts of waste, but recycling programs aren’t yet catching on with consumers

Part 3 in a serieson the environmental implications of the mobile phone. Readpart 1 and part 2 here.

When a mobile phone reaches its end of life or, more likely, a consumer opts to upgrade, the three most common places for it to end up are a landfill, an incinerator or the consumer’s desk drawer. In the United States alone, Americans discard upwards of 130 million cell phones annually, less than 5% of which are recycled. That adds up to nearly 65,000 tons of waste every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is this massive amount of waste that is attracting the most attention from handset makers and carriers in their efforts to go green, but these efforts are still failing to inspire consumers in any significant numbers.

Recycling initiatives are popping up all over the world, including everything from a campaign to use recycling to save koalas in Australia to a telco-sponsored campaign in India and several charity-driven initiatives in the US. Handset vendors make it easy by sending envelopes with prepaid stamps directly to consumers’ doors, and some carriers even promise money – either to a charity or to the consumer – in return for recycled handsets. Even with these initiatives, however, Nokia’s own studies find that only about 3% of consumers are recycling their handsets today. And, they still cite a lack of awareness as the main reason why.

“That is the elephant in the room,” said David Delcourt, chief operating officer of green community site MakeMeSustainable.com. “With all the electronics we have, we have a poor recycling system for electronics.”

In Delcourt’s opinion, the mobile phone recycling process will remain challenged until the day when a consumer can toss their mobile phone directly in the recycling bin. It’s important to make it easy enough to get consumers on board because mobile phones contain toxic chemicals and components that pollute the air and soil when dumped in landfill or burnt in an incinerator. Further, a lot of recycling facilities are in developing countries where they strip the electronics down and send toxic waste directly into the ground stream. There is legitimate recycling going on too, Delcourt said, but not enough of it, considering how easy it is to do and how big an impact it can have.

“The best way for someone to minimize their footprint is to re-use and recycle their phone,” he said. “The phone’s manufacturing impact has already been spent, the waste will be zero, and you’re avoiding purchasing a new phone that comes with its own footprint. There are companies that also pay you for your old phone, refurbish them and resell them in other countries. Sent in bulk, this likely still achieves a smaller footprint with transportation costs than manufacturing new phones.”

ReCellular is one company that accepts old mobile phones for refurbishing. The electronics sustainability firm collects nearly 25,000 old handsets every day, 70% of which are still fully functional. It then provides the phones to its partners, including AT&T, Best Buy and Page Plus, to sell as refurbished, discounted devices. ReCellular collected more than 5.5 million devices in 2008, about 50% of the total devices recycled in the year, according to vice president Mike Newman. He estimated that closer to 10% of phones retired today, totaling about 14 million, are being recycled. Even so, the average consumer likely has two to three phones sitting around the house.

“There could be as many as one billion sitting in desks,” he said. “[Consumers] know they have value, but they aren’t spending the time or effort to seek out a recycling program.”

According to the CTIA, knowledge of mobile phone recycling programs is beginning to grow even if action is not. Its recent survey of 1,000 subscribers around the country found that 84% were aware that the mobile phone is a recyclable product and 69% were aware of programs to actually do the recycling. A significantly lower percentage was taking advantage of the programs, said John Walls, vice president of public affairs at CTIA, but awareness is rising.

“That is the challenge that any electronic device has,” Walls said. “Two-thirds of Americans know they can recycle their cell phones. Now we have to get over the hump of having them doing something about it instead of congregate in desk stands. It’s right there for them to do. It’s as simple as going into any store.”

WORLDWIDE RECYCLING PROGRAMS
CTIA promotes its own recycling program through a nationwide campaign, ‘Wireless…The New Recyclable,’ launched in 2003. The outreach campaign includes an in-store phone take-back program that lets consumers bring in old handsets and accessories to carrier retail outlets for recycling. Because the carrier owns the relationship with the consumer as well as the point of sale, this is one area where they can contribute as much – if not more – than the handset makers.

