It’s time for companies to take the burden of carbon neutrality away from the consumer.
It’s time for companies to take responsibility for the impact of the products we make.
We whole-heartedly believe this at OutMore. That’s why we’ve made our products carbon neutral from the factory all the way to your door. Not only that, we can do this while supporting kids in Malawi.
Or read on to find out how we did it.
Why Use Carbon Offsets to Neutralize Emissions?
It’s no secret a lot of products sold in the US are made overseas.
Did you know that most companies don’t own the factories that make their products? It’s actually very rare, even for well-known, large brands.
The companies you know and love design their products and market them, but they are not in the business of building and operating factories. They simply find existing factories that make similar goods and contract out the manufacturing of their products.
But these factories are becoming more and more rare in the US, so companies must go overseas. The truth is that it’s very difficult and expensive to have products made in the US.
The North Face has most of their goods made in Vietnam while Patagonia uses factories in 16 different countries.
In a great article about how and why Patagonia chooses their factories, they explain that they try to make their products in the US but, most of the time, simply cannot.
In fact, manufacturing in developing countries can be a vital step to their economic development.
Transportation in a Global Economy
The problem then becomes transportation of the products. Companies must ship these products halfway around the world most of the time. And then there is the “last mile shipping”, which refers to the transport from a warehouse to your doorstep.
Transporting all these goods isn’t so much of a logistical problem anymore because shipping has become cheap enough at scale. The problem is environmental.
All that shipping emits a ton of carbon.
OutMore is no different from North Face or Pategonia in that we simply cannot have our products made in the US where we sell them. But we also don’t want to contribute to the massive carbon footprint of shipping these products halfway around the world.
We imagine a future where our entire transport system doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. But this is not going to happen overnight.
In fact, Amazon outlined a plan to go carbon neutral by 2040, which is absolutely great.
But we didn’t want to wait that long to go carbon neutral so…
We chose to offset the carbon emissions from transporting our pillows by purchasing carbon offsets. Now you can rest assured that the OutMore Inflatable Pillow you buy is carbon neutral from factory to your doorstep.
What Are Carbon Offsets and How do They Work?
Carbon offsets, are essentially funding for projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere.
The cost of the project can be divided by how many tonnes of carbon the project is expected to be removed, giving you a cost per tonne of CO2 that is offset.
So when you buy a CO2 offset of one tonne, you are just funding one unit of a larger project.
Who says you can’t buy a clear conscience? (kidding)
Who Would Want to Offset Carbon from Transportation?
No, we’re not the first company to use carbon offsets when concerned about the transport of our goods. Google recently announced they are neutralizing their transportation footprint using carbon offsets.
Etsy, the handmade goods superstore, is doing this as well!
Just to be clear – this is different than carbon credits where industries have a certain cap on how much carbon they emit. In this system, they can sell those credits to someone else if they are under their allotted emissions. A large amount of criticism has been aimed at this system as being fundamentally flawed so we want you to know that the carbon offset system is something different.
Carbon offsets are meant for individuals and small businesses that don’t want to contribute carbon to the atmosphere, but can’t do what they need to do without emitting some carbon.
Criticisms of the Offsetting System
Is this a perfect system? Absolutely not.
In fact, criticism surround carbon offsetting focus on the fact that it’s better to not emit carbon in the first place.
This is absolutely true. The first focus should be on reducing emissions.
But that takes time like mentioned before. We can’t switch our entire infrastructure to renewable energy overnight. So while we’re trying solve that whole problem, we might as well offset the carbon we emit in the meantime.
Our response to the criticism of carbon offsets is that, no matter how you look it, carbon offsetting is much better than not offsetting the carbon.
What to Consider When Funding an Offsetting Project
There are a few caveats to consider when funding a project to offsets carbon:
- Offsetting carbon emissions should be secondary to reducing emissions in the first place.
