I guess we’re off and running… I started typing a response to one of the comments to Steve’s opening blog post - “Welcome to the Sustainable Festivation Blog” - but decided this was worthy of its own post. Here’s Jerry’s comment:
…by some wave of a magic wand, Telluride BF is carbon neutral!!! I donâ€™t think in reality it works that way! You have only created some feel good voodoo; meanwhile thousands of tons of actual CO2 are about to be dumped into the atmosphere as well meaning (mostly) folks drive or fly hundreds to thousands of miles to the most remote place in the US and the big generators on the grounds run 18 hours a day!
We’re making a bold claim, so we’d better start defending it. Well, here goes my first response on this major subject:
Jerry, you’re certainly right to be skeptical about any “carbon neutral” claim - especially when it’s presented in a overly-simplified context without any backing. That’s the purpose of this blog - to hash out these issues in a public forum.
We’ve had heated discussions in the Planet Bluegrass offices all winter about whether this is the right approach. But in the end, we’ve decided that it’s better for us to do something positive now (carbon offsets) rather than wait a couple years for the definitive, correct answer.
It seems to me like there are often 2 problems with carbon neutral claims:
- the scope of the claim (how big is the net you’re throwing over your “carbon neutral” event)
- how you’re neutralizing the carbon.
In our case, we’ve decided to include both the actual festival (including any generators at the festival and the electricity pulled from the grid) and also the emissions created by everyone driving or flying to Telluride. As you rightly point out, these travel emissions are the majority of the emissions, close to 95% of the event’s emissions by our calculations. So for us to claim “carbon neutral” we need to neutralize these travel emissions as well as the emissions at the actual festival grounds.
Let me step back on the second point and explain that we’re not claiming a “carbon zero” event, we’re claiming “carbon neutral.” Some folks question this concept of “neutralizing” the carbon, regardless of how it’s done. I guess you have to accept that if we reduce emissions in one place (creating electricity through wind or sequestering methane on a farm or a landfill), then that can offset for emissions that occur in another place. If you add negative emissions/carbon and positive emissions/carbon, the two can cancel each other out or neutralize the “carbon equation.” Personally, I don’t think that’s a big leap. And it’s certainly the best way to address this right now.
We’ve opted to purchase carbon offsets to neutralize all this carbon. We’re again working with Renewable Choice Energy on this. Last year we purchased Renewable Energy Credits for this offset, but this year we’ve opted for a more direct “carbon offset.” We’ll have more to say about the actual carbon reduction project that we’re funding in the coming weeks. But our aim is to be as transparent as possible about this. We are trying hard to find carbon offsets that are as local to Colorado as possible, but that’s not essential to balance the carbon equation.
Obviously, reducing energy/emissions is the ideal (and we’re trying that through encouraging carpooling, more efficient refrigerator trucks, etc). But there are some emissions that can’t be reduced (flying in from Europe, for example). In those cases, carbon offsets are the only way to neutralize these emissions.
I suppose you could say that people shouldn’t fly all the way to Telluride (or that we shouldn’t hold the festival at all). We’re firmly committed the the belief that the festival is a very worthwhile, meaningful, positive event for a lot of people. An event that can deeply affect people’s lives (including their own sustainability practices). And if you combined that with a thoughtful, open approach to offsetting for many of these emissions (the ones that can’t be “reduced”), I really think we’re doing the right thing. At least in the context of the facts we know today…