Updated: Oct 8, 2022
Before we move on to more complex topics we should talk about the basics of Carbon Footprint, Offsetting emissions and Decarbonization actions, because these are interrelated and, in our opinion, not necessarily clear to everyone. We will use, as a parallel example, the personal experience of one of our Advisors to help you familiarize with these topics. So, let’s Start!
Carbon Footprint is basically the total amount of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (CO2e) that we produce, and this applies to individuals, families, industries and companies; everybody generates carbon emissions in more or less quantity. These CO2e emissions are “equivalent” because there are different greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the inventory, and the world agreed decades ago to measure all the emissions related to carbon dioxide (CO2). So, for example, if you want to measure the impact of free Methane (CH4) in the environment, the easier way is to transform that mass of methane to equivalent CO2, considering in the calculation how “worse” is methane versus carbon dioxide in terms of GHG impact (and Methane is, actually, much worse than CO2). Almost all the human-based activities since the industrial revolution, have impacted climate change through emissions of GHGs, and this goes from eating beef to taking a flight or even driving your car. For any activity, no matter which one, we can calculate the emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere (commonly in an annual base) and this is what we call “Carbon Footprint”: the footprint we leave in the world with our GHG emissions.
It is important then, to measure our carbon footprint because it gives us a baseline to start thinking about our role in the Climate Change, and, most important, to take actions. There are several tools that help us calculate the Carbon Footprint, some are also supported by the United Nations (below you can find the link #1 to one of these tools). Of course, if you are a company or a corporation, calculating the carbon footprint is more complex, because this involves hundreds or thousands of activities and little pieces of the value chain, each with its own complexity. There are consulting companies like Energy Patagonia that specializes on those calculations, because to be comparable and audited, the measurements must follow strict protocols. In 2020, our Advisor did the exercise of calculating the carbon footprint for she and her family, a task that we strongly recommend you to do as well (this could be eye opening about how some behaviors, like our eating habits, have impact in the environment). In this specific case, a professional who travels around the world, not surprisingly almost 80% of her carbon emissions were coming from the business flights, something that during the COVID pandemic was reduced almost to zero, but not necessary something we can maintain forever. Luckily for she, some Airlines are starting of offer flight tickets with carbon emissions offset included.
So, this brings the second point, Offsetting. Offset carbon emissions is a remediation action, in which you still generate CO2e emissions, but somehow you are also promoting activities that capture CO2e from the atmosphere somewhere (not specifically yours) so it works as a compensation mechanism. There are several projects in the world that qualify as “carbon offsetting” capable. It is also a proven way to promote more renewable energy, carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) and alternative fuels (eFuels) projects, that will receive (through a series of certifications) the extra boost of funds coming from people or companies that want to offset their emissions and will buy those carbon bonds or offsetting mechanisms. By the way, carbon bonds were, several years ago, a smart way to help renewable energy projects take off in Europe (there is a complete global market of carbon bonds, and the price varied a lot during the past decades. Today it is around 51 USD/ton). There are several other ways to offset, like foresting for example, an activity in which a company or organization plant trees that will take CO2 in a regular way (Ecopetrol, in Colombia, has their own forestation project); just keep in mind that the CO2 emissions that a tree can take are very limited versus the emissions generated by a modern family (even a more challenging scenario when compared to the emission of an industry or a company). To put some context, just to offset our Advisor family emissions they need around 1.200 trees, and as she doesn’t have such space in her backyard, she needs to offset in different ways.
Last, but not least, let's cover Decarbonization. In a nutshell, Decarbonization is a direct action that you (individual or company) can take to avoid GHG emissions. This can be achieved by different ways, if you are an individual, this could be by replacing some behaviors such as changing your petrol car for an electric vehicle (EV) or buying only renewable energy for your house and then charging your new brand EV (If these technologies are available in your country of course). Same approach can be pursued by companies, and many are working in their decarbonization roadmaps, like some Energy companies that are actively working in ways to decarbonize their assets (Equinor, Shell, ENI, Repsol, Ecopetrol, BP and TOTAL to name few). Steel companies are looking into similar solutions and freight and transport companies are evaluating alternative fuels like Hydrogen or Green Ammonia to replace fossil fuels. Several actions are ongoing, and we celebrate the fact that companies are not just offsetting but taking actions to play an active role in Decarbonization.
In our Advisor case, she developed a similar roadmap like leading companies did: a combination of Decarbonization and Offsetting in the short term. So, the first step was to calculate the GHG emissions (Carbon Footprint) of she and her family. Second, she analyzed the sources of the different emissions and understood which behaviors or habits they could change to reduce our emissions (Decarbonization plan). For example, they bought two bicycles and configured one with a basket to carry things, and the other one with a child seat for her daughter, and a year ago they only use these bikes for short distances, like 10 kilometers of less. Finally, after reducing as much as possible our CO2 emissions, they can offset the remaining ones through one of the available mechanisms in country. So, the mix between measuring and controlling our CO2 emissions, plus decarbonizing as much as possible and offsetting the rest, is her family's net-zero roadmap. A roadmap that must be revised and updated along the years, because we will also change our behaviors and different solutions should appear from time to time. This example is simple, but in a nutshell, it is very similar to what companies are doing.
There are no magical solutions, and knowledge is the beginning of the journey. We encourage you to measure your personal or family carbon footprint, reduce the emissions from root with different and more “green” behaviors as much as possible, and try to offset the rest. Also, it is valuable and important that we embrace this topic in discussions with our family, friends, organizations, and we keep it present in the way we think, in how our companies perform and act, as well as in the way we vote, we invest and we allocate our resources. This is a game we all are part of, so we should all play it.