Flying causes global warming. That sucks. But neverthless, we fly sometimes. Conferences, vacations, business trips. So what can we do? Well, here’s a simple rule of thumb:
- Fly as little as possible. Reduce the frequency & distance. Consider train for shorter trips.
- When you do fly, make sure you carbon offset. From wikipedia: “A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere.”
The obvious question then is – HOW do you carbon offset? I was surprised when I dug into it. “Traditional” carbon offsetting (buying emission credits and things like that) seems pretty useless! I couldn’t find any credible evidence that it makes a real difference! Almost like a scam.
So is there another way to carbon offset? Yes! This chart summarizes some of what I’ve learned so far. Read on for details. Got any more suggestions? Add comments. But please quantify.
(see this spreadsheet for the underlying numbers)
At Crisp we recently made a policy decision, unanimously:
- For every flight organized by Crisp, we set aside SEK 100 per passenger-flight-hour to a carbon offset account.
- That carbon offset account is managed by Climate Crisplet – a subset of people in Crisp who are interested in this kind of stuff and make sure the money is spent wisely. We try to maximize ROI in terms of CO2-reduction per money invested.
Why 100kr? Because flying emits about 0.23 tons of CO2eq per passenger hour <ref1, ref2, ref3>. It varies a bit depending on length of flight, speed, height, aircraft model, etc. But 0.23 tons per passenger-hour is a pretty reliable average (including radiative forcing).
CO2eq (Carbon dioxide equivalent) is the official unit of measurement for greenhouse gases. It is a way of aggregating different types of gases (such as CO2, methane, and others) into a single unit. We emit about 50 billion tons of CO2eq per year worldwide, and that’s the key driver of climate change.
So a 4-hour flight results in about 1 ton of greenhouse gas per passenger. We can’t take that specific ton back, it will stay in the atmosphere for many decades. But can we somehow pay to stop a DIFFERENT 1 ton of greenhouse gases from being emitted somewhere else? If so we’re fine right?
I’ve dug deep into this and concluded that yes, we can! And 400kr, if wisely spent, should be more than enough. Hence, 100kr per passenger-hour. We just need to be picky about HOW we spend it.
Our last conference trip involved flying 35 people to Marbella and back (9 hours of flying, there and back). So 315 passenger-hours, or 71 tons of greenhouse gases. Thanks to our carbon offsetting policy, the Climate Crisplet got 31,500kr to do something wise with. After some research we ended up doing this:
- 3150kr (10% of the total) to Flygreenfund. They invest in aviation biofuel. This is jet fuel made from things like recycled frityrolja (how the heck do you translate that…. it’s recycled oil from deep-frying). Their estimate is that about 400kr compensates for 1 hour of flying.
- Impact: about 8 tons (very loose calculation)
- 28350kr (90% of the total) to Trine. They run a crowd funding platform for rental solar installations in sub-saharan Africa. The climate impact is measurable because they can calculate how much less kerosone and diesel needs to be burned when they install solar panels in a village. In this case we invested in Gamba, Zanzibar. Our investment is estimated to give 700 people clean electricity, reduce CO2 emissions by 260 tons, and give Crisp an 5.4% annual rate of return. Triple win! We’ll then reinvest that money to further reduce greenhouse gases.
- Impact: About 260 tons (pretty specific calculation).
So our flight caused an increase of about 70 tons, and our investment will cause a decrease of about 270 tons. That’s a net win of almost 200 tons!
But wait, doesn’t that mean our price tag of 100kr per passenger-hour is too high?
Not really. Because the numbers are approximate. The are different ways of calculating this stuff, and each number comes with an uncertainty. But a 70 ton increase vs 270 tons reduction means we have a lot of margin for error! Even if the reductions were optimistic by a factor 3, we still win!
There’s also another very important factor to keep in mind: investment vs cost. Buying carbon offsets is money gone. You don’t get that back again. Same with things like flygreenfund. Trine, however, is an investment with an expected return (but with some risk of course). That means we are likely to get the money back, so we could invest it again and again! There are other companies offering similar types of services, basically handling the “hey how can I invest money and help the climate while getting a return on investment?” thing. For example Bright Sunday.
So why did we decide to spend 10% of our carbon offset money on Flygreenfund? Their impact is not as easily quantified as Trine, and there is no return on investment. But they are addressing the root cause – fossil fuel emissions from flying! And we want to support that.Our carbon offsetting recommendation
So what’s the moral of this story? Don’t buy traditional carbon offsets? Invest in Trine? No, the learning goes deeper.
- Have a clear and simple policy. In our case: 100kr per passenger-hour, and a team that is entrusted to manage the money.
- Do the math. Stay clear of fluffy things like emission rights, unless someone can show you how it (physically!) causes CO2 reduction. Even when you see specific numbers, find out where those numbers come from. For example, Trine publishes their specific CO2 reduction estimates, but I asked them to walk through the underlying calculation with me (which they did willingly). Note that the climate impact varies quite a lot across their different projects.
- Distinguish between costs and investments. A cost is only justifiable if it has a VERY clear and concrete impact, since that money can’t be reinvested later.
