Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Shrinking the carbon footprint

By EDWARD D. MURPHY, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
August 15, 2006

When it comes time to point fingers at those responsible for global warming, not many people are likely to blame Dwell Creative, a small advertising and public relations firm in Portland.

But the folks at the agency figure that everyone, in ways large and small, bears some responsibility for the pollution that's causing climate change - and the firm is trying to counteract its admittedly limited impact on the global environment.

"It's small, but still, it's an impact," president and founder John Rooks said, "and if we can offset it and let people know that we're doing it, maybe they will do it, too."

The company is accomplishing that by paying about $250 a year to Native Energy, a Native American-owned company based in Vermont that is helping to underwrite wind and methane energy projects. A current project involves selling the "carbon credits" for a wind turbine project led by a Sioux tribe in South Dakota, with the idea that proceeds from the credits will help advance a project that will create electricity without pollution.

Dwell Creative's decision to offset its tiny contribution to global warming grew out of a meeting at a conference a couple of years ago between Rooks and Billy Connelly, the marketing director for Native Energy. The two continued to talk about pollution, climate change and how to counteract it for a couple of years.

Connelly said individuals, naturally, find it a little difficult to grasp the concept that not only do they share responsibility for climate change, but also that they can do something about it.

"For most people, to wrap their heads around this is not the easiest thing," Connelly said. "We typically have to have a couple of conversations with them before the lightbulb goes on."

For Rooks, that came about at the same time he was reconfiguring his firm to cater to the "lifestyles of health and sustainability" market. The growing market consists of companies that provide goods and services to consumers who are interested in sustainable lifestyles that have a minimal impact on the environment.

If Rooks hoped to work with those companies, he reasoned, he wanted to show that his firm shared a commitment beyond the professional goals of helping to develop a brand or marketing campaign.

"We wanted to work with people that thought like we did and cared about the things that we cared about," Rooks said, adding with a laugh, "Let's work with people that get it, like we do, because of course, we're right."

Dwell Creative calculated its "carbon footprint" after conducting an inventory using an outline supplied by Native Energy. The formula involved looking at how many miles workers travel by plane and car, including daily commutes; how much shipping the firm does; the office's use of electricity and other utilities; workers' accommodations while away from the office; and the amount of paper and other waste generated.

The agency is leaving behind a relatively small footprint, aided by the fact that the worker with the longest commute drives a hybrid, one employee walks to work and the others live within a few miles of the office.

Dwell Creative's grand total contribution to greenhouse gases is 21.48 tons of carbon dioxide a year. By comparison, an average driver's car puts six tons of CO2 into the air each year.

"We're not highly polluting, but we were obviously contributing," said Alisa Conroy, the firm's public relations director. "We're still polluting in some form, so we're taking responsibility in some way."

Paying to offset even such a small amount of pollution might seem like so much guilt money, but Connelly said those who buy the carbon credits for $12 a ton are doing more than salving their consciences.

By buying credits, companies and individuals are providing up-front funding for alternative and renewable energy sources, he said. The wind turbine in South Dakota would probably never be built if it had to rely on conventional financing, he said, but the money from selling credits means it can go forward.

And bringing a nonpolluting electric source online means less reliance on conventional power plants that produce carbon dioxide. So even if the power produced by a wind turbine in South Dakota never flows from Dwell Creative's electrical outlets in Portland, the company is helping to offset its carbon footprint, Connelly said.

"From a global warming standpoint, it's the same as if they were hardwired to the wind turbine," he said. "Everybody who uses electricity has an impact (on global warming) unless they're off the grid and using renewable resources. I personally don't know anyone like that."

Native Energy's roster of customers includes Ben & Jerry's, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Timberland and Interface Fabrics Group, in Guilford. The publisher of former Vice President Al Gore's book, "An Inconvenient Truth," purchased credits from Native Energy to be able to boast that the book itself is "carbon neutral."

Businesses are likely to become even more involved in things like carbon credits, said Sanna McKim, the executive director of Maine Businesses for Social Responsibility, or MEBSR.

"It's becoming expected" as consumers pay more attention to the environmental impact of their own purchasing decisions, McKim said. "There's a tangible connection between being environmentally sensitive and being socially responsible" and good business.

MEBSR itself buys credits to offset the impact of travel for speakers and those who attend its conferences, she said.

McKim said Native Energy provides a concrete way for businesses and individuals to make a difference.

"They're making it easy," she said. "They're putting something that's hard to conceptualize into a simple approach. It's a way to make climate change a little more personal."

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:


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