This week WRI posted its latest CO2 Emissions Inventory report, the latest report that documents the organization’s CO2 emissions and efforts to reduce them. In keeping with WRI’s mission and efforts to “walk the talk,” we’ve been documenting and reporting our emissions for every year since 2000.
Here are some of the highlights from this year’s report:
- CO2 Emissions in 2006 and 2007—including electricity use, business travel, employee commuting and paper use—were 1,125 and 1,288 metric tons, respectively. That’s a 19% jump over two years from 2005 (1,084 tons CO2). Although WRI has been aggressive in its energy efficiency efforts, our staff size has increased by 30% in the last year alone. As a result, our airline travel and the size of our office have also both increased to some degree.
- In 2007, WRI added 7,000 square feet of LEED-certified green office space. This addition makes for a highly energy-efficient and environmentally friendly office, but it nonetheless increases our office footprint by about 31%. Unfortunately, electricity use is not metered separately in our building, so we must pro-rate our electricity use—and associated emissions—based on the electricity usage throughout the building and the percentage of space that we use. As a result, the emissions inventory does not fully capture the benefits of energy efficiency investments in the new (or existing) space.
- In 2008, WRI worked with our landlord to add a 3,600 square foot green roof to improve energy efficiency and provide an array of environmental benefits.
- 2007 was the first year that WRI offset its emissions using Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), as opposed to offsets purchased from a voluntary market—read on for more details.
Voluntary Offsets vs. Compliance Offsets
Offsets are activities or projects that reduce or sequester greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions outside organizational boundaries. Since 2000, part of WRI’s institutional CO2 commitment is to achieve a “net zero” emissions balance, meaning that we offset the emissions that we cannot eliminate by purchasing offsets.
The offset market consists of a highly diverse array of products. You can often choose not only the type but the location of the project generating the credits. In addition, there are both voluntary markets and “compliance” markets: e.g., offsets available under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol that may be used to meet legally binding obligations.
2007 is the first year in which WRI met its “net zero” target using Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) purchased in the CDM market. Consequently, WRI is currently one of the very few U.S. organizations to voluntarily offset its emissions via the CDM. This decision comes after an extensive re-evaluation of our organization’s approach to offsetting emissions. We concluded from that assessment that CERs purchased from a compliance market are more consistent with WRI’s institutional goals and mission. Our 2007 CERs come from a landfill gas to energy project in Nanjing, China and a wind power project in Tamil Nadu, India.
Here is a brief summary of WRI’s rationale:
- WRI strongly believes that a robust, functioning compliance offset market is essential to the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally, and that we have an ethical obligation to “walk the talk.”
- The CDM offers a relatively robust protocol for assessing the environmental integrity of projects.
- China & India are especially important countries for WRI’s work and strategic focus;
- The experience of purchasing CERs deepens our understanding of offset markets in general and how to navigate them.
The price difference between CERs and offsets in voluntary markets is not insignificant. At the time of purchase, CERs cost about $30 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent, compared to about $4-16 per ton recently for offsets in voluntary markets. Nonetheless, WRI’s desire to support the global compliance market through our purchasing decisions, as well as to support projects in specific regions that are important to our work, outweighed the higher cost.
Finally, WRI’s decision should not be taken as a renunciation of voluntary markets. We did not evaluate any particular offset providers as part of this decision, and there are a multitude of sound offset projects in both voluntary and compliance markets. We encourage each organization looking to offset its emissions to do its own research and support offset projects and markets that are consistent with its goals and objectives.