Most of the carriers are getting involved too, most recently including Cricket Communication’s recently launched handset recycling program in partnership with ReCellular. Other carriers, including AT&T with its Cell Phones for Soldiers initiative, and Verizon Wireless’ HopeLine phone recycling program, encourage consumers to donate their functional phones for reuse. VZW refurbishes phones for victims of domestic abuse, while AT&T recycles used cell phones and uses the proceeds to buy free phone cards for US troops. The carrier said it has recycled more than 2.5 million devices in the past year.

These programs complement the global initiatives of the top five handset manufacturers. Nokia provides phone take-back points in 85 countries, and LG’s programs span 45 countries as of 2007. Motorola, too, provides a take-back program in 12 countries where it gives out prepaid return envelops, also available online. Similarly, LG’s Text-to-Recycle program lets consumers send a text message to a shortcode, which then prompts them for their physical address. LG will send a prepaid mailer directly to the consumer’s door for them to send in old phones, packaging and accessories. All the handset makers accept phones and accessories from any of their competitors as well.

While carriers and handset makers are trying to attract more interest in their handset recycling programs, regulatory pressure may be the biggest driver going forward. The government’s EPA is working with AT&T, Best Buy, LG, Verizon Wireless and others to increase their outreach about their existing recycling programs, educate the public on how to recycle and the benefits of doing so and work with communities on cell phone collection drives and events.

The EPA’s Plug-In To eCycling program is voluntary today, but as the number of consumer electronics devices continues to proliferate, there is mounting pressure on state and federal governments to develop a national strategy to address the waste, according to Evan Haines, an ICF International consultant for EnergyStar’s electronics programs. California was the first to launch a mandatory statewide recycling program in 2006, prohibiting consumers from throwing away phones and requiring handset makers to have their own recycling program in place. Other states have yet to take it this far, but as awareness continues to spread and green becomes top of mind, it could be the next logical step.

“Mobile phones are a huge market, so even if something on the per-device basis is not that big, when you multiple it out to the whole market, there is a huge opportunity for effecting change,” Haines said. “If manufacturers are able to commit and put into place take-back programs, there is a chance to do more than they already are trying to do.”



Demo 09 Smart Energy Grid Panel…bullets.
March 9, 2009, 2:04 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Demobeat…smart energy grid.

Tom Sly, Google, leading PowerMeter biz dev. Grocery analogy…groceries with no pricing info…everything bundled, no idea how to improve on that. That’s how we buy power.

Powermeter. Mobile enabled, close to real time. Data is key to behavioral change. 5-15% reductions when have access. API open for 3rd parties. Power meter, direct to user. Also working with utilities and other device manufacturers. Data available. If we can get 50% of households to reduce consumption by 10%, it would me 8 million cars off the road, more reductions then total wind and solar generation now. I think Google is working with GE right now on the powermeter hardware.

Adrian Tuck, Tendril

Energy demand increasing, grid stressed. 2 principles. 1) Way to change is by giving conumers the tools, empower them, not utilities. 2) Humble to predict the killer apps of the smart grids. Eco saver app example. Don’t think they should be alone in developing. Open API (Yes, good plan Tendril, this will help you grow!).

Mobile app. Live. Instant view of consumption, price, cost. Nice visual. Open Mobile API too!

What took Tendril so long? Long process to aggregate data, tech challenges. Meter requirements, protocol for the. Regulatory environment needs to change. Decoupling is coming, seeding this model, not fighting it. Utilities must be incentivized. Yes, utilities will be key, government needs to incentivize AND punish those unwilling to cooperate. The carrot and the stick.

Robin Baker, AMEE

Crowd sourcing to collect consumption and carbon data. Product specific footprinting. Calculate C02 of everything on planet. Move orgs, individuals to a low carbon economy. Provide: Authority, Open access & scale, Independence, Interoperability. Anyone can access (pricing). Integrate policy, science, tech, & biz. Smart meter to UI carbon output. UK live demo.

