As president of HitchSource.com, a company that ships heavy stuff like trailer hitches, bike racks and RV accessories, Ken Whiteman was concerned about the carbon footprint of those shipments.
“I wanted to look for a way to check the impact of what we were doing, and there was no easy way to do it,” said Whiteman. “There was a niche that needed to be filled.”
So Whiteman launched Green Shipping in April. The company's Web site lets businesses and individuals measure and offset the CO2 emissions of packages when using UPS, FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service.
How it works
Green Shipping uses each shipment’s tracking number to determine its route and how it will be transported. It calculates the carbon generated by the shipment. Purchasing a carbon offset, usually just a few pennies per package, turns the shipment “carbon neutral,” with the offset money funding renewable energy.
For example: A pair of hiking boots weighing a pound and a half, shipped from Oregon to Arkansas via UPS second day air, would generate 4.77 pounds of C02 in its 2,338-mile journey. The carbon offset: two cents.
Participating companies pay the offset for all their shipments. Individuals can set up an account to pay the offset for purchases from non-Green Shipping businesses.
The offsets are wind credits, purchased from Bonneville Environmental Foundation, a Portland, Ore., nonprofit. Green Shipping makes its money by buying the wind credits at a bulk discount and selling them at BEF’s retail price.
One early adopter of Green Shipping is David Gee, owner of Oregon Growers & Shippers, who buys offsets for the 20-25 shipments his company makes each day.
“It’s just a few pennies per shipment, that’s a small price to pay and I know it goes to the right people,” said Gee. “I think it’s a start, it is something people should be thinking about."
Like many nebulous environmental topics, carbon offsets can be good, green investments; a virtual way to assuage one’s overzealous consumerism; or scams used to prey on environmental guilt.
“You’re actually buying something that is almost a virtual product, so you have to be careful about the sources you buy from,” said Whiteman.
There are some safeguards to look for when purchasing offsets. BEF is certified by Green-e, an independent certification program for greenhouse gas emission reduction.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is on the lookout for carbon offset scams. Laura DeMartino, assistant director of the FTC’s division of enforcement, said the explosion in eco-friendly businesses needs special attention, especially with such wispy terms as “carbon offset.”
“It’s not like an apple, that you can hold in your hand and say, 'It’s red, it’s crisp.' You can’t verify a carbon offset for yourself,” said DeMartino.
She said consumers should look for a reputable third party “seal of approval,” like those from Green-e. There’s more information in the FTC’s Green Guides.
“We also want to do some education. If people don’t absolutely have to have a package overnight, we want to teach them the greenest way to have their items shipped,” said Whiteman.
Green Shipping is part of a larger project, Green Ventures, that Whiteman started. He’s a serious outdoors guy. His Twitter profile: “Windsurfing and mountain biking addict living the dream in Hood River, Oregon.” With degrees in physics and electrical engineering and years of experience in the semiconductor business, Whiteman used his own money to get GreenShipping up and running.
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