SACE is carbon neutral

Stephen Smith | January 28, 2010 | Energy Policy
seal-certified-newSACE is officially certified as “carbon neutral” after working to lower its carbon footprint and offset 100% of its carbon emissions. SACE’s first priority is to invest in office energy efficiency improvements, make healthy travel choices, and to operate extensive recycling programs in our offices to minimize our total carbon impact as much as feasible. However, to compensate for unavoidable organizational activities that create carbon emissions, SACE voluntarily purchases carbon offsets on an annual basis.

What are carbon offsets?
A carbon offset is a purchase made to absorb or avoid the release of a ton of carbon to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions from electricity use, transportation, waste, and other sources. Offsets are typically achieved through financial support of a project that reduces emissions, such as renewable energy projects, energy efficiency projects, methane abatement, reforestation, etc.

For any individual, business, or organization, the first and most important way to reduce emissions is by making investments to improve the energy efficiency of your homes and offices.  In addition, one can purchase Green-e certified power, choose to buy lower emission or local products, and make healthier travel choices.  After exploring options that reduce emissions, carbon offsets are a tool that can help counteract activities that still release emissions.

How to purchase offsets
verus-logo-1The first step is to research companies that provide offsets and select one that is legitimate and ensures that your financial support will fund a project that actually reduces total carbon emissions.  This year, SACE selected Verus Carbon Neutral, a company located in Georgia. Verus provides offsets that are independently verified by the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), the only reduction system in North America that is legally binding.

SACE’s process began with an audit during which we calculated all emissions related to our organizational activities including office electricity use, business travel, employee daily commute, office waste and recycling programs, and events sponsored.  Next, Versus Carbon Neutral translated our carbon footprint into a dollar value, which became the total amount of the offset.image008

The next step is to select an emission-reducing project. Different companies provide different project options, but all projects must be independently verified. SACE selected the Wright Family Dairy Methane Capture Project.  Located in Baxley, Georgia, the Wright Family Dairy could collect an estimated 4,770 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (227 tons methane) per year; 47,700 tCO2e over ten years. The project is verified based on actual methane collected by SES, Inc., Merriam, KS and registered with the Chicago Climate Exchange.

picture-2The farm utilizes a plug flow anaerobic digester for manure digestion and methane collection. Electrical power generation is created from the biogas fuel and used to run the farm. A biogas flare is utilized to capture and combust any surplus biogas.  The system is engineered to capture manure for up to 1,000 head of cattle a year.

Criticisms of Carbon Offsets
The carbon offsetting process is not without its own challenges.  The question of additionality or “Would the emissions reducing project have happened anyway?” is one of the most common issues debated in the offset market.  Some critics also claim that carbon offsetting allows the perpetuation of unsustainable lifestyles and also raise concerns over the quality standards of the offset market.  The Carbon Offsets Research & Education Initiative is a non-partisan source of information for consumers with questions about carbon offsets.

Despite these criticisms, the carbon market is growing and has allowed SACE to contribute to climate protection through real, additional, and verifiable emissions reductions. Through this process, SACE not only offset our emissions, but also learned through our carbon audit where the majority of our emissions are coming from. With this knowledge, SACE is able to make adjustments this year that will lower our overall emissions in 2010 and reduce the total amount of carbon to offset in the future.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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