Challenge of c02. Methodologies of each govt, area are different for carbon. AMEE wants to make the standard. $20 trillion dollar industry worldwide.

In conversations with Google and AMEE post (Tendril had a flight to catch) both companies see collaboration as central to both solving the climate problem and building business. This is hard for many traditionalist business mavens to understand. It’s the open source conundrum. In the end, the best products will win, why not just help those along and share in profits? Great DemoBeat panel, a nice break in the otherwise very techy oriented weekend (nothing wrong with that of course :).



DEMO 09, A brief account
March 7, 2009, 12:20 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Everything in the past 9 months has been driven by the “down economy” theme, literally, everything. Spending, budgets, revenues, and now even words. Words aren’t cheap, so this is Demo 09 day 1, MakeMeSustainable style in bullet form. Apologies to companies that I don’t mention, there were a few interesting ones that I couldn’t cover because of work (demonstrator list here). Start, Demo 09.

demo_blue

Sunday night: sick in room with vicious fever and stomach flu.

Monday: Chris Shipley. Reset year, recession. No more large user growth, and then monetize. This year business plans that make sense. Venture is changing. Tightening LP’s, tightening purses on both sides seeking capital efficient companies.

Matt Marshall. DemoBeat for ongoing conversation. Smart grid conversation (yes!). Company demo’s I paid attention to.

Pixetell…webex on drugs.

CC Betty…smart email management, not a fan of the colors, like to product.

Zuora…monetize facebook applications…hell yes, someone has to make money in facebook!

Zipadi…take printed materials and put them online…love it, love the green component, love the demo, great guys too, hope they get funded.

eFormic…product specific co2 offsets. label with website and code. software embedded into company website. can choose project and see where project is. any product and service. provides branding and green PR. tight demo. still not sold on effectiveness of offsets.

blue buzz…blue tooth content delivery. uses hardware and software.

This evening, I am sick again with stomach flu. Not much use at the jam session. On to tomorrow.



McDonalds an energy leader?
January 6, 2009, 8:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s difficult to continue hearing people argue with me that they don’t have any money to invest in energy efficiency even as they watch their 401k’s and stock portfolios, GM stock and financial ETF’s bite the dust. It remains simple: energy efficiency investments are the most lucrative, cash flow related investment you can make in the market today. They are a practically assured investment, returning cents on the dollar, provided we continue to use energy…which we will!

It’s no surprise to me that the biggest companies are investing significant resources into energy efficiency products. These are the same companies, who as LP’s (limited partners) of large venture firms are trying to back out of their funding agreements. Wal-Mart was one of a few companies which forged the path for energy efficiency. This June 2007 post shows how ahead of the curve they really were.

Now take a look at McDonalds. Environmental Leader reports McDonalds is rolling out energy efficiency measures in its stores worldwide this year, with energy savings estimated at 14%, or $1.5 billion. No small fry. And this initiative in addition to other environmental action on the fast-food giant’s plate, including fewer landfill visits, biodiesel trucks (pilot phase) and others.

The takeaway is simple. Use less energy, save more money, use that money elsewhere, watch your personal or business balance sheet improve. Oil is back up to $50 a barrel, and it will continue to rise along with energy prices in general. President elect Obama is pushing for energy efficiency measures together with large and small businesses alike, so why isn’t everyone?



Envirolution holiday party and soft-demo
December 4, 2008, 12:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

MMS will be soft-demoing our energy efficiency auditing software and drinking to the health of the planet!

From guestofaguest.com:

While the “regular” economy is depressingly unpredictable these days, the new “green” economy is looking increasingly promising. Amidst the Green community, word is that green-collar jobs are on the rise to further the cause for a more sustainable NYC. Take a gander at our favorite eco-friendly non-profit group, Envirolution, and its growing progress and current projects by checking out its holiday fundraiser on Thursday at Inc Lounge. At the event, Envirolution, along with Make Me Sustainable, will unveil their latest and greatest project – the “Win-Win Campaign” a youth-led small business energy and carbon efficiency campaign.

