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Paths to Carbon Neutralilty

Energy Efficiency, Alternative Energy, Carbon Offsets

August 13, 2008 - Energy Efficiency

Hello. This is Greg Zimmerman, executive editor of Building Operating Management magazine.

Today’s topic is working to make your organization carbon neutral. Carbon neutrality basically requires a three-pronged approach – with varying ratios of each of the two, depending on the priorities and goals of the organization, its budget, and how fast it wants to declare itself officially carbon neutral.

The first and most important step is to reduce energy use as much as possible. There’s simply no substitute for an energy efficient building. To start, find the easy energy efficiency projects and operational changes that result in the biggest reductions with the best paybacks. Then move towards tougher projects that move the organization closer and closer to as low an energy spend as possible. Truly carbon neutral organizations are net-zero energy organizations, meaning organizations that require no energy from the grid.

A second leg to the carbon neutral stool is generating renewable energy generation onsite. This usually means using photovoltaic panels or onsite wind turbines.

A third option also involving renewables, but this one is a bit more controversial. You can purchase renewable energy certificates (sometimes just called RECs) or carbon offsets. RECs are purchased by the megawatt hour and ensure that even though the electricity is still coming from the grid, the amount of renewable energy purchased actually is being fed into the grid by some other renewable energy source. Besides helping to meet its own carbon neutral goal, purchasing RECs is one way an organization can help promote the gradual marketwide shift to renewable energy without actually generating renewable energy itself.

Carbon offsets are measured and sold as tons of carbon dioxide and can take various forms. It’s important to understand how the carbon offset company reinvests their money. For instance, buying one carbon offset unit may mean that company is planting trees Florida, or it may mean that the company is actually investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Most would agree that the latter is more useful to the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality anyway – combating climate change.


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