Carbon Neutral

Most organizations interested in sustainability are beginning to put together programs to be carbon neutral in their activities. A West Coast building engineering firm (and a former employer of mine) with about 200 employees sent out a 2007 New Year's greeting with a carbon neutral announcement:

In 2006, with the help of our sustainability partners American Forests, Glumac has achieved its New Year's resolution of becoming a Carbon Neutral company. In the last year, as part of our ongoing commitment to the environment, 15,000 trees were planted in forests throughout Oregon and California. These trees will offset the entire amount of carbon dioxide emissions generated by all of our offices, our projects and employees.19

In addition, to further its commitment to being carbon neutral, the company says that it will:

• Purchase and operate hybrid vehicles for company cars.

• Subsidize public transportation for all employees.

• Use Flex Cars (rentals by the hour) for local meetings and short trips.

• Green the company's offices in Portland and San Francisco with Silver LEED Certification.

• Build a new office in California to achieve Platinum LEED Certification.

Every company, non-profit and government agency can take similar steps to become carbon neutral in their operations, as can design firms in their projects' environmental footprints. Larger organizations can buy carbon offsets for their activities from a variety of free-market carbon exchanges, by financing activities that reduce the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases such as HFC-23, a by-product of HFC-22 refrigerant production. According to the World Bank, the carbon-credit market was valued at $21.5 billion for the first three quarters of 2006, about double the value for all of 2005.20 The biggest source of carbon credits at present is China, the second-largest energy user on the planet, with a lot of inefficient older power and chemical plants. Under the current rules, only chemical factories operating prior to 2001 qualify to sell carbon credits for the destruction of HFC-23.

Going carbon neutral may still be problematic for some, owing to expressed concerns over whether all the money being spent actually goes to a useful purpose, but it is gaining currency as the next logical step for individuals and companies to take action against global warming by offsetting their carbon dioxide emissions.21

Everyone knows new carpet smell, because it lingers for weeks or even months after carpeting is installed. I had that experience recently in recar-peting part of my home in Tucson. Despite my efforts to find low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) carpets from local retailers, I was unsuccessful, and I just had to live with the smell until it dissipated. This drove my wife nuts because she has multiple chemical sensitivities and is consequently very allergic to any chemical odors. So we just opened the windows and aired out the house for a long time.

In the commercial arena, however, the situation is quite different. Most major manufacturers of commercial carpeting have agreed to meet the LEED standard for Green Label Plus, as defined by the testing and product requirements of the Carpet and Rug Institute. Carpet backing has to meet the Green Label standard. What does this mean? Technically, it means that the off-gassing of VOCs from carpet adhesive, for example, is limited to less than 50 grams per liter, under standard test conditions. Practically, it means an end to the new carpet smell that bothers a significant minority of people in offices, libraries, public facilities and schools.

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