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This Small Business Became Carbon Negative - And Wants to Make It Easier for You

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By Robert Garza

Normally at our all-hands meetings we at Pacific Medical Training think about new CPR guidelines, getting jobs for our students or other ways we can change the world. But this time a new idea floated up: Could a small business like us become carbon neutral, and how hard would it be?

Admittedly this wasn’t very high on our list of priorities, especially considering how difficult it was to get started, and we had no idea what it might cost. But with persistence we were able to make it happen and document the whole process.

By skipping to the answers below, maybe your company can make this socially conscious change and get it done a lot faster than we did!

What is carbon, and why be neutral?


Before industrialization and through hundreds of millions of years of balance, Earth created an atmosphere that supports animals, which need oxygen, and plants, which need carbon dioxide. Basically animals breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, and plants do the opposite. All of the natural things that happen in this world support and depend on this balance. But recently there has been a disturbing change.

Human activity generally upsets this balance. Cutting down trees, burning things for fuel, and the ways we raise livestock all add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere or remove the replenishment of oxygen. We have done these things with such reckless abandon that it is starting to impact Earth’s natural systems. Humans have a responsibility to understand their own personal contribution to this balance. And doubly so for industrial concerns, like businesses.

For more than a third-graders’ analysis on the carbon ecosystem, check out this resource from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

We don’t burn anything. How much carbon does our company use?


Short answer: A lot, but it is manageable.

Our company is a high-tech education business. A lot of the people work from home using their computers and phones, and we definitely don’t directly burn anything — at least not on purpose. But when you use electricity or commute to work, this results in carbon emissions. Luckily, it is pretty easy to find out how much.

If you are a large company and have your own metered utilities, it is dead simple to find your carbon usage. But our company is in a shared space, so we needed to do an electricity survey. Just write down the model number of everything that plugs into the wall, and look up the energy usage in watts online. (Don’t forget the lights overhead!)

We added everything up and found THE NUMBER. We would love to share this number with you. But our competitors rip off our website, copy our products and actively call us on the phone digging for information. So, we cannot tell you how many square feet we lease or how many servers we have.

This article is mostly for small business. But other calculators out there for big business can estimate the carbon impact of industry conferences and other large-scale items. Be careful: Many carbon calculator websites have buy buttons -- read the next section before clicking them!

More calculators and how to estimate your carbon footprint:

We emitted carbon. So now we have to stop breathing?


Don’t hold your breath.

Through a process of offsetting, your company can invest in a renewable energy or other carbon emission reduction project. The idea is simple: A bunch of people put up money (“credits” or “offsets”) and then use it to plant a bunch of trees or replace a coal power plant with a solar one. So, at the end of the day, you can still drive a car to work instead of walking, but the trees you planted eat that carbon for breakfast. And it all nets out to zero. Or in other words, you’re carbon neutral.

That’s it.

And who plants the trees for me?


This was the hardest part.

An aside: If you (more likely your parents or grandparents) have a home phone line, you probably get lots of phone calls from “nonprofits” asking for donations to save firefighters or needy children. Well, a lot of those organizations are complete scams.

When researching how much carbon we produce, we saw lots of free calculators on lots of websites. Each one ended with a 'buy' button that promised to absolve us of all our sins. But always be careful before starting a new business relationship.

First we called PECO, our local utility, to see if the company could recommend or directly sell us carbon credits. This led to a long list of transfers and redirections. I just want to emphasize that everyone was very helpful and willing to solve the problem. They even answered the phone promptly, which was a great surprise. But nobody answering the phone had heard of carbon offsets or carbon neutrality before, and said they hadn't received other calls about them.

Contacts that have never heard of carbon offsets:


This is when I started taking notes and realized we need to blog about this. A second source we trust is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agency has a page on carbon offsets, and we reviewed each carbon offsetting program it discussed. Most of them are geared toward large companies, and they promise to put your name on a specific project and provide contacts you can call to discuss your project. That is way too big for us! We reviewed each program and listed below the ones that have “buy now” buttons for small business.
You can find a local project near you. Or you can invest in decommissioning coal plants on the other side of the world. Either way, you are going to breathe that air at some time. So research these projects and pick one you can get passionate about. Or tell us about other projects you have found!

Conclusion


We looked at all the options and tried to decide among them. Then it happened. We decided to do all of them. That’s right … Pacific Medical Training is carbon negative! Technically, any carbon neutral company can just invest in one more project, and they become carbon negative. It sounds way cooler, you should totally do it.

We calculated our carbon usage, went to each of the three pages above, and signed up for carbon credits. Well, at least we tried. Then we found out that only Carbon Fund accepts American Express, so we just contributed more to those projects. We asked the other organizations to accept AmEx and look forward to supporting them in the future. Colorado Carbon Fund responded and agreed to accept AmEx. Its website has been updated.

I am sorry that we cannot give you the exact number, but I can tell you that the cost to become carbon neutral is on par with our corporate budget for beverages. So if your company consumes as much as we do, now you know how easy it is to do so in a socially conscious way.

Image credit: Pixabay

Robert Garza is a project management and web development intern at Pacific Medical Training and part-time student at the University of Pennsylvania. Robert's professional focus is on providing useful resources for medical workers and students. As a student, Robert is majoring in economic history and has a particular interest in labor and in education.

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