Carbon Neutrality — “Kind of Bogus”

December 30th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

About a dozen people have sent me a link to an article in today’s WSJ, so I’d better blog on it. The article looks at Dell Computers’ claim to be “carbon neutral” finding it to be a somewhat creative use of the phrase. From the article:

The amount of emissions Dell has committed to neutralize is known in the environmental industry as the company’s “carbon footprint.” But there is no universally accepted standard for what a footprint should include, and so every company calculates its differently. Dell counts the emissions produced by its boilers and company-owned cars, its buildings’ electricity use, and its employees’ business air travel.

In fact, that’s only a small fraction of all the emissions associated with Dell. The footprint doesn’t include the oil used by Dell’s suppliers to make its computer parts, the diesel and jet fuel used to ship those computers around the world, or the coal-fired electricity used to run them.

Dell’s announcement that it had achieved carbon neutrality didn’t go into these details. But in an interview, Dell officials estimate that the emissions produced by its suppliers and consumers each amount to about 10 times the footprint Dell has defined for itself. That means the company is only neutralizing about 5% of the greenhouse gases that go into the making and use of its products.

Moreover, while Dell is improving its energy efficiency, it is claiming carbon neutrality mostly by purchasing environmental “credits.” These are financial instruments that bankroll environmental improvements made by others, such as running wind turbines or planting forests. Dell reasons that these credits cancel out the bulk of its carbon footprint.

Yet some of those improvements would have occurred whether or not Dell invested in them, according to some of the companies involved. That suggests Dell isn’t ridding the atmosphere of as much pollution as it claims.

Dell says it’s trying to set an example by reducing its environmental impact as responsibly and aggressively as it can.

“There are skeptics of carbon neutrality who will say, ‘That’s kind of bogus,’” says Dane Parker, Dell’s director of environment, health and safety.

One Response to “Carbon Neutrality — “Kind of Bogus””

  1. tarpon Says:

    Can’t we get carbon neutral in the USA by having all our products made in China? Isn’t that what cap and trade is all about?

    Me, I think I am going to try and get some startup money for ‘litter offsets’. That way people can throw anything they want along side the road and feel good about it, because they have bought offsets for that litter. Isn’t that what carbon offsets are?

    Oh, you mean the government will limit them and there will be a strictly controlled amount of ‘offsets’ available? Oh I see, isn’t that what rationing energy is all about? And what black markets are for?

    I think I’ve got it now.