Carbon Redux

With the release of our CSR report two weeks ago, we’ve had some renewed attention on our overall carbon strategy.

As we have been, we’re currently focused on lowering our actual carbon footprint as low as possible. We have been making good headway, and have a long list of projects still to go which we know will have a good return. And with this long list, our investments in carbon reduction will continue to focus on these projects as opposed to investing in offsets.

At some point the list of projects with clear ROI will start to shorten, and at that point we’ll take a look at offsets as a way to continue to allow us to make headway. Is that point in time three years from now? Two? Five? Not sure yet, but we’ll be open about our approach.

There is a cost to this strategy, and that cost is that we can’t claim that we’re “carbon neutral”. Right now that’s a cost we’re willing to live with.

Because we’ve been willing to talk about not being carbon neutral, I find myself in interesting discussions. Here’s some thought-provoking questions that have come up. They aren’t meant to prove any specific point, but I think they’re useful in helping understand the nature of carbon offsets.

What about the other GHGs? If carbon neutrality is a good idea, what about nitrous oxide neutrality? Methane neutrality? Water vapor neutrality? And beyond the GHG’s, what about fresh water neutrality? Is this a mechanism that we want to scale, or is carbon unique in some way?

Can you be “double carbon neutral”? If it is good to offset your emissions, is it even better to offset your emissions twice? Is there a name for this? Anyone want to give it a try?

What happens if the externality cost of carbon gets priced into the market by some mechanism? If a CO2 tax comes into being that represents the impact of emissions, am I automatically carbon neutral, assuming I pay my taxes? If a CO2 cap and trade system is instituted do companies stop offseting?

Let me know how you’d answer these questions!