Click below for more story:

The hosts will be joined by reps from a bevy of other eco-friendly companies and non-profits, providing an excellent networking event for those looking to get more involved at any capacity. Or, just come out with friends for a few drinks and enjoy music from DJ K Black and a special performance by Ihsan Mummahad of Urban Go Green (who also performed at Envirolution’s Launch Party in May and was AMAZING). For those New Yorkers looking for new career opportunities AND ways to make a difference, it’s no doubt that checking out the Green market could be a sustainable move!

[Envirolution: The Next Generation Of Sustainability]



Green Pooch
July 28, 2008, 11:02 pm
Filed under: pets

Recently walking my dog past the local dog emporium (wittily called Polka Dog Bakery) I saw advertisements in the window for biodegradable dog poop bags. Now, nothing bothers me more then seeing dog crap on the sidewalk, especially when I (together with the vast majority of dog owners) diligently pick up those little warm mounds of joy rain, sun or snow, only to have the few disrespectful owners let their pets drop their land mines in the paths of unsuspecting pedestrians. Naturally I went in to investigate these bags. Earlier in the year I purchased a set of bags claiming to be certified biodegradable everywhere except California…turned out, California is the only state that truly takes these certifications seriously, and therefore they were no better then any other bags.

After a brief conversation with the owner, I discovered that these bags were the real deal (read more here at the company’s home page). They are indeed 100% biodegradable, made primarily from corn amongst other materials, these bags exceed all standards for environmental friendliness, and most importantly, they worked like a charm for grabbing my husky’s messy business.

The Dog's new carbon footprint

The dog, shining with his improved footprint, practically vanished

I began thinking of other ways to help pet owners reduce their animals’ footprint and came up with a list of easy-to-follow guidelines.  Why, because in the end, there are even easier (and cheaper) ways to reduce Fido’s footprint then buying bio poop bags.

  1. Re-use bags for Fido’s poop. Newspaper, shopping and other small bags are great. Ask neighbors or friends to save bags for you. This keeps Fido’s footprint at zero (even if yours isn’t!). When you need to buy the bags, get the biodegradable ones at poopbags.com or preferably at your local pet shop.
  2. Stop buying Spot toys, especially plastic or vinyl. If spot really needs a toy, be sure it’s from a recycled or renewable source and produced locally. Want a chew toy? Go to the closest butcher and get Spot a ham bone…he’ll love you, there won’t be any terrible preservatives, you’ll save money and it will take him ages to go through it.
  3. Buy local and/or organic dog food. This will have the added benefit that Lassy will be much healthier, without the strange mystery meat parts, antibiotics and preservatives found in most pet foods. If you don’t want to spend the extra $$ on food, get local food as it will often be less loaded with dead and diseased animal products and preservatives.
  4. Travel much? Bring a recycled/recyclable container for you pooch’s water and food. Looking ahead, stock up on those plastic bags mentioned above to keep from having to buy new ones for poo to come.
  5. Try and minimize the distance you drive to walk Fluffy. By all means, treat the dog to a walk in the woods but stay close to home for the normal day’s business.
  6. Get a vet within walking distance or as close as possible. Cut down on transportations
  7. Get that puppy spayed or neutered and help control the pet population. You never know what Spot can get up to at the dog park. Too many animals are born world wide without enough resources to care for them.

Have other suggestions? Please let me know. These are just the ramblings of one dog owner and there are many more ways to help your pooch become more environmentally friendly.



Green, Together in NY
June 18, 2008, 7:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

(I originally posted this entry at http://www.together.com/us/blog).

