A Quick Guide to CO2 Offsetting for Startups

Stefan Stefan Verkerk on

Measuring and offsetting your carbon footprint may seem like a daunting task. In this post, we’ll explain how to easily and quickly perform the calculations in a DIY style. Let’s go!

Stripe Climate as an Inspiration and Why It May Not Work for You

Stripe started a great program where they look at the long-term effects of reducing their carbon footprint. They do so by starting the next generation of carbon offsetting projects that try to solve this planet’s CO2 emission problems at a massive scale.

Many of the existing CO2 offsetting projects won’t scale to the point of zero emissions for the world. The projects Stripe supports aim to do so but need to get economies of scale to do so at much lower costs. Examples of these are the extraction of CO2 out of the air and storing it in rocks or underground. Currently, their costs are up to 60 times higher than projects that offset CO2 with reforestation, for example.

You can only use Stripe Climate if you are a Stripe customer from the US (at the time of writing this post). It only fully works if all your revenue goes through their systems. At AppSignal, we were inspired by Stripe’s program but we wanted to make sure we more than compensated the CO2 we use now, and the Stripe program doesn’t let you do that.

The DIY Carbon Offset Program

In practice, Stripe’s program didn’t fit our needs. There can be other similar reasons why this particular program wouldn’t suit you, even if you’d like to support it.

But don’t let that hold you back. When we figured out how we could make something similar work for us, we thought that sharing it might make it easier for others to take similar steps as well.

Here’s our DIY guide. It’s only four steps, you can do them in a few hours, maybe even today.

Step One: Calculate Your Footprint (We’ll Make It Simple!)

First, calculate what your CO2 footprint is for offices, technology, and travel. This sounds like a mountain of work, but perfect is the enemy of done.

The way we do the calculation is very simplified and we completely realize that. We decided that doing it simple and fast was more important than doing it precisely. To make sure we didn’t underestimate things, we added a margin.

Offices/Workspace

We calculated the carbon emission by looking at how much energy is used by one of the offices someone in our team uses, where we get the energy bills in detail. That was 1540kWh per year. We rounded it up to 2000kWh per year per office/working space just to be sure.

This information (in Dutch only) on office real estate assumes 60kWh per square meter, which was within 10% of our estimate for that office. So 2000kWh which is 1032kg ( ~1 ton) of CO2 emission per year per office/working space seems like a safe estimate.

We then multiplied that by the number of people on the team to get to our total offices’ emission. Most of us have smaller offices, use co-working spaces or work from home, but by calculating this way, we are definitely offsetting more than we use.

Technology

In our case, all of our hosting is already at CO2 compensated facilities. If yours is not, look for one, or read how others estimated their on-premise and AWS carbon footprint and use their calculations.

Travel

This year, we had very little travel, but this site has a good calculation, so you can see how much you would emit if you would fly to RailsConf, for example. We compensated 10 tons equal to if we had gone to RailsConf San Diego.

Add a Percentage for Things You Missed

Since we did this the easy and fast way, we probably missed some things. Let’s add 20% on top of Tech, Travel and Offices to make sure.

Now you know how much CO2 you need to compensate.

The shortcut to estimate this while you are reading: take 2 tons of carbon emission per employee as a rough estimate, add 1 ton for every 1K euro a month you spend on tech ops.

Number of people on the team

Number of people on the team Carbon emission by energy use per person Carbon to be compensated
15 2 Ton 30 Ton

Step Two: Cost Scenarios and a Commitment

Take the amount of carbon to compensate from step two and multiply by EUR 12. This is what your commitment will cost you per year at the minimum. If you can and want to commit further, you can compensate part of your emissions with more expensive, more future-proof projects. Not all projects in the Stripe Climate program accept donations, but two of them do.

Projects to choose from, with payment links
Compensating carbon footprint can cost between EUR 12 and 22 per ton carbon that is offset with these projects that you can buy credits for directly, online, today:

The following are the projects Stripe currently supports:

    The ClimateWorks project builds facilities that take CO2 out of the air and store it underground in Iceland, for example. You can donate directly to it, costs are around EUR 960 per ton of carbon removed.

    The Vesta Project stores CO2 in rocks. You can donate directly to it, costs are around $ 75 per ton of carbon removed.

    The CarbonCure project which stores CO2 in concrete that is produced. It doesn’t accept direct donations.

    The Charm industrial project that turns CO2 into bio-oil that can be stored deep underground like oil once was. It doesn’t accept direct donations.

Step Three: Decide On the Goals and Results That Best Suit You

Now you know how much CO2 your company emits, and what it would cost at a minimum to compensate for it. If your means and commitment go further than that, you can choose a mix of projects that make you compensate or overcompensate, allowing you to contribute to future-proof solutions as well.

These are four possible scenarios of compensating CO2 with different projects, showing the wide differences in costs. Choose the project and budget that suits you best.

Total carbon to be compensated (per year) Project Cost per ton Cost (per year)
60 Ton Reforestation EUR 12 EUR 720
Cleaner cooking EUR 15 EUR 900
Store CO2 in Rocks EUR 62 EUR 3600
Extract CO2 and store underground EUR 960 EUR 57.600

In our case, we compensated for the company’s carbon footprint and doubled it, so we probably compensate for our team’s personal CO2 footprint as well. We set these off with the two (1,2) projects that we felt are good and affordable.

On top of that, we donated the same amount to the Vesta project that stores CO2 in rocks, that is in Stripe Climate’s program, and that you can donate to directly.

The shortcut to do this right now: compensate half of your emissions with each of the two projects we chose, and spend the rest of the budget you can commit on the Vesta project.

Step Four: Grab Your Credit Card — Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Step one and two should be doable in 2 hours or so. If you take super shortcuts, you can be done in 15 minutes. Step three will require an approval of the budget by the team managing finances.

Step four is the real one and it can be done in 10 minutes. Go to the projects you’ve chosen and donate in the ratios you agreed on. Done!

Conclusion: Let’s Do This, Now!

By choosing your own mix of projects to compensate your CO2 footprint with, you can be in control of how much you compensate, can spend now for the coming period, and get it done quickly.

Just a few hours can make this happen. Estimate your usage, throw a margin on top to be sure, calculate what it would cost in a mix of projects for now and for the future. Approve the budget, and go online with a credit card.

Let’s all follow Stripe, in a way that works for our situation, DIY style!

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