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Paths to Carbon Neutralilty
Energy Efficiency, Alternative Energy, Carbon Offsets
August 13, 2008 -
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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