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MARK VAUGHAN-JACKSON: Psst! Wanna buy some carbon

Everyone has a carbon footprint
Everyone has a carbon footprint. - 123RF Stock Photo

What I learned about carbon footprints, credits and getting greener

I meant to write this column last week.

But then, you know, stuff happened. Work got really busy. Then I had a bunch of errands to run. Then it was the weekend and, after still more errands, I just didn’t have the volts.

Then it was a new week, with more to do. So, I put it off.

Sound familiar?

Now, let’s turn to climate change.

I never really thought of myself as a polluter. I mean, I know my household produces waste, but I’ve been recycling for years. I’ve always thought of facilities like oil-fired power stations as the “polluters.”

But me? A polluter? … nah.

But I am. And so are you. Everyone on the planet is a polluter.

We all have a carbon footprint. We use things, buy things, heat our homes, drive cars, use services that involve ground or air or marine transportation — and it all has a carbon bill attached.

And as the latest reports on climate change show in stark detail, we need to do something about it quickly or else all bets are off in the not-as-distant-future as we’d like.

Which brings me to a ceremony I attended recently.

It marked the first time — as far as organizers reckon — that a Newfoundland and Labrador company has reached zero-carbon status by purchasing made-in-N.L. carbon credits.

That company is Empowered Homes, the firm behind Mysa Smart Thermostats, a smart home-heating option if you have electric baseboard heaters.

They did so by purchasing carbon offsets from Glenn Sharpe of Sharpe Management, who is working with the towns of Stephenville and Appleton-Glenwood. They generated the carbon credits through the greener wetland-based wastewater treatment systems they installed.

“There was less energy needed to be generated at Holyrood because the wetlands didn’t require any. That meant that Holyrood generating station actually produced less electricity because two sewage treatment systems … didn’t draw electrical out of the grid. That’s an actual reduction…,” Sharpe said. “Only when you eliminate carbon from the equation of what is the baseline that would normally be done, then you generate a carbon credit.”

For every tonne of carbon these systems save by not requiring generated power, a carbon credit is created that the town can sell.

Sharpe is selling those credits — 55,000 created so far from the Stephenville and Appleton-Glenwood systems. Soon Bishop’s Falls, with a similar system, will be added to the mix.

Sharpe splits the money with the towns.

The towns get revenue to help cover operating expenses for their systems, Sharpe gets revenue for his company, and customers like Empowered Homes offset the carbon footprint they otherwise would have created.

Everybody wins, including the environment, Sharpe says.

For Empowered Homes, going carbon neutral was a no-brainer, co-founder and CEO Joshua Green said.

“We want to help our homeowners and customers be energy efficient and be therefore more environmentally sustainable,” he said. “But we need to take that to heart and make sure that all of our operations here in St. John’s are also as environmentally sustainable as possible.”

Green said the company calculated its carbon footprint as 96 tonnes a year, including all electricity and transportation costs, office waste, and other aspects of normal operations.

It bought 96 credits from Sharpe. At $25 a pop, the cost to go carbon neutral was $2,400 this year.

“We want to be 100 per cent carbon neutral,” he said. “It cost us less than the price of a laptop and we buy laptops all the time. … This was something that was very manageable and I’d challenge that there’s not a single company in Newfoundland and Labrador that wouldn’t be able to do the same.”

The more credits sold, the more financially attractive the green economy becomes, Sharpe said.

For a town considering wastewater treatment options, a wetlands-based system may cost more to install, but it requires less electricity, will have far fewer long-term operating costs than an electricity-heavy mechanical system and the town gets regular payments for selling the carbon credits it generates.

That’s key, Sharpe said.

More credit sales mean more carbon-neutral companies and more money going back into towns or companies that choose greener projects.

“When people think, should I be putting in green or should I just build the normal? Well, green now has an economy that’s growing. It becomes a green economy where it pays to go green.”

And proving that greener options make more financial sense is a good thing, right?

Think about it a bit in terms of your own situation, personal or corporate.

Just don’t put it off too long.

Mark Vaughan-Jackson is The Telegram’s business editor. He’s trying to be less of a procrastinator and is now pondering his own carbon footprint. He can be reached at mark.vaughan-jackson@thetelegram.com


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