Resources for the Washington DC area




Are You 'Carbon Neutral'?





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Get involved with one of these DC area groups!

Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Earth Sangha


FYI: The Government of Canada has encouraged each Canadian to lower their CO2 emissions by 1 ton/year.

The One-Tonne Challenge


The United Nations has begun a program to plant 1 million trees.


Yearly carbon footprints:

An average person in China: 2.25 tons

An average person (world-wide): 4 tons

An average American: 22 tons


The National Arbor Day Foundation has planted over 180,000 honoring loved ones, celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and special events. Arbor Day is celebrated on the 2nd Friday in April in Virginia (Apr. 8, 2005), the first Wednesday in April in Maryland (Apr. 6, 2005), and the last Friday in April in DC (Apr. 29, 2005). National Arbor Day is also the last day in April.

There's an exciting new concept 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 Greenhouse Office:

"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 Megastores has ‘offset’ all  of its CO2 emissions generated by its head office and 23 stores across the United States to become a CarbonNeutral organization. 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 Future Forests and specific one from the Men of the Trees Carbon Neutral Initiative for automobile use. 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 offset this.


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 and holidays.

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 calculator 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 remember:

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 colored packaging.

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.


Other ideas:

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.






Future Forests' CarbonNeutral Program (note: prices may initially show British pounds, but as you proceed, you'll see the US dollar equivalent.)

Newcastle England wants to be the first CarbonNeutral city in the world. That's offsetting 1.8 million tons of CO2 per year. You go, city!

About Going  Carbon Neutral from the David Suzuki Foundation

Business for Climate

American Forests

forest preservation programs:

Conservation Carbon Program from The Center for Environmental Leadership

Nature Conservancy's Adopt an Acre®

World Land Trust


© 2002 - 2005 David Walls. All rights reserved.