Where Do You Get Offset?

"Carbon neutral" was the New Oxford American Dictionary's 2006 Word of the Year. But can you define it? The mostly unregulated practice of offsetting can put do-gooders at the mercy oflatter-day Charles Ponzis focusing on another kind of green. So, a quick rundown: Carbon offsets are reductions in one place that cancel out emissions in another. Renewable-energy credits (RECs, or green tags) are tradable certificates representing renewable energy that replaces the dirty power you buy from your utility company. The challenges are twofold: making sure your offset retailer is selling a legitimate product, and resisting the temptation to use offsetting as a license for indulgence. So, how green are your efforts? Take our free self-audit.

1. Before buying offsets, you get a free home energy audit at hes.lbl.gov to determine your home's carbon footprint. (+3 points)

2. You replace your old fridge (one of the biggest electricity hogs in any house) with GE's Monogram 360S, which uses 27 percent less energy than federal standards. (+6)

3. You upgrade your old 70-percent-efficiency furnace to a new 95-percent-efficient model. aceee.org/consumerguide/topfurn.htm (+8)

4. But then you crank the heat to 80. (–7)

5. When it's 65 outside. (–13)

6. You calculate your overall carbon footprint using a reliable calculator, like safeclimate.net/calculator. (+2)

7. You look for the calculator but get sidetracked on YouTube. (–2)

8. You purchase offsets from a retailer endorsed by Clean Air, Cool Planet's (cleanair-coolplanet.org) recent independent audit. (+7)

9. You ask your offset retailer if its portfolio is actually composed of additional offsets, rather than ones already mandated by law. (+1)

10. You find out, as Coldplay did after its 2005 tour, that many of the mango trees planted to offset your emissions died from neglect. (–3)

11. Since offsets are a virtual commodity, you ask your provider how they guarantee that the same offset isn't sold to multiple buyers. (+1)

12. You move to one of the 36 states the EPA lists as having renewable-energy programs. eere.energy.gov (+4)

13. But then you decide that the extra 2 cents per kilowatt-hour some utilities charge for renewable energy (about $200 per year for an average home) isn't worth it. (–3)

14. Your local utility doesn't have a renewables program, so you purchase RECs from a reseller recommended by the nonprofit Center for Resource Solutions (green-e.org). (+2)

15. You start a green team at work to reduce energy use by your employer. (+3)

16. Your car is a hybrid. (+2)

17. Your car is a truck. (–1)

18. You don't own a car. (+10)

19. You budget for all your travel emissions at SustainableTravelInternational.org and offset them atMy-Climate.com. (+2)

20. You cut up your Visa card and sign up for aBright Card (brightpla.net), set to launch in May, which will give customers offsets instead of flier miles. (+3)

21. Your first purchase onthe card is:
(a) a bicycle, saving 20 pounds of CO2 for every gallon of gas you don't burn. (+7)
(b) a DVD of An Inconvenient Truth for your friends (+3)
(c) a fill-up for your Prius (0)
(d) 20-inch rims for your Escalade (–6)

Your Score
(<0–10) Thanks for reading, Mr. Cheney.
(11–20) You've heard about this global-warming thing?
(21–30) Good work, but someone may be Coldplaying you.
(31–40) A polar bear would still eat you, but he'd feel guilty.
(41+) What footprint?

Filed To: Culture
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