If you don't know me when I get excited I can't help but share whatever I'm excited about with my friends, colleagues, and family. One of the recent things I'm excited about (other than freshly roasted New Mexican green chilis) is the idea that many companies in resource extraction industries have started taking offsets for their CO2e emissions seriously. One company, in particular, has asked Air Basics to help them develop a plan to offset all of their greenhouse gases - on the order of 1,000,000 metric tonnes of CO2e annually. I recently made the whole office (thanks, team!) listen to a presentation about this client and asked for help with brainstorming ideas to reduce emissions, generate onsite electricity, and offset the remaining greenhouse gases.
Having dedicated some serious brainpower to carbon emissions in industry, I started thinking about my own carbon impact. I've taken the online quizzes before to determine my carbon footprint. I'm an air quality engineer, what do you expect? This time though was different. I stumbled upon what I ultimately ended up using to (spoiler alert) offset my 2018 carbon footprint, although in hindsight this is not a terrible place to start: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I was researching the Paris Agreement when I found Climate Neutral Now, which describes themselves like this:
Climate Neutral Now is an initiative launched by the UN Climate Change in 2015, aiming at encouraging and supporting all levels of society to take climate action to achieve a climate neutral world by mid-century, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement adopted the same year.
They promote quantification, reduction, and offsetting greenhouse gases (in that order) for companies, events, and citizens. Considering the fact that I use at least one gallon of gasoline per day, I figured I'd check out what this quiz has to say about my personal carbon impact. To my surprise, it was detailed enough to be thorough, yet generic enough to be realistic. It quantified my carbon footprint considering things like house details, energy consumption, miles driven, gas mileage, flights, diet, and waste habits. It took less than ten minutes, including the time it took to log into my utility provider and estimate my annual average electricity consumption. It asked for the perfect amount of detail and uses averages in lieu of the minutiae.
I specified my 1,160 square-foot house, my 60 mpg hybrid, and the fact that I eat meat frequently. With those and the rest of my inputs, it estimated that my annual carbon footprint was 21 metric tonnes per year. If you're anything like me, you've done this exercise before and then promptly closed the window before the guilt of emitting over four times the global average sank in. This time, though, I was curious about what I would have to sacrifice in order to offset my carbon impact. If parts of industry were starting to get responsible for their impacts, what was stopping me?
I explored the projects that sell carbon offsets and was quite surprised to find that the cost per metric tonne ranged from $0.33 to $8.50. For my carbon footprint, that meant that I could offset it for a price as low as $6.93! So I did, mainly because I've spent more on La Croix in the last week than that. For a sum of money that was at least ten times less than I was expecting and in about 15 minutes, I offset my estimated 2018 carbon footprint. Granted, this is nowhere near the 1,000,000 metric tonnes our client is looking to offset, it's a start. You even get a certificate!
On a personal level, I'd like to encourage (guilt) you to take the quiz and see what your carbon footprint is and how inexpensive it can be to offset your annual carbon footprint. I'll buy you a La Croix. On a company level, feel free to reach out if you'd like help quantifying, reducing, and offsetting your carbon impact. I might still buy you a La Croix.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a colorless gas that occurs naturally in earth’s atmosphere. CO2 is known as a greenhouse gas (GHG): a gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing thermal infrared radiation and heating the planet’s lower atmosphere. CO2 is one of several gases that contributes to the greenhouse effect. Other GHGs include water vapor, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), ozone (O3), perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) the most abundant of which are water vapor, CO2, CH4, and N2O (in earth’s atmosphere). Each pollutant has been assigned a global warming potential (GWP), “a concept to compare the ability of each greenhouse gas to trap heat in the atmosphere relative to another gas” (EPA). In this case, CO2 has been assigned a GWP of one and the GWP of all other GHGs is compared to CO2.
The three largest contributors of CO2e in the United States as a whole are CO2, CH4, and N2O. Their GWPs are 1, 25, and 298, respectively.
For each GHG, a CO2 equivalence (CO2e) can be calculated by multiplying the quantity of each GHG by its corresponding global warming potential (GWP). For example, if a facility emitted 10 metric tons (MT) of CH4, the facility-wide CO2e would be 250 MT.
In 2018, the EPA published a report containing GHG emission and sink data from 1990-2016. The gross US CO2e emissions are shown below, separated by gas type.
The following chart, from the same report, indicates which economic sectors emitted GHGs in the US.
If you'd like help reporting, reducing, or offsetting your carbon emissions, feel free to contact us.