Q&A with Ted from BLUEdot

an interview with Ted from BLUEdot Register

We've got a myriad of labels these days – recycled, eco-friendly, "green," fair trade, ethical, vegan, compostable – now "carbon neutral." What does it mean and why is it important? Well, we've got an expert here to tell us all about it! 

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Carbon footprint, carbon neutral, carbon offsetting... Ted, can you tell us more about what these fairly new terms mean?
Carbon footprint, simply put, is the total of all the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions produced primarily through the use of fossil fuels in what you do and in making the products and services you consume. A carbon footprint is about new greenhouse gas that human activity (separate from the carbon cycle of animals, plants, atmosphere, and the ocean) is adding to the carbon cycle, changing the energy budget of the atmosphere. Here's a visual > 

The average American is responsible for 20 metric tonnes (44,100 pounds) of man-made greenhouse gas annually (source). This is equivalent to adding nearly 400,000 cubic feet of man-made atmosphere per person every year.

Carbon-neutral signifies that a business, product, or individual is responsible for net zero GHG emissions. This is achieved through actively avoiding unnecessary GHG emissions, working to reduce emissions where possible, and balancing those emissions that are unavoidable through Carbon offsetting.

Carbon offsets are a financial tool representing the elimination or reduction of one metric tonne of man-made GHG emissions made in order to compensate for, or offset, an unavoidable emission made elsewhere. Offsets work as a kind of trade – carbon out for carbon in. BLUEdot Carbon Offsets support the development of projects that create clean energy and decrease global greenhouse gas emissions. 

So, really cool announcement to our readers BLUEdot has certified us 100% carbon neutral this year! Can you talk a little more about what the certification involves?
BLUEdot helps our partners by collecting data and calculating their full greenhouse gas impacts, by identifying areas to focus on in order to reduce future emissions, and then by eliminating the balance through internationally certified offsets making your business or product BLUEdot Certified Carbon Neutral. We repeat carbon footprint data assessment and identification of potentials for reduction on an annual basis with all of our Certified Partners. Each of our Partners also has access to our staff to help conduct on-the-spot carbon footprint comparisons between material or business operations options that our Partners explore. In this way, BLUEdot helps our Partners continue to make improved decisions on product design and business operations – making BLUEdot Certification an ongoing commitment and partnership for improvement.

What's the most interesting thing you've ever investigated the carbon footprint for?
Beyond the carbon footprinting of businesses, organizations, and products we do for our Certified Carbon Neutral partners, we openly invite anyone to submit requests for carbon footprint information on a topic of interest. This results in interesting requests: the carbon footprint of a steak and potato dinner, the footprint of an electric vehicle, the footprint of paper towels vs electric hand driers (this is a surprisingly common request and Mike Berners-Lee covers it very well in his book How Bad Are Bananas).

We’ve had a few requests that ended up generating blog posts because we found the research in answering the question interesting. Cigarettes, for instance, have an embodied carbon footprint of 1.39 grams per smoke – about 13 cubic inches of man-made greenhouse atmosphere – and a total global carbon footprint of 16.9 billion pounds annually.

Sometimes, the information we discovered actually surprised us. For instance, regardless of whether you use a “walk behind” or riding mower, if it is powered by gasoline it will consume roughly the same amount of fuel per mow: approximately 9/10ths of a gallon of gas for an average lawn, producing 17.6 pounds of greenhouse gas. With an average mow season of 32 weeks, that's 563 pounds of CO2 annually (source). Of course – if you use an electric mower or better yet, grow vegies and flowers instead of lawn you will reduce your carbon footprint!

We invite anyone to send us a request. There are times we get too many requests to respond to them all, but we try! Feel free to contact us through Twitter (@BLUEdotRegister) or directly through our contact page on our website.

The worst kind of item we consume, carbon-output wise?
I love to travel so this pains me to say this – but air travel is by far the single largest single-use carbon footprint item a typical a person can consume. A 10-hour, round-trip flight will produce over 33,000 cubic feet of man-made greenhouse atmosphere per passenger. We wouldn’t say that people should not travel, but we would suggest being thoughtful about air-travel: carefully consider other transportation options like train, car, or ship and take advantage of other options when they exist; if you must fly make travel plans that minimize the need for flights and consider offsetting your share of the carbon footprint; explore how you can reduce your transportation carbon footprint in other areas to rebalance your impact – perhaps you take public transit back and forth to work instead of driving. 

Why should people care? Why are YOU passionate about the issue?
The short answer is “Because we all live on this little planet and our vitality is inextricably linked to its health. Taking care of it is taking care of ourselves.”