The threat of rain had been looming in the forecast for the past week leading up to today’s event and the skies were grey upon arrival to Times Square. However, the greenery that colored Military Island remained dry even though the sun didn’t shine.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, Climate Group CEO Dr. Steve Howard, JP Morgan Chase Head of CSR Bill Daley and ICLEI Executive Director Michelle Wyman took the stage, together with host Simran Sethi, to the sounds of cabs, pedestrians and the New York hustle and bustle. It seemed fitting that the event took place in the heart of America’s largest city, making everyone aware of the fact that nothing had stopped around us, as with the global challenges of climate change.

Dr. Howard began by introducing Together.com (and the Climate Group) as a global initiative, bringing businesses, individuals, NGO’s and political figures to the table, in order to provide simple, affordable solutions to climate change. Over the past year, Howard explained, through Together’s U.K. program, over 20,000,000 actions responsible for reducing over 500,000 tons of carbon. Even more impressive is the international scope Together is striving to cover, currently including Europe and the Americas, and expanding within the next year to India and China; environmentalists and economists unilaterally agree that as the huge populations of China and India begin to adopt the western, consumer lifestyle, the ecological consequences new goods to meet growing demand will be devastating if we do not accommodate and change our behavior now.

…and Mayor Bloomberg expressed those exact sentiments. New York City is not waiting for federal mandates or promising for change by 2050. Instead, Bloomberg instated PlaNYC, a set of over 125 initiatives in NY designed to green the Big Apple. A few highlights include the planting of one million trees, LEED certified city buildings, efficiency bulb retrofits, hybrid taxi fleets, and more. Bloomberg also acknowledged other cities and states doing their part, acting now, including Miami, Chicago, Seattle and of course California. (Even though he was unable to attend, Governor Schwarzenegger sent a note saying he would work with us all to say “hasta la vista” to climate change).

Later in the event I had the fortune of speaking directly with Mayor Bloomberg, and when I asked if he had a specific thought for today’s blog, he said that it is time to recognize that “damage has been done and we need to act.” We don’t need to “close down economies, but react now, swiftly.” Tomorrow is simply not an option.

Bloomberg’s spirit of “no time for later” continued through the speaking event. I was excited to hear Secretary Ban Ki-Moon’s words regarding the U.N.’s own plans for climate change. As an institution responsible for overseeing such an unprecedented range of international issues, the U.N. is uniquely positioned to understand the potential economic, social and political consequences of failing to act on climate change. As a call to action, Secretary Moon announced a U.N. report designed for low carbon titled “Kick the Habit” and stated that climate change could only be addressed by “concerted, collective action.” Secretary Moon stressed climate change was an issue too large for one person, country or company to address alone…only together can we achieve results.

Rounding out the morning’s event were Mr. Daley and Ms. Wyman, neither of whom I knew very much. But, they represent two extremely important players in the fight against climate change: the corporate voice (JP Morgan Chase as founding corporate partner) and the non-profit partners (ICLEI as founding non-profit partner). Mr. Daley described JPMC’s green programs including 20% energy reductions but 2012 and green branches. However, most significant was Mr. Daley’s recognition that addressing climate change is not just a moral obligation, but an intelligent, profitable business strategy. The sooner businesses follow JP Morgan Chase’s (and other Together partners’) lead in investing in and setting climate goals, the sooner we can reverse the idea that environmentally sound practices are irrecoverable expenses.

In turn, Ms. Wyman echoed Mayor Bloomberg’s words, committing to increase cities’ involvement in the Together project; as a goal she stated 1000 cities would be actively participating within one year. Ms. Wyman’s organization holds the key to large scale involvement from the political level over the next year. Federal measures will need to pass congress, bureaucratic hold ups and cost considerations, where as city level plans can take advantage of simple, immediate solutions for residents and municipality controlled regulation. Good luck!

On the whole the event was a positive intersection of industry, government and activist groups. Effectively, without the participation of one of these groups, climate change solutions will remain limited. The only remaining (perhaps obvious) piece of the pie is you and I…individuals committed to changing our daily habits, purchasing habits and most importantly, to incorporating environmental considerations into all of our decisions. Only together we can change the course.