- The project should be something that wasn’t going to be done without your funding. For example, if you’re buying carbon offsets that fund the planting of trees which were going to be planted anyway, then you’re not really removing any more carbon from the atmosphere that wouldn’t have been removed otherwise.
- The project shouldn’t produce more carbon than it’s going to take out of the atmosphere. Going back to the planting tree example, if the site requires some work to make it ready to plant the trees, the project should consider emissions from the prep work (like heavy equipment, etc.). Otherwise the project isn’t taking out more carbon than it’s emitting.
Where to Buy Carbon Offsets?
It’s very true – not all carbon offsets are equal.
There’s virtually no regulation in the sale of carbon offsets and a lot of people are starting to spend serious cash to buy them. This attracts fakes, scams, or just plain bad projects that are ineffective at offsetting carbon emissions.
Fortunately, there are a few non-profits that certify the legitimacy of carbon offset projects. Here are the main ones:
- Green-e.org – Certifies clean energy projects. Their focus is solely on energy related projects
- Climate Action Reserve – Sets standards for carbon offset projects and registers legit projects in their database
- The Gold Standard – Certifies projects for “credible impact quantification”
- Verified Carbon Standard – Develops and manages standards that help countries, the private sector, and civil society achieve their sustainable development and climate action goals
These organizations certify projects but don’t sell carbon offsets themselves. Next, we searched for organizations that sell carbon offsets and are certified by the above organizations. We found a few:
- The Conservation Fund – Focuses mostly on forest management projects, whether that is better forest management practices that result in increased carbon uptake or planting new trees
- Terrapass – Has a variety of projects within the US from landfill gas capture projects to wind farms
- The Cool Effect – International and a variety of different types of projects from planting trees in India to providing more efficient cookstoves to the people of Peru and elsewhere
The Project We Chose
It was a hard decision, but we are extremely excited to announce that we decided to fund a project that buys more efficient cook stoves for children in Malawi! You can read more about this project on The Cool Effect.
We particularly like this project because it focuses on an area of Malawi with a high number of orphans, Mai Aisha . The fuel-efficient stoves help reduce costs of wood which will fund school supplies.
Helping Three Problems at Once
A significant portion of CO2 emissions actually come from burning of biofuels for cooking in developing countries where cooking is mostly done by open fires.
There are several problems associated with this beyond the carbon emissions. First, harvesting the wood for cooking sometimes leads to deforestation which is one of the most important problems besides global warming.
Second, it can put a strain on families who have to constantly find fuel to cook their food every day.
Third, it can be unhealthy to stand next to an open fire and breath all that smoke. What’s more, the cooking is often done in poorly ventilated homes so the fumes hang around for a while and everyone breathes them, not just the cook.
It seems to us that installing more fuel efficient stoves in developing countries helps to mitigate all these issues.
We are so excited to fund this project because it not only helps the environment but it helps people in developing countries too.
How Did We Know How Much Carbon to Offset?
Just a warning – this part of the article is going to involve some math but we are including it here for full transparency. We hold ourselves accountable to be doing the things we say we’re doing, and we’d love you to double-check our logic and math.
There are two parts of the transportation from the factory to your door that we addressed separately and then added the carbon emissions together to a get a total:
- From the factory to the Amazon distribution center
- From the Amazon distribution center to the customer
As you will see, the second part was far, far more complicated than the first.
1. From the Factory to the Amazon Distribution Center
This was fairly easy because our pillows are light enough to ship by air (heavier items are usually shipped by sea). We order our pillows 500 at a time and all these boxes weigh 55kg total – roughly the weight of one (light) person.
So essentially we just need to find the carbon emission of a plane ticket from China to the US as if it was a person flying.
There are plenty of online calculators for plane trip emissions but we found that we get different answers depending on which calculator we use. Here are our results for the 7,709 mile flight from China to the US:
- Native Energy = 2.81 tonnes CO2
- Carbon Footprint Calculator = 1.72 tonnes CO2
- Sustainable Travel International = 1.75 tonnes CO2
So which one should we use?
