Why Web Workers Should Consider Carbon Offsets

fieldIt’s no surprise that working remotely can have benefits for your environmental footprint: Working offsite has knocked around 18,000 miles off my public transport usage from last year alone. But no matter how careful or responsible web workers might be, the reality is that first-world or “western” lifestyles and standards of living are inherently linked with resource consumption. You may be doing your bit, but you’re unlikely to be living a carbon-neutral life.

The inherent resource-intensiveness of the western lifestyle is undoubtedly the reason why people become overwhelmed by the challenge of climate change. It’s the reason why we often feel as if we can’t do much as individuals to make a real difference.

Perhaps you need to upgrade your software for work, which, unfortunately, necessitates the purchase of a new computer. Essential devices like phones, PDAs, cameras and other peripherals are built to become obsolescent within a given timeframe. You may buy green energy and recycled paper and refill your printer ink cartridges, but the very concept of printing a document entails the use of resources and processes that emit carbon.

Yes, our web working lifestyles necessarily produce carbon emissions, but there is a way to help decrease your carbon footprint, and your contribution to global warming: buy carbon offsets.

Carbon Offsets 101

Buy a carbon offset from an accredited supplier, and you’re effectively paying the company to undertake a specific task to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Some tasks aim to prevent carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere — like methane flaring or investment in renewable energy technology. Others, like planting trees, aim to lock up carbon dioxide that’s already present in the atmosphere. Most of the offset sellers I’ve looked at specialize in one or two areas.

Most offset retail sites provide calculators that allow you to enter the details of your shopping habits, transport usage, power and food consumption, and give you a rough estimate of the amount of carbon dioxide you may need to offset. Some sellers offer different calculators for individuals and organizations, so you can obtain closer carbon estimates for things like business consumables, travel, and waste produced through your work.

Once you have your total, it’s a simple matter of entering your credit card details to buy the offsets. The cost of offsets varies with your carbon footprint and the service you use, but as an example, the cost to offset the 3.34 tonnes of carbon produced by my commuting (30,000 miles last year) and driving the Australian annual average of 6,000 miles in my large, old diesel-powered car was $68 AUD ($62 US)  through one offset supplier.

Carbon Offset Controversy

Carbon offsetting is a controversial area, not only because the results are yet to be proven, but because some retailers promote offsets as a means by which people can live a carbon-neutral lifestyle. Many offset companies estimate the carbon that will be sequestered or prevented  from entering the atmosphere on the basis of statistical and scientific analyses, and some argue that these estimates are inaccurate, involve double counting of the possible environmental benefits, and so on.

It seems the best way to assess the value of a given offset activity is to find out about it, by reviewing the offset seller’s information, plus any information your government or interest groups may have produced on the market and seller. In Australia, for example, we have an independent offset rating site which aims to advise on the credentials and capabilities of different offset sellers. Doing your homework on offset sellers in your country is vital.

Carbon Offsets for the Web Worker

Try as we might, most of us are unlikely to achieve a carbon-neutral lifestyle. Even the most environmentally friendly lives in developed countries necessitate the use of technology, devices, transport and consumables whose production or usage contributes to global warming and climate change.

Carbon offsetting is not an answer to global warming, and it’s still in its infancy as far as results go. But even though it’s unlikely to have the same impact as making changes wherever possible to reduce your carbon output, offsetting the carbon emitted through your remote working lifestyle may be a means by which you can compensate in some way for your unavoidable carbon emissions.

Have you ever bought carbon offsets? Would you consider building offsets into your annual expenses?

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