Thursday, April 16, 2009

Whose Footprint?

Posted by Dave Rochlin -

We just finished a study on Tweeting – (definition: the act of posting on Twitter) that calculated the carbon footprint of twittering at 21.5 pound per year. We decided to offset the 2009 tweeting of our followers as a 'thank you' gift for earth day. Our concept for tweet footprinting is supply side: If you post a twitter, people read it, and so that activity should be counted as yours. (You can learn more by clicking here: )

But you could just as easily build a demand side argument. In other words, if you agreed to follow a tweeter, the act of following should be yours. The difficult thing to avoid is double counting…either the tweeter or the tweetee (is that a word?) needs to be the one accountable.

McAfee just did a study of their own calculating the carbon footprint of unwanted email (aka spam.) As with twittering, the largest component is from the energy used by recipients (from reading the things.) The difference in this case of course is that it is spam…you didn’t ask for it! Being asked to account for the footprint of spam would be kind of like someone else burning down your house and then you being asked to offset the carbon from the fire.

So how to decide who should get the footprint? The whole point of measuring and offsetting carbon is to create a link between action and climate. Someone somewhere is taking an action that produced greenhouse gasses, and they probably aren’t considering the environmental costs when they do it.

Using this guiding principal, spammers should offset the spam footprint, tweeters should offset tweeting, wineries should offset everything that goes into making a bottle (but leave the CO2 from the act of chilling and drinking it to the happy customer) and clients should offset the climate cost of their lawyers flying to see them. Matching behaviors and costs leads to change.

Of course everyone can use a nudge now and then (for example, Maytag could ask you to offset the energy of your washing machine) but that is an idea for another blog!