Carbon Offset

How $20 Can Take a Ton of Carbon Out of the Atmosphere

If you’re passionate about the environment and concerned about the effects of climate change, you have probably heard the term “Carbon Offsets” used by many businesses when describing their sustainability projects. Lyft recently committed to purchasing enough of them to cover all of their rides’ emissions, and many other large companies such as General Motors and Barclays purchase them to help make their businesses more environmentally friendly.

If you aren’t familiar with what they are, carbon offsets can sound a little like the 15th century practice of buying indulgences. It sounds nice, but is relatively useless when the efforts to reduce carbon aren’t personally made by the company itself.

In the case of carbon offsets, this simply isn’t true. When a company purchases the carbon offsets, they are funding projects that remove vast quantities of carbon from the air. While that carbon removal doesn’t come from switching their office lights out early, or putting fewer cars on the road, it is no less effective. Many of the projects funded would never come to life if it wasn’t for the offsets that make funding available.

Another example of this is how some airlines like Emirates, American Airlines, and Delta offer their passengers the opportunity to purchase enough carbon offsets to cover the amount of emissions that their share of the airplane trip produces. Because flying is unavoidable for some people, these kinds of offsets meet people where they already are and offer them a environmentally-minded solution.


So what is a carbon offset?


A carbon offset is a certificate acknowledging the fact that funds paid for by one company, will remove a certain amount of carbon (usually in tons) from the air. Companies that sell carbon offsets pay for projects that remove carbon, through projects such as creating green energy, capturing and destroying the greenhouse gases, or sequestering the carbon through the planting and management of forests.

These projects have profound impact on climate change. In some cases, such as Lyft’s carbon offset project to make car parts lighter, the project would never be possible without the carbon offsets. This is because the price is often not considered worth it by car companies, even though the impact on climate change can be seen for decades after the creation of the part.

Carbon offsets are essential for businesses who have no other way to make their business sustainable. While some of these we can argue would be better off not existing, carbon offsets also offer the chance to be sustainable to small businesses and even individuals that care about the environment.

In some locations, purchasing green energy is impossible, but thanks to carbon offsets, a small business that wants to be sustainable can purchase offsets equal to the power they consume. Eventually they may even reap the benefits of these projects, as green energy becomes more widely available thanks to the offsets available.


Are there drawbacks to carbon offsets?


While anything that helps fight climate change is good, carbon offsets are frequently criticized because they allow companies to continue old habits without real change. The concern is that if the companies that use carbon offsets instead of addressing real problems in their business continue to do so, the damage done to the climate will worsen.

Despite these concerns, carbon offsets allow healing to occur in our delicate environment, and they are a great first step toward improving our global situation. Carbon offsets not only give us a chance to do better in our own lives, but to help address the carbon we can’t do anything about too.

Carbon offset credits are great because not only can the largest companies and governments in the world purchase them to offset emissions, they also allow anyone who is passionate about ending climate change to buy personal carbon offset credits, which broadens the scope of who can participate in large scale sustainability projects, and increasing those projects’ exposure.

To learn more about carbon offset credits or to purchase some of your own, check out sites like Terrapass or Carbon Fund.

Your Lyft Ride Is Now Carbon Neutral

When we think of Lyft, the ride sharing program that allows ordinary people to turn their cars into taxis, sustainability is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. After all, more cars on the road mean more green house gases being released into the atmosphere. How can a business that encourages driving over the use of bicycles or large public transit be a good thing?

Source:  Lyft

Source: Lyft

In a groundbreaking new announcement, Lyft just proved that any business can make a positive impact on the environment. John Zimmer, co-owner of Lyft, made public that Lyft would be buying carbon-offsets for every single ride Lyft provides. This effectively makes every Lyft vehicle carbon neutral while performing its services. The carbon-offsets also cover the vehicle in route to pick up the passenger, ensuring that the “empty miles” that sometimes make ride sharing worse for climate change, are also off-set.

According to the post written on Medium, this is a multi-million dollar investment. It is the equivalent of planting millions of trees, and has real and long term impacts on the areas where Lyft operates. To achieve these aggressive goals, Lyft partnered with a company called 3Degrees, which specializes in helping large companies meet their greenhouse gas reduction goals.

You'll be able to see the impact Lyft is having on the environment right away. Since Lyft wanted their carbon offsets to specifically target the auto industry as well as the United States where they operate, that is where they chose to target their carbon-offsets. One of their largest projects is in an auto parts company.

Source:  Lyft

Source: Lyft

Instead of heavy steel parts, a company invested in by Lyft, the Meridian Magnesium project, will be able to produce parts from 75% lighter magnesium instead. These parts are more expensive than steel parts, and though they are potentially stronger and definitely beneficial to the planet, they aren't usually made due to their high cost.

Lyft's carbon offsets will have a huge and immediate impact on the auto industry, making cars created with these parts more environmentally friendly for the lifetime of those vehicles. Best of all, the benefits of these changes go into effect this year. Lyft is carbon neutral as of 2018 through these purchases, and isn't simply pledging to decrease their energy levels within the safety net of a few years.

John Zimmer reports being very inspired by Paul Hawken’s Ecology of Commerce, and believes that businesses can make powerful changes to effect the planet. With this announcement, he has taken that idea and turned it into something very real, with the potential to change the world. Lyft eventually plans to add entirely electric and self-driving cars to its fleet, and has predicted that owning your own vehicle will be redundant as early as 2025. 

Regardless of how the future turns out, Lyft has made amazing strides in the fight against climate change. They provide a phenomenal example to other companies about what large business can do, any large business, when presented with a global threat such as climate change.

Image source: Lyft