I am 46 years old. In my lifetime the global population has more than doubled.  The global standard of living has increased dramatically. Meanwhile resource depletion rates have increased accordingly. Pollution, water scarcity, habitat loss, global deforestation rates, species extinction rates, soil depletion, greenhouse gas emissions, rising global temperatures – it seems like there are no end of environmental concerns we are becoming increasingly aware of.

Many point to these collective facts and believe population and our collective standard of living are the root of all environmental problems. Dig a little deeper, though, and I think it becomes clear that our collective negative impacts are not about how many people live on this amazing planet. It is not about how well we allow ourselves and others to live life. Instead, it is about how we choose to view what a quality life is. It is about what we decide to place value on. When we value cheapness and quantity over quality, we get cheapness, not quality. Because of the abundance of Earth’s resources we’ve been able to create systems that use vast quantities of natural resources in a linear way, inefficient use of finite, dirty yet energy-rich fossil fuels, and a consumption model that values single- or short-term use over lifetime value.  

With many environmental issues nearing critical levels and many key resources within a 50-year depletion range, we have many signs telling us that it is time for us to redesign our value systems. We are fully capable of being able to support a quality life for all of humanity, well within the carry capacity of the planet. It simply requires a shift in how we view value. Begin to value long-term products with high value and low life-cycle impacts, begin to value quality over quantity, begin to create economic systems which reward concepts that re-build resources rather than deplete finite resources, begin to value partnering with nature rather than dominating it, begin to power our civilization with abundant renewable resources rather than rapidly declining finite ones – in short, begin to understand that the quality of human life is inextricably linked to the quality of Earth’s ecosystems and we’ve begun a rapid transition to a global civilization destined to live high-quality lives by enriching the Earth rather than extract from it.

Our collective impacts are simply the total of all of our individual choices. What we do actually matters. Taking responsibility to understand your impact and reduce that impact not only adds up – it is taking a personal step towards a better future.

So the long-term effects of our American lifestyles aren't looking good.
Carbon emissions from the use of fossil fuels add to the overall energy budget of Earth’s atmosphere. The increase to the carbon cycle as a whole is essentially permanent and will impact Earth’s atmosphere and climate for thousands of years (source).

The basic function of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and their general impact on the warming of our climate is very straightforward and very easily understood in this video. The exact repercussions our GHG emissions will have on our ecosystems, global food production, water cycle, and human habitations are less clearly understood because of the complexity and dynamics of the planetary systems involved in our climate. Scientists are working on modeling the millions of data points to be able to refine predictions (source). There is no doubt, however, that increasing GHG amounts in our atmosphere increases global average temperatures, swings in temperatures, and increases in severity of weather events.

What are some actions we can take in our daily lives to lower our carbon footprint? We know some, like buying locally, picking up in stores to save on individual packaging and shipping....

  • Understand what your personal carbon footprint is. You can do that by using an online carbon footprint calculator. As you understand what choices you make that impact your carbon footprint the most, you can begin to be aware of other choices available to you. 
  • Make simple changes to your transportation and home climate control. The typical American has the majority of their carbon footprint associated in these areas – so making simple changes there can have a large impact. 
  • Cut back on meat consumption. Our diet also has a large impact, both in terms of energy consumption as well as deforestation. Eliminating meat from your diet for just one day a week, for instance, will have a meaningful reduction in your annual carbon footprint (video). 
  • Offset what carbon footprint you cannot avoid. Consider it an investment in developing clean energy infrastructure. By caring about and taking responsibility for your carbon footprint you are bringing about a world based on clean, renewable resources, not dirty energy.

You can also visit our tips blog Practically Green for ideas on where you can improve your impact.

You've given a lot of great resources. Any other next steps people can take in learning more about carbon footprint? 
A great place to start would be the book How Bad Are Bananas by Mike Berners-Lee. The real value of the book is in helping people begin to understand that all things in our fossil fuel driven economy have a carbon footprint, and that there are orders of magnitude. In other words, if you want to make personal change, focus your efforts on those things in your life with the largest impacts first.

You can also ask manufacturers of products you use or are considering buying for a copy of their Life Cycle Assessment or Environmental Product Declaration. There are more and more companies completing these assessments because of international requirements and consumer interest. The specific product you are interested in may not have a life cycle assessment yet – but by simply making a request you are helping to alert companies to the growing interest among the public for this sort of transparency.

If you are a data geek, and do not fear wading deeply into the pool, you can surf resources like National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Life Cycle Assessment database, USDA’s database, or the AMEE Discover database. Lastly – you can always just contact us at BLUEdot Register!

BLUEdot Register is (obviously) an incredible resource for understanding the impact our daily lives and purchase decisions have on our planet. BLUEdot has certified bonJOY carbon-neutral for 2016. Tweet them with something you'd like to know the carbon footprint for!

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