Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Carbon-neutral credibility

As Dell becomes the latest corporation to trumpet its carbon neutral status, I'm wondering whether they've shot themselves in the foot. Until now, I've been impressed with Dell's sustainability efforts - they seem sincere and they've made some good improvements. But in order to claim carbon neutral status requires carbon offsetting - and that, for me, is where the rot sets in. The theory that you can compensate for your own emissions by paying somebody else to reduce theirs just doesn't stand up - for an illustration of this visit cheatneutral.com.

I'm not against carbon offsetting per se - take air travel as an example. Even if you do your best to avoid flying to meetings, sometimes in a global ecomomy there's no alternative. When you've exhausted all the other options, incurring a specific carbon impact and then offsetting it is OK. But that doesn't make the activity carbon neutral. What offsetting does is neutralise both the negative carbon impact of the act you wish to offset and the positive carbon impact of the action taken to offset it. At best, it gets us back to square one (although that depends on the effectiveness of the offsetting project - and that's a whole new can of worms). It's just a gesture.

Personally, I find it more credible when a company claims to be low carbon. This acknowledges the fact that the vast majority of businesses have a detrimental carbon impact, and that the best we can hope to achieve is to reduce it. By all means take some steps to help mitigate these impacts by investing in carbon-positive projects - and even pick some individual impacts to offset. But to claim that any of this makes your business carbon-neutral is just disingenuous.

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