Live Better? or green washing?
June 3, 2008, 7:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Recently I ran across a website dedicated to Wal-Mart’s “Live Better Index.” The index, launched in 2007 is comprised of five products the company believes to be indicators of green trends. The five products are:

1. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)
2. Organic milk
3. Concentrated/reduced-packaging liquid laundry detergents
4. Extended-life paper products
5. Organic baby food

(This year they added green cleaning products and sustainable coffee to the list, but sufficient data has not been collected to discuss these with any accuracy).

From 2007 to 2008, green consumer product adoption rose 66% in total, with paper products experiencing the strongest rise of over 68% (see Live Better Index site for updated results.) Further behind, CFL’s saw an increase of nearly 20%, which is promising and expected with WalMart’s aggressive push to sell these sustainable bulbs.

Of course this is a simplified index, but it does serve some purpose. Principally, I would make two observations. First, there is a clear trend between health/wellness and green. Organic milk for instance  is championed for its health benefits, but it serves the dual purpose of more sustainable cattle farming.
Many people praise the LOHAS market, and this is a clear indicator of its strength and growth.

A second observation is that price plays a factor, but not unilaterally across the board, as other factors are obviously involved. Looking at the different products one by one. CFL’s are easy; they save you money and energy over their lifetime. Organic milk, the poster child for organic products, is more expensive (sometimes double the price), but it has been one of the most storied organic product for some time. Paper products are an easy, visible way to become more sustainable…plus, pricing has dropped significantly for sustainable paper products. Baby food was the only product the experienced a slight drop in adoption, but it was very small; I have to research more, but my gut instinct tells me baby food, as a staple for parents, could suffer from the price discrimination. Finally, cleaning products have also become much more affordable and mainstream, which I believe to be the source of their increase.

On the whole, I retain a strong belief that most people would, if given the choice, would maximize their sustainable purchases. However, as the price differential remains significant, consumers continue to minimize their total costs instead of their environmental shopping footprint, while purchasing one or two sustainable products to feel good and make a difference. I remain confident that as supply increases to meet demand we will see adoption rates rise as prices fall with the majority of green vs conventional products.



Thoughts on Green Social Networks
April 15, 2008, 10:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Reinventing the wheel is a difficult task. Katie F. recently posted an interesting article on Earth2Tech (subsection of uber venture blog GigaOm) titled “10 Green Social Networks You Should Know”. We were definitely honored to be selected as one of the ten, although a little disappointed when Katie said only ZeroFootPrint had a viable business model. We do have a viable business model, and unlike ZeroFootPrint, it does not revolve around selling much-debated carbon offsets. (See my recent post on Carbon Offsets and their validity).

However, most importantly, we do not see ourselves as a social network. If you have had an opportunity to sign up and test the site, you will see MakeMeSustainable’s primary emphasis is on the carbon management system we’ve developed to help people calculate and track their carbon reductions and financial savings based on daily lifestyle actions. We are a social software with some social networking features, but we have not emphasized our networking capabilities over our footprint reducing tools.

At SXSW Interactive last month I saw Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote address. Zukerberg stressed that Facebook wanted to provide a widespread platform for others to use in developing their own applications to access the millions of Facebook users. Later at the Facebook party I had the opportunity to talk with Zuckerberg about Facebook’s environmental standing and whether the site had any plans to develop an environmental plan or strategy. His response was rehearsed and to the point…Facebook wants to give other’s the tools to develop the environmental tools that can change the world. In essence, Facebook is going to socially and ecologically responsible by making it easier for you and I to do so. Of course, Google through OpenSocial (Orkut, LinkedIn, etc), MySpace and others are close on Facebook’s heels in opening their own API’s to achieve global paradigm shifts.