Because we feel this issue is so important, we don’t want to underestimate. So we decided to go with the highest estimate of 2.81 tonnes of CO2.
I mean, would it be such a bad thing if we end up offsetting too much carbon? I guess we’ll just have good carbon karma.
2. From the Amazon Distribution Center to You
In all honesty, it’s hard for us to know how much carbon is emitted in this process because packages travel different distances and by different means (big trucks, sprinter vans, etc.)
The only feasible approach we could think of would be to take a general average. This approach actually makes sense because we are buying offsets for 500 products at a time so the products that travel really far are averaged out by products that are not so far from the Amazon distribution center.
If we know Amazon’s total carbon emissions and divide that by how many packages they deliver, we can calculate the average emissions per package…make sense?
Just like with part one, it’s good to calculate this a few ways to make sure your answers are reasonably close to each other. That way, you know you’re at least in the right ballpark with your estimate.
Estimate #1 – Data from 2017
Sometimes it takes time to gather data and, in late 2018, a lot of data was reported for 2017 with regards to Amazon deliveries.
CBS reported that Amazon’s emissions from delivering packages in all of 2017 was 19 million metric tonnes. Several sources listed in this article reported that in 2017, Amazon shipped about 5 billion packages.
Estimate #1 = 19,000,000 metric tonnes of carbon divided by 5,000,000,000 packages = 0.0038 tonnes per package or 3.8 kg CO2 per package
Estimate #2 – Data from Amazon’s Recent Self-Evaluation
As part of Amazon’s plan to go carbon neutral by 2040, they had to evaluate their own emissions. They put their emissions from direct operations, most of which is fossil fuels, at 4.98 million metric tonnes, significantly less than the 2017 estimate.
This may be from increased fuel efficiency since 2017 or a result of the uncertainty associated with making these estimates…or both.
As far as number of packages, the 2017 estimate of 5 billion packages is likely an underestimate now as Amazon delivers more packages every year but we could not find any updated estimates.
If we put in a low number for number of packages, we will end up with an over-estimate for carbon emission per package (if you divide by a lower number, you get a higher number) and we’re ok with that. We would rather over-estimate and buy too many carbon offsets than not enough.
Estimate #2 = 4.98 million metric tonnes divided by 5 billion packages = 0.0015 tonnes per package or 1.5 kg per package
Estimate #3 – Data from the UK
The only data we were able to find that reports carbon emissions per package is about package deliveries in the UK. We only include it here for comparison.
Alan McKinnon, a professor of logistics at the Kühne Logistics University in Hamburg, Germany, reported that each package delivery emits 6 ounces of CO2
Estimate #3 = 6 ounces x (1 pound/16 ounces) x (1 ton/2000 pounds) x (1.1 metric tonnes/ton) = 0.0002 tonnes per package or 2 kg per package
Which one to use?
Estimate three was quite a bit less than the other two but that makes sense. This estimate was based on data from the UK where the population density is higher than the US and it’s only considering mail trucks coming from post offices which are more widely dispersed than Amazon fulfillment centers.
There is so little data on this kind of calculation that we included estimate #3 for comparison, and it turned out to be a nice check to tell us that the first two estimates make sense.
So which is more accurate, #1 or #2? Well, we have no idea so we’ll just go with the higher one – #1. This issue is so important that we want to error on the side of buying too much rather than no enough.
Carbon offsets are a great way to reduce your carbon footprint if reducing emissions is not an option. We have decided to use carbon offsets to neutralize the carbon emitted from shipping our inflatable camping pillow. Estimating the amount of carbon to offset was tricky but we have explained how we did it so anyone can check our work. Furthermore, we believe we have actually bought too many carbon offsets because we care about this issue that much. So now you can be sure that when you purchase one of our pillows, they are totally carbon neutral from factory to you.
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