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“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” ― Lawrence Clark Powell

Paying it Forward

Posted on 10/24/2017 by in carbon offsets REC renewable energy certificates

Sterling Planet SVP, Alden Hathaway, discusses the carbon footprint of our children and grandchildren as he uses carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates to mitigate the emissions to be created by his newborn grandson.

This week we celebrated the birth of our third grandchild in just 2 years and three months.  Our family, which only numbered five six years ago, through marriages and births has suddenly blossomed to eleven. Two years ago when my first grandson was born, I wrote a blog lamenting rising sea levels around Little Cranberry Island, a place in Maine I have known since I was a child, noting that it would be a vastly different place once he reached my age should  humankind fail to act to eliminate our emissions due to fossil fuels. There is nothing like the birth of a child to get you to reassess whether you’re doing everything you can to make a better world for the people who come after. 

So you can count me in league with the 97% of scientists who say we have a real issue with increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere.  Unfortunately, this is not a problem that we can solve by simply neutralizing our individual carbon footprints.   Because not everyone is capable of reducing their impact, many of us will need to go further.  We will need to, in essence, “Pay it Forward”, by focusing on more than ourselves to help others. When you look at your own children and grandchildren, you’ll understand what I mean.   

Twenty years ago (in 1997), our family began an experiment to see if we could achieve significant progress towards zero energy/carbon neutrality, which we can now proudly claim since 2012.  We are using energy efficiency, solar energy and an electric vehicle to reduce our footprint.  We have neutralized the remaining carbon impacts  through the purchase of additional carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates through Sterling Planet since 2012. 

However, it was around 2009, when all three of our kids were away at college, that I stopped accounting for their energy use.  Although we helped with college, they had their own cars and were responsible for their household expenses.  We taught them how to achieve zero energy and that it would not only be good for the environment but also for their pocketbooks. 

But what is our responsibility as grandparents?  After all, our grandchildren are inheriting the world we have lived in as baby boomers; a world where we, as a generation, were the first to have witnessed the impacts of GHG warming, that we have also largely learned was the result of our insatiable appetite for energy.  By the time they are 18 in 2035, the planet we left for them could be close to a point of no return.  The point of no return is a point, assuming no rigorous action to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, where natural feedback mechanisms are triggered that overwhelm any ability the world may have to counteract global warming. 

At least until they turn 16, our grandchildren are largely unable to make any concerted effort to reduce carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, and are largely not responsible for significant emissions from their own lifestyles.  They are, in fact, innocent victims to the serious consequences we put in front of them.  Is this to say they have no environmental impact themselves?

Of course not.  The birth of our grandson, alone, used approximately 32 kWhs of energy for the three days mother and son spent in the hospital.  Imagine over 16 years – how  many extra trips will be made to the grocery, drug or department stores to pick up diapers, medicine or clothes for the growing child or how many soccer, baseball or football trips by their chauffeuring parents.  Rather than attempt to capture all those different impacts, I have some carbon records of my own from raising three kids, which might help. 

In 2001 – 2002, the last year all our kids were at home and well before any of their 16th birthdays, we, as a family, were already well on our way, reducing our footprint by some 40 – 50%.  But even though we had reduced, I knew how much we would have used as a family.  In 2001 -2002 our family would have registered an average 2.2 metric tons[1] per month.  The year before that, we would have averaged 2.0 metric tons (Tonnes) per month.  Let’s say an average of 2.1 per month. 

Our equivalent carbon footprint would have been approximately 1.75 Tonnes per month in 2016 – 2017, when our nest was empty.  Thus, we should conclude that the average impact of our three children is 2.1 – 1.75 = 0.35 Tonnes per month. 

·        2000 – 2001   2.0 Tonnes Per Mo.

·        2001 – 2002   2.2 Tonnes Per Mo.

·        2000 – 2002   Average 2.1 Tonnes Per Mo.

·        2016 – 2017   1.75 Tonnes Per Mo.  (Without Three Kids)

·        Conclusion:  Three Kids = 0.35 Tonnes Per Mo. è One Kid = 0.117 Tonnes Per Mo.

Extrapolating for one child, points to a carbon impact of approximately 1.4 Tonnes each year or 22 Tonnes by the time he or she is 16. 

According to statistics from the Union of Concerned Scientists[2], carbon impacts due to energy are roughly split evenly between electricity, 53% (indirect emissions) impacts and other energy, 47% (direct emissions) impacts, such as, natural gas, gasoline, or other fuels that have a direct onsite combustions associated with them.  We can use energy efficiency and renewable energy and, even, electric vehicles (EVs) to reduce all or most of the carbon impacts, but, at such a small level as our grandchild, it makes more sense for us simply procure offset instruments.  Because electricity is an indirect impact, we are allowed to use renewable energy certificates (RECs), while other direct impacts will require direct offset instruments such carbon offsets.

The advantage of using RECs instead of direct carbon offsets is that they are typically almost half the cost of carbon offsets.  From the Sterling Planet website, registered carbon offsets run $26.00 per Tonne, whereas certified RECs cost $15.00 per MWh.  These are fully certified and registered RECs and carbon offsets, but the RECs need to be converted to a carbon value.  By choosing RECs that come from regional transmission area heavy in fossil fuels, according to the EPA e-grid emission rates by RTO,  we can source RECs with a 1:1 ratio of one Tonne carbon reduced per MWH.  Thus, we get the same reduction in carbon on our electricity offset instruments as carbon but for just $15.00 per Tonne. 

Since carbon offsets cost $26.00 per Tonne, and the equivalent REC value is $15.00 per Tonne, then with a 47 – 53% mix of carbon and RECs we can figure out the total cost.  This means that instead of paying some $572 to offset my grandson’s carbon footprint, it will cost just around $445, about $27.75 per year, or about 7½ cents per day.  This is an average cost.  Obviously, the amounts will differ depending on the pattern of living and after school and weekend activities with higher or lower carbon impacts. 

And so I’ve decided to take on this responsibility for the little ones in my family. It seems like a small price to pay to be able to say to our grandson, “your carbon impacts have been neutralized, please now consider the environment and Pay it Forward.”

[1] One Metric Ton (Tonne) is equal to 2,204.6 pounds or approximately 1.1 US Tons and is used as the international weight for Carbon Offset transactions

[2] Brower and Leon, The Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, Three Rivers Press, copyright 1999, figures derived from Table 3.1, pg. 51


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