There's an exciting new
taking root around the world to offset the damage individuals and
groups do to the environment. It's called "going carbon neutral". The
basic idea is to calculate the impact in terms of how much carbon
dioxide is generated by a person, company or other group, and then
offset it. Typically, the offsetting is done by planting trees. Here's
a little more about how the process works from the Australian
"Carbon is removed (sequestered) from the
atmosphere and stored in vegetation through the process of
photosynthesis. The rate at which trees sequester carbon is influenced
by factors such as climate, topography, soil characteristics, species
and age composition, and different stages in the forest growth cycle.
In a typical tree planting growth tends to be slow in the early years
after planting as the trees establish themselves. In many areas trees
grow and sequester carbon fastest when they are about 10 to 20 years
old (earlier in faster-growing species). If trees are not harvested
they will continue to sequester carbon at a slower and slower rate
until around 100 or 200 years of age when growth is balanced by decay.
If the new forest is cleared, harvested or burnt, carbon will be
emitted back into the atmosphere.
Optimum carbon sequestration also depends on the number of trees
planted per hectare, good site preparation and management to ensure
seedling survival and ongoing protection from fire, pests and disease.
Carbon sequestration is generally reported in either tonnes of carbon
or tonnes of carbon dioxide."
To get an idea how
easy it is to create a big impact, one Carbon Neutral planting in
Australia in 2004 resulted in planting 20,000 trees. Forty volunteers
from the group Men of the Trees were able to plant this many trees in
one weekend in the Lake Chinocup Catchment area in Australia.
This is an idea that
just makes sense. So companies, cities and individuals are going
carbon neutral. The cities of Mandurah and Belmont, Australia have
offset their carbon emissions. Also, the University of Western
Australia and Volvo Cars UK have offset emissions. Through
Future Forests' CarbonNeutral Program
in the UK, Virgin
of its CO2 emissions
generated by its head
office and 23 stores across the
to become a CarbonNeutral
Forward thinking individuals like Leonardo DiCaprio and pop band
Atomic Kitten have offset their emissions.
image courtesy Future Forests
British pop band Atomic Kitten has offset carbon
emissions through Future Forests.
Others that have offset
at least some of the emissions include: Brad Pitt, the Rolling Stones,
and companies like Honda, Volvo, T-Mobile, Clif Bar, Paul Mitchell
hair products, and Earthbound Farm. Even the National Football League
is getting involved.
Avis rent a car in the
UK has an innovative program. When the customer rents a car, she can
choose to either pay extra for the offsets or not. So far, customers
have chosen to do this to the extent that 70,000 trees have been
planted. In addition, Avis arranged for an additional 150,000 saplings
to be planted to cover it's own operations. Very progressive thinking.
In these times of Enrons and WorldComs, companies need an edge to
clearly define themselves in the customers' minds as having integrity.
Taking steps to become carbon neutral is a perfect way for companies
to help do this.
The first step in going carbon neutral is
calculating your impact. Online calculators make this a
straightforward process. Here's calculators from
and specific one from the Men of the Trees Carbon Neutral Initiative
As a point of reference, Future Forests says the average person in North America produces
about 22.02 tons of carbon dioxide each year. They estimate that it takes 30 trees to
images courtesy Future Forests
Future Forests has gifts packed in tubes to make
an attractive gift.
You can select the forest you want your trees planted in through
their program. You can also designate a celebrity like Leonardo
DiCaprio and receive a certificate and a map showing where your
trees are growing.
Then, once you've
calculated how much carbon dioxide your activities make, you can click
on the link to pay to have the corresponding number of trees planted
for you to offset your emissions. Typically, you'll receive a
certificate with a map showing where your trees were planted.
In addition to
offsetting your own emissions, you can have trees planted in another
person's name. This makes a great gift, and people are doing it to
commemorate weddings, the birth of a baby, and to celebrate birthdays
There are critics of
this idea within the environmental community. The trees take time to
grow to the point that they begin to sequester significant amounts of
carbon. Another concern is that some of the groups organize these
efforts are run as for profit businesses. However, as time passes,
individuals should have a variety of groups to choose from that plant
run these tree planting programs: some will be run on a non-profit
basis, and be able to do more with each dollar donated. And some
criticize that people and companies may be doing this for attention.
But, an important point to consider is: do we continue to cut more and
more trees and not replace what we cut? Or do we begin to turn the
tide and start a (hopefully) huge movement to plant trees? Only 1/5
of the Earth's historic forest cover is intact.
These images of South Cascade
Glacier, in the Washington Cascade Mountains, taken
in 1928, 1979, and 2000, show rapid melting.
Scientists generally agree global warming is a reality. Researchers
estimate that the 37 glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park
may be gone in another 25 years.
(Images courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center)
Future Forests may be
doing the greatest service in terms of raising awareness of this
concept. However, they may not be the most efficient group in terms of
the number of trees planted per dollar donated. American Forests is a
group that's been around since 1875 and has had tree planting programs
well established before the idea of being carbon neutral ever was
developed. You can use their
to estimate your impact. Then their site will let you make a
corresponding donation to plant the number of trees to offset your
impact. They don't use the term "carbon neutral" and you won't get any
special certificates or maps, but the net effect is similar to
programs that might be the "hip" thing to do.
Also important to
Since trees are so
important at sequestering carbon, it's more important than ever to
recycle and buy recycled paper products. Recycle the paper that comes
into your home or work place. While your neighborhood may only have
curbside recycling for newspapers, nearby recycling centers let you
recycle magazines, cardboard, even paperback books. You can also
donate books to some libraries or used book stores. Have your name
taken off mailing lists. You probably get a lot of catalogs that you
don't really want. Rather than just throw them out, have the companies
stop sending them to you. Also, you can now buy paper products like
toilet paper, paper towels and bathroom tissue that's made from
recycled paper. Even mainstream grocery stores like Giant and Safeway
carry them. They're easy to find because they usually have green
Likewise, each watt
of electricity and each gallon of gasoline that we consume only
contributes to global warming, so reducing energy
use is still critical.
Ask business, both small
local ones and large corporations to begin offsetting emissions. It's
an ideas that's taking hold and companies that want your business
often will respond to this.
If you offset emissions,
get a bumper sticker made that says something like "Carbon Neutral
Vehicle". This raises awareness of a concept that a lot of people
don't know about. You can compose custom bumper stickers on some
websites and have one or two printed and mailed to you for about $5 each.
See if your workplace
will participate in offsetting emissions.