Thursday, 3 May 2007

The Carbon Bandaid

Vancouver – Portland: 807km / 0.237t CO2

Vancouver – Newark: 7809km / 1.759t CO2

Vancouver – Frankfurt: 16145km / 3.713t CO2

Vancouver – Pittsburgh: 6992km / 1.583t CO2

Total: 31753km / 7.292t CO2

So it is only 4 months into 2007 and already I have clocked 31,753km in air travel and produced well above my allotment of carbon emissions for a year: 7.3 tonnes.

How depressing.

I am faced with a challenge of how to spread the word about green meetings and event destinations while recognizing that the travel burden associated with the work I do borders on the irresponsible.

So, Plan A for the coming year is to work to reduce my emissions in all aspects of living and working, and sincerely evaluate the necessity of my travel when opportunities arise to do it.

Plan B is to offset the emissions associated with my travel when it is unavoidable.

My purpose in sharing this is because I see I am in danger of using carbon offsetting as a ‘guilt tax’: something I pay to compensate for my contribution to climate change, while I avoid addressing the real problem. The problem being that I am contributing to global warming at a rate far exceeding what is reasonable.

Destination marketers face a similar problem given the high degree of travel involved in the work that they do. Destinations are beginning to adopt carbon offsetting as a way to mitigate the climate impact of their travel. This is an important and necessary strategy to promote improved sustainability, but does not eliminate the need to address how emissions can be reduced.

With this in mind, some ideas about how destinations can reduce their carbon footprint:
  • Consider ways in which staff may be encouraged to use pubic transit, or greener forms of transportation, such as car-pooling or biking.
  • Promote the use of public transit and biking to visitors, and communicate ways in which your destination is ‘walkable’.
  • When replacing or purchasing new office equipment select models that are EnergyStar certified and have energy conserving features.
  • Practice ‘lights out & equipment off’ when you leave the office.
  • Contact your power utility to see if there are options for you to purchase green power.
  • When purchasing incentive gifts, supplies and food and beverage try to give preference to local options, which require less transportation to deliver to you.

When all efforts have been made to reduce emissions, then consider offsetting those that are not avoidable. Organisations that can help you do this include:
When selecting a partner organisation be sure to ask questions about:
  • how they collect and calculate emissions.
  • what projects are supported by offsetting funds and where these projects are located.
  • what percentage of funds are used to support climate projects and what percentage is taken for administration.

If you are interested in identifying ways in which you can reduce your individual emissions and the energy savings associated with them visit As an above average producer of emissions I’ve registered and committed to a reduction of 3.26 tonnes in the coming year, amounting to an estimated energy savings of $290. For those emissions that are unavoidable I have commited to offset my trips through Trees Canada.

Want to see the carbon footprint of your flight? Visit MyClimate.

For further thought Adam Ma’anit writes:
Climate change is an issue we shouldn’t be ‘neutral’ on. Carbon offsets are at best a distraction and at worst a grandiose carbon laundering scheme. We need to grab hold of our responsibility for climate change and take action now. There is absolutely nothing wrong with funding renewables and even some well-designed and appropriate tree-planting projects. Just don’t equate them with a ‘license to pollute’. A ‘carbon positive’ agenda sees through the offset industry’s gambit and relies on a more fundamental commitment to solving climate change.


Anonymous said...

I guess this is another area of emissions people fail to consider when traveling.

According to a report published in 2005 by the FAA Office of Environment and Energy, commercial aviation consumes significantly less energy (11%) compared to both autos (58%) and personal trucks (28%) when it comes to traveling. However, the report predicts this percentage to increase over the next two decades as land based travel becomes greener.

Hopefully efforts to produce greener jet engines, such as those manufactured by GE, and fuel efficient composite aircraft, like the Boeing 787, will help reduce our overall emissions footprint in the air.

Ben said...

I think your analysis is applicable to your driving habits, but I don't know if it should apply to commercial flights.

Since the flights are already occurring, your carbon offset is actually the incremental amount of your weight and baggage to an existing flight.

From a moral viewpoint, I'd say that you're still ahead in traveling to conventions and such to promote green meetings.

Ben said...

Just another thought:

Conventions that I've attended: ranging from continuing legal eduction seminars to science academia conventions to *cough* anime conventions are really the problem. Do we really need such large meetings for any purpose? As a recreation vehicle, the idea of spending days in a stuffy convention center is painful. As an education vehicle, a number of people skip out on them anyways to "play" (ie, why these seminars are in las vegas or aspen).

So, while folks can attempt to mitigate the environmental impact of these meetings, the best solution (seemingly) is to not have them at all.