Planting trees is big news at the moment, from the UN's Trillion Trees Campaign to #TeamTrees, started by Youtubers MrBeast and Mark Rober. We've been spending a lot of time recently evaluating our corporate social and environmental responsibilities, and we decided to make Iteracy and our personal lives carbon neutral.
What exactly does carbon neutral mean?
Carbon neutral means achieving net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2 and often abbreviated to just carbon) emissions. This can be achieved by either not producing any carbon dioxide (or other greenhouse gases) at all, or by compensating for any carbon emissions with processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere - called offsetting. One way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere is by planting trees, which absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.
We've decided to offset with a long term aim to reduce our impact through lifestyle changes. As you'll see in a minute, the majority of our carbon emissions come from food, flights (another hot topic) and electricity generation to power our computers.
Server energy usage
Our web servers and related infrastructure are located in a data centre in central England. Unfortunately, the data centre operators don't yet offer carbon-neutral energy generation as an option, so we're forced to offset the carbon emissions instead.
Electricity usage is usually quoted in kilowatt-hours (kWh), which is a 1,000 watts of energy produced for an hour. A typical coal-fired power station generates about 1kg of CO2 gas for each 1kWh, while a typical nuclear power station generates about 12g CO2 per kWh.
Because our servers are inside a data centre and we can't directly measure the energy usage of just our websites across all the various systems, we can only make an estimate of the total energy usage involved in running all our websites. After some research and guesstimates, we came up with 2,190 kWh per year total electricity to run all our websites, which is equivalent to about 620kg of CO2 emitted, depending on how the energy is generated.
Office and personal lives
In addition to our servers, we also use electricity in our office to power our computers, play music and make coffee. Our energy company send us a quarterly bill showing how much energy we've used in the last year. This is for our entire home, not just the office, but we have decided to make our entire lives carbon neutral. Our home total is 2,551 kWh of electricity for the past year.
We looked at a couple of different systems for calculating our total carbon emissions from all sources and settled on carbonfootprint.com which is fairly detailed and helps you make assumptions where you don't have exhaustive data.
We spent a while going through bills, bank statements and flight details from the past year, input them into the website and came up with:
- Server, office and home electricity: 1,337kg CO2
- Gas usage at home: 280kg CO2
- Flights 4,440kg CO2 (eleven return flights to the UK between us, most of which are a mix of business and personal)
- Car 360kg CO2 (we don't own a car but we rent one from time to time)
- Public transport 70kg CO2
- Food 2,310kg CO2
- Banking and finance 990kg CO2
- Other 1,133kg CO2
In total, this comes to 10,920kg of CO2 for the past year for our combined business and personal lives.
Offsetting our carbon emissions
The next task was to find an organisation that we could pay to offset our carbon emissions. This is a fairly new industry and it feels a bit wild west. There are hundreds of companies offering similar services, and some of them seem less than trustworthy.
There are a wide range of certification standards, and it takes a while to understand them. Some companies offer simple plans like Terrapass who sell carbon offsets for $4.99 per 1,000 lbs (450kg) of CO2.
We were looking for something specifically involving reforestation and eventually settled on Tree Nation, a non-profit organisation founded in 2007 in Spain. They work with small tree-planting projects around the world, allowing individuals and businesses to directly sponsor reforestation efforts. Their work is certified to the Verified Carbon Standard programme, the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards programme and Plan Vivo.
Their Q3 2019 financial report details €154,408 raised with 77% of the money going to tree planting activities, reforestation project management and technical development, and education. In total in Q3 they funded the planting of 136,240 trees.
Armed with our carbon emission figures, we looked through their projects and funded three tropical projects totalling 140 trees and 13,600kg of CO2 offset. Going forward, we've signed up to Tree Nation's Serial Planter plan, offsetting 1,000kg of carbon emissions per month. So we feel we can now claim to be carbon neutral!
You can check out our page on Tree Nation at https://tree-nation.com/profile/iteracy-ltd
Calculating our carbon footprint has been an interesting exercise, and we've learned a lot of about where we're generating a lot of greenhouse gases (flying) and it's really made us think about how we can change as a business, and as individuals, to help combat climate change.
We were surprised how easy it was to offset our carbon emissions, and we're proud to tell our clients that their website hosting is now carbon neutral!