Carbon neutrality can help save planet / by Brian Kossen

Rhonda Goyke on how taking steps toward carbon neutrality can help save the planet

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow's call to leave a lasting contribution has always had a nice, easy ring to it, which explains its popularity as a piece of familiar verse.

However in today's world, with the very real fears of global warming and the disastrous effect it is having on the planet, we need to turn these lines around. If we really want to leave a fitting legacy for those who come after us, if we really want to mark our presence on this planet, we need to be sure that we do everything we can to reduce and soften our footprint.

And that is exactly what drove our modest team at Green Sand Inc. to strive and achieve carbon-neutral status — neutralizing the effect of our greenhouse gas emissions so that our company's operations no longer contribute to global warming.

We'd like to share our personal experience in doing what we could as a company to offset and reduce carbon emissions in the hope that others will consider taking the same journey toward neutralizing the negative impact of their activities on the environment.

The first step is making the commitment to go carbon neutral. Most people postpone this decision because they think it is difficult and time consuming. But, I would encourage even non-believers to get onboard. Carbon-neutral programs support reforestation and the development of renewable energy, and that's good news for our over-burdened planet.

The second step is action. It sounds technical but it isn't that difficult. Don't worry. A lot of the work has already been done for you, and there are several providers that will help set you on the path to carbon neutrality. Our research showed that Car was the best partner for a firm our size and was affordable. But your needs may be different and may require a different provider.

I would encourage using a program that is audited. Any one of the other organizations we short-listed and researched may be right for you, and we will be happy to share that research with you.

Third, it is important to understand that whatever you do must be something that would not otherwise have been done to help reduce carbon emissions or release renewable energy for wider distribution. There are systems in place to measure your organization's CO2 emissions, including calculating the impact of any air travel you do, cans of soda you consume, your use of air-conditioning and lighting, the paperwork you generate and more.

In addition to reducing your energy usage, there are ways to take personal responsibility to offset carbon emissions caused by your daily activities, such as the elecriticy needed to run your household or business. You can take this personal repsonsibility through offsets to to neutralize the impact of what you do — and doing so puts you on a path to carbon neutrality.

Hard offsets are outright payments, such as for the installation of a solar photovoltaic panel. They are independently monitored and cannot be resold so that someone else also claims credit for it.

Soft offsets are financial contributions you choose to make that help underwrite a broad, less trackable but no less real effort to reduce carbon emissions through education or social activism or group and neighborhood activity. You will be making a significant contribution to reducing carbon emissions if you help shape legislation or spearhead the adoption of environmentally friendly practices in this way. The impact may be far greater than that of your hard offsets but they are considered soft simply because they cannot be easily measured.

This article is a good example of a soft offset. We hope that it will trigger a chain reaction of efforts by others to achieve carbon neutrality in ways that we may never hear about. Or maybe we will. Because we'd be happy to help anyone interested in doing what we did to achieve carbon neutrality. We know, as we hope you will, too, that in doing so we can work together to leave smaller footprints in the sand.

Rhonda Goyke is vice president and co-owner of Green Sand Inc., a Honolulu-based architecture firm that combines the practice of architecture with environmental counsel and design. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.