Saturday, January 5, 2008

Carbon Neutral or Positive: The Main Point is to Lower GHG Emissions

The world is consuming to much energy and emitting too much GreenhouseGas (GHG). This is the problem to be solved.

Much discussion has been centered on being "Carbon Neutral" or "Carbon Positive" for individuals or companies (here is one Indian firm touting it's carbon positiveness). While these emerging market mechanism are potentially promising, they must not overlook the fact that as a company or society we can't "buy" our way out this GHG problem.

The Co2 offset market is an early tool to reduce GHG but skepticism abounds. BusinessWeek had a good article last March questioning the effectiveness of some offsets, as they tracked offset projects sold by TerraPass, a leading seller of Co2 offsets with 42,000 customers. BW found that a number of these projects would have occurred without the additional offset funds (extra revenue is always welcome, however). While these may be early bumps, they highlight the fickleness of this early system. (Should we sell "fat offsets" to overweight folks to keep the average weight load on airplanes constant?).

At the EPA Climate Leaders conference, a number of Fortune 500 firms were more explicit, calling offsets "marketing gimmicks" and forming their responsible action on public reporting, stated public goals and accountability, and reduction programs. (Note however that these larger firms have much larger footprints than tiny ski resort and it would be very costly for anyone of them to be carbon neutral).

Renewable Energy Credits, REC, offer alternative to Co2 offset and are directly aimed at typically wind or solar generated energy. This program is more focused. Pepsi Co recently rocketed to the top of the EPA list as the #1 purchaser of REC in the US, purchasing 1.1m kw hours which covers 100% of their electricity usage.

Clearly all tools (reduction programs, REC, offsets) at this early experimental stage, but we all need to keep our eye on the core problem and not let "green gimmicks" discredit overall efforts or cause a firm to not reduce.

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