- Trust is everything. Before investing, find out who is handling the money and what their motives are. Or follow in the tracks of someone else who you trust, and who has done the research for you. Feel free to follow us if you like
10 years ago, 2007, me and a few Crisp colleagues embarked on a mission: be best in Sweden at helping companies become agile. We had experienced first-hand the power of agile development, and wanted to use this newfound super-power to help both Crisp and our clients improve. Others joined us and – tadaa! – Agile Crisplet was born (and the concept of crisplets)! That was the year I taught my first Certified ScrumMaster course together with Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum. Since then we’ve co-trained almost 30 courses! About 2-3 times per year. In fact, May 22-23 is our 10 year anniversary (join us at the course in Stockholm!).
Now 10 years has passed since our Agile Crisplet was formed, and I’m happy to see we have achieved more than we ever could have dreamed!
Dispensing with false humility here, we’ve somehow managed to become one of the world leaders in this field! Famous agile and lean experts partner with us. Super well-known product companies, large telecoms and banks, even government organizations, turn to us as first choice for agile guidance and training. Our videos and articles and books have racked up millions of hits, and we are basically overwhelmed with requests to do coaching, write book forewords, do conference talks and workshops, and run training courses. I’ve done almost 30 keynotes in 20+ countries. I’m amazed (and overwhelmed) every time I look at my inbox, I’ve had to hire an assistant just to turn down the 95% of all requests that we simply don’t have capacity to handle.
OK, so now what?
My personal mission has been “Help companies improve”, then it shifted to “Help the Good Guys Win”. I’ve been focusing on companies that have a good culture and build products that make the world a better place – companies like Spotify and LEGO. “Good Guys” in my book.
But I’ve gotten a little bit too comfortable in my role as “Agile Guru” (I don’t really like the term, but so many people call me that so I’ve decided to just accept it). My work started feeling repetitive, like I was doing things out of habit rather than out of passion. And at the same time, I was getting increasingly worried about global warming, especially after a climate change denier took the helm of one of the most powerful countries in the world.
And then it hit me. Shit! I’m solving the wrong problem! Here I am, feeling good about myself for helping cool, successful companies become even more cool and successful. And at the same time, the world is facing an unprecedented disaster, the sixth mass extinction event over the past 500 million years, caused by humans, and I’m doing nothing at all about it (in fact, making it worse by flying all over the place)! We like to take our existence for granted, but the dinosaurs ruled the earth for 160 million years (800 times longer than the human era so far!), and they were wiped in the last extinction event 65 million years ago. How can I look my children in the eyes, while we screw up the planet they are inheriting?
Over the years I’ve built up this wonderful arsenal of problem solving skills, so how about I use it to help solve the right problem instead? I started studying up on global warming, and realized that this really is the world’s biggest and most important problem, anything else seems tiny and insignificant in comparison. Kind of depressing, because what the heck can I do about it, I’m just one guy and a totally newbie on climate stuff.
But then I realized – wait! 10 years ago, I started off as a newbie (well… not an expert at least) on agile, and now my colleagues and I have managed to make a major world-wide impact on how companies work, helped them create more humane work environments, helped them succeed with their projects, helped them build awesome products and organizations. I’ve lost count of the number of people that have said “You changed my life” (for the positive… I think…)! What if we can pull off the same stunt again? A bit optimistic, yes, but worth a try!
We’ve developed a big arsenal of really useful skills – software development, system architecture, viral communication, teaching, facilitation, structured problem solving, community building, and more! AND we’re lucky enough to have some discretionary time and money – most of us don’t have to work full-time just to make a living. So let’s put it to use!
I started looking for solutions. The past two months I’ve been busy. Partnered with experts. Joined a solar energy startup and formed an electricity company. Formed a community – Climate Crisplet (half of Crisp, 20 people, joined almost immediately!). Studied up on CO2 emissions, started blogging about it, and started making an animated video. Found awesome tools like www.electricitymap.org. Invested in solar panels in Africa via Trine, an awesome startup that is trying to eliminate energy poverty (and reducing global warming as a side effect). Supported development of aviation biofuel. I’m basically exploring the solution space!
My biggest insight is that there is hope! The solutions are out there. Electric cars. Solar and wind energy. Mainly, we just have to stop burning oil and coal. And there is no reason for us to do so anymore, not for energy at least, and not from an economic standpoint either (even if we ignore climate impact, which is massive). A lot of very passionate smart people are at work saving the world. Lots of really cool stuff is happening! But it needs to happen faster, A LOT faster.
So that’s my new mission and focus: Help reduce global warming.
And that really translates to help find ways to reduce global CO2 emissions, which right now translates to help promote solar and wind energy and electric cars! And make oil & coal energy obsolete as fast as possible.
I’m definitely not an expert on this, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can. Exploring ways to make a difference, partnering with others who know more, spreading knowledge, and inspiring others to help out. People like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Al Gore are already making a huge difference, but the more people that pitch in the better.
My mantra is every ton counts, because one ton of CO2 is one ton, regardless of where in the world it is reduced. That’s my driving KPI.
Climate Crisplet is a starting point, so join if you are interested! I can’t promise strong leadership, just a gathering point for people that share this interest and are looking for ways to help out and inspire each other.
I have no idea where the journey will lead, but I’m enjoying it so far! After 10 years of being an “expert” it’s very refreshing to get to be a newbie again