At a time when remote work has become part of our daily lives, in-person events take on increased importance for many companies. In October, we held an all-company retreat in New York City with a large portion of our remote team attending. The event was invaluable for building team cohesion, establishing goals, and making new connections. However, it’s important to recognize that our event — like all events — also came with a carbon cost.
Our commitment at Carbon Direct is to take responsibility for our own carbon emissions, and to help others that are committed to the same journey. In this blog, we discuss how Carbon Direct calculated and mitigated the carbon footprint of our offsite and how we can help make carbon management accessible to any business.
Measuring Our Carbon Footprint
The first step to carbon accountability is measurement. To calculate our offsite’s carbon footprint, we tapped one of our distinguished scientists who specializes in atmospheric carbon removal, Dr. Peter Psarras, to lead a full life-cycle assessment across multiple data sources. Dr. Psarras tabulated employee surveys on travel details and bookings, industry-standard calculations on transportation (EIO-LCA models†), and any indirect emissions from other goods and services.
This is easier said than done. Sometimes, the data was clear, as in the case of the number of air miles traveled. Other times, the team drew on scientifically grounded assumptions to calculate emissions with this simplified formula: CO2e = A * EF
CO2e = total of direct CO2 emissions and their equivalents
A = activity (type of train, square footage of venue, etc.)
EF = emission factor, linking the activity to associated emissions
It is important to note that the most influential variable in this calculation is the emission factor. The emission factor accounts for any and all CO2 over a specified timeframe so as to quantify a product life cycle into measurable units.
Whatever the activity, it is critical that the anatomy of an emission factor (and any underlying assumptions) be outlined so as to account for any contributing factors to CO2. We leveraged our teams across the many sectors of carbon removal to employ this approach across the entire life cycle of our offsite, calculating a total of 51.9 tCO2e. This included both the conference emissions and radiative forcing factor, as defined below:
Conference Emissions – Includes carbon estimates based on the emission factors of travel, hotel, and food services (24.2 tCO2e)
Radiative Forcing Factor – Accounts for contrails, the condensation clouds created by aircraft that trap heat from the earth’s surface, creating a temporary warming effect (27.7 tCO2e)
Here, we optimized for accuracy. And to be accurate, you need expertise. Dr. Psarras and team validated initial estimates of our carbon footprint and projections against their own research so as to contextualize situational carbon impact. This is where intuition meets science. For example, using an economic calculation for an offsite in New York City may result in outsized carbon estimates because it is so expensive relative to national averages. This, however, does not take into account the cleaner grid of New York City that has a greater proportion of renewables relative to national averages, and therefore a lower carbon impact.
To Offset or Not to Offset?
Having a CO2 number is the foundational step in carbon accountability. The end goal is to take action with carbon removal.
We recognize that this is no simple (or inexpensive) task. Finding high-quality, affordable, and durable solutions that actually eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere is a challenge. Therefore, to strategize and execute an effective carbon removal strategy requires expertise informed by the latest in carbon science. This is Carbon Direct’s specialty.
Our team of world-class scientists research a range of technologies, from nature-based solutions like forest management to technical solutions like direct air capture. Their knowledge informed our own approach to this case study on carbon offsets, and it is their knowledge that we are bringing to our clients through our software and advisory services.
A Note on Offsets
While carbon offsets play an important role in climate change accountability, the quality of those credits are up for debate. Companies and climate-conscious individuals looking to negate their carbon footprint want to have a real impact.
At Carbon Direct, our science team is actively working on developing data-driven tools for quality control. We offer our clients only the highest caliber offsets for their portfolios so that they can trust that carbon offsets are actually doing the work.
Learn more about our approach to quality validation from one of our clients, Microsoft, in the article: “Microsoft’s Million-Tonne CO2-Removal Purchase — Lessons for Net Zero.”
A Quality Carbon Removal Portfolio
Following the guidance of Dr. Psarras and fellow Carbon Direct scientists – like Dr. Matthew Potts, Professor at UC Berkeley and specialist in Forest Management – we built a world-class and replicable portfolio that targets long-term carbon removal technologies.
Using our leading datasets, we curated an array of nature-based, technical, and hybrid solutions, and balanced our investment in those solutions relative to available supply. We needed to account for two emission types with different durability requirements:
The carbon emissions from the offsite (24.2 tCO2e); and
The radiative forcing factor from contrails (27.7 tCO2e)
The radiative forcing factor for contrails comes from math that explicitly compares the short-term effect of contrails to 100 years of CO2 impact. We can reapply this math such that our forestation credits directly counterbalance these short-term impacts. Conversely, the CO2 emissions from the offsite require long-term carbon removal that is durable for hundreds of years. Many of these solutions, however, are still in their infancy – meaning we may not be able to purchase a tonne of CO2 removal for a few years. When the effects of emissions are felt immediately, solutions that are available now are critical for climate stability.
To achieve both immediate CO2 removal and removal durable for hundreds of years, we purchased nature-based offsets from forestation projects that are currently available, and then purchased another mix of high-durability offsets (direct air capture, biomass carbon removal to storage) that will go into effect between 2023 and 2025. This increased our total purchase from the estimated 51.9 tCO2e to 69 tCO2e of removal. Think of the forestation offsets as a kind of bridge to the longer-term sequestration technology that will last for hundreds or even thousands of years.
Looking Ahead: Carbon Management for All
The carbon assessment of just this case study underscores a critical need in the evolving carbon market: accessibility. Every organization, no matter their size or budget, requires baseline accounting for their carbon footprint, high-quality portfolios, and streamlined purchasing to quantify their carbon commitment and take action.
With this in mind, we are working to scale our approach through software solutions built on scientific expertise and best-in-class carbon management data. These solutions will complement our existing client work and build a verifiable foundation for the carbon marketplace so that we can achieve our ultimate goal: to stabilize the climate for generations to come.
We know CO2 management is not easy, but we are here to make it easier — one carbon removal strategy at a time. From life cycle assessments to emissions abatement strategies, learn more about our CO2 Management services here.