What implications does this little dialog have for MakeMeSustainable, CarbonRally, Care2, Greeniacs, and every other green leaning burgeoning social networks? I think it shows that people will increasingly be loyal to one or two social networks for pure networking and you will have to provide value other then simply being a green network that cares. We will be working within the frameworks of MySpace and Open Social (we’re already on Facebook here) and continuing to increase the carbon and financial specific tools differentiates MakeMeSustainable from other green social networks and carbon calculator websites.

In closing, I support the open API trend. I don’t think there will be another Facebook, MySpace, Friendster,  LinkedIn, etc. However, I don’t support Facebook’s hesitancy to scrutinize what types of applications are allowed on the site. Socially conscious applications and those that provide significant value should be highlighted and supported. Otherwise, they can not claim to be changing the world, but rather, they are lubricating the process by which trivial and preying applications can access huge numbers of people. FacebookGreen? MySpustainability? I’m all for it.



Renewable energy credits, offsets? What does it mean?
April 2, 2008, 2:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Lately I’ve been asked by numerous groups of people, from friends to reporters about whether or not I support carbon offsets. In the process of answering these questions, I’ve found that most of people do not understand the nuances of carbon offsets, the risks and rewards, and/or the difference between a carbon offset and its sub-category the renewable energy credit (REC).

First, a carbon offset defined at the broadest level is: a financial tool designed to help reduce the total amount of CO2 in our atmosphere. When you and I purchase an offset, it goes to funding a project that (in theory) reduces the greenhouse gas we emit today or emitted in the past.

Secondly, offsets originate primarily from three types of projects.

  1. Industrial energy efficiency projects: In this case offsets are direct subsidies to an entity retrofitting, upgrading or installing equipment to reduce their total energy use. In layman’s terms, a large factory wants to install all new lighting and machinery, but fears it will be too expensive without additional capital. They work with a third party (like the EPA) to certify the equipment they install will reduce the plant’s total energy, therefore the total emissions, and allocate the number of offsets that corresponds to the difference in carbon emitted before and after the equipment installation.
  2. Carbon absorption projects: Here an organization plants trees, grows algae or other organic material (could be artificial I suppose?) which absorb greenhouse gases from their surroundings. This of this as the re-forrestration rather then rain forest clearing. The principle issues which arises is whether these projects are accurately measured. Questions regarding the albedo effect (albedo = the level of reflection/absorption of the sun’s rays by an object), or on the subject of additionality (additionality = whether the project would have happened regardless of the subsidy, e.g. trees replanted after hurricane Katrina are not additional).
  3. Renewable energy credits: REC’s are subsidies that go to renewable energy producers (wind, hydro, solar, etc) to cover the gap between the cost of producing the energy and the price at which the electricity grid purchases the energy (this is a flat rate set by the government and power distribution companies). In this case the reasoning is, that every unit of energy produced from a renewable source corresponds to a unit of energy that does not have to be produced from a traditional fossil fuel source. One of the largest issues with REC’s in the U.S. is that there is no single certifying body, and REC’s from power installations can be falsely or poorly measured.

Which of these offset sources is the most reliable? None are perfect, each having its flaws. Furthermore, the entire offset market within the U.S. is traded on a voluntary, unregulated market, which leaves room for error and dishonesty.

However, if we have to choose, I feel the REC’s provide the most advantage for the consumer and the environment. Each REC corresponds to a unit of energy and therefore reduces the energy demanded from traditional fuel sources, while simultaneously increasing the amount of renewable energy supplied.

Finally, do I really support offsets in general? Yes, but only after purchasers have actively reduced their individual energy demand and done everything possible to reduce wasteful energy behavior. Offsets are not indulgences for our eco-sins. They are not a permit to pollute, license to drive a gas guzzling car or permission act carelessly with our earth’s precious resources and environment. Offsets are simply a way of raising awareness, helping develop a consumer mindset of eco-friendly action and a method of funding alternatives to the status-quo dirty energy. Offsets are only a compliment to the larger solution of responsible actions, environmental awareness and significant government intervention.