Indulgences redux: are carbon offsets becoming a corporate figleaf?

3PAR.gifJoel Makower surveys the recent rush of carbon neutral announcements and raises an eyebrow over a trend he finds troubling on a number of levels.

Several of his concerns fall into the real-but-addressable category: sloppy application of the term “carbon neutral”; a lack of clear quality guidelines for carbon offset vendors; etc. But further down we get to his real concern:

[C]arbon neutrality could be seen as a cover-up for real action. As such, there would be a backlash against companies making carbon-neutral claims without having taken the appropriate precursory steps to maximize their energy efficiency and use the highest percentage possible of energy derived from clean, renewable resources.

This is an entirely reasonable concern. No one would be particularly impressed with a company that bought offsets to balance out grossly inefficient practices. It’s the Hummer-and-a-TerraPass scenario all over again, except a bit more plausible.

Fortunately, we have reason to believe that corporations, in this regard at least, are behaving like individual purchasers of carbon offsets. A company that makes an offset purchase is a company that is aware of and concerned about its ecological footprint, and actively seeking tangible ways to reduce it.

A great, if low-profile, example of this is 3PAR, another partner of TerraPass’. 3PAR is in the sexy, sexy business of provisioning data storage for corporate customers. They’re a David to EMC’s Goliath, and one of the ways they’ve sought to differentiate themselves is by offering a greener solution. (EMC stands for “emit more carbon,” says 3PAR CEO David Scott. There’s a great “your mama” joke in there somewhere, I just know it.)

The core of 3PAR’s strategy is its Thin Provisioning technology, which allows customers to squeeze more usage out of fewer machines. More efficient data storage means less energy wasted. And you’d be amazed just how much energy data centers use. The internet may feel ethereal, but it’s actual an energy hog, powered mostly by coal.

With Thin Provisioning, 3PAR is already doing a good turn for the environment and for its customers. Through the partnership with TerraPass, 3PAR is going a step further and making every terabyte of Thin Provisioning capacity sold in 2007 carbon neutral.

The program only applies to 3PAR Thin Provisioning capacity. It represents the sort of marriage between real-world efficiency and carbon offsets that should keep Joel Makower happy.

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  1. Aaron A. - January 29, 2007

    This sort of thing happens all the time. A term gets trendy, and companies find ways to just barely comply with the rules. Take “free range” chickens, for example. A free range bird needs only to have access to the outdoors; for all we know, that could mean a two-square-inch window in the side of the standard cramped chicken cage.

    On the plus side, I think that the faux neutrality concern acknowledges that carbon emissions are an important issue, and that it weighs on consumers’ minds. Big Business thinks that buyers will insist on carbon-neutral products, and they want to be a part of it. At first, some companies will try to simply buy offsets, rather than dealing with their own emissions. Over time, those companies will be singled out on the 5:00 news, publicly shamed for their lack of concern, and a few weeks later they’ll hold a press conference to announce broad new clean-air initiatives. Within a few years, businesses will be as proud of their carbon footprint as they are of their recycling programs today.