A couple months ago I had an idea that I’ve wanted to socialize since, but had only taken to doing so behind the scenes. Things being as they are, I’ve had little time to really advance this cause further, other than push it on a few friends who, so far, have reacted quite positively.
Prompted by Jeremy Zawodny’s post about Yahoo going carbon neutral and in support of Chris Baskind’s month-long effort to get high quality environmental links added to his Lighter Footstep group, I thought I’d finally write this up to see if it draws any interest.
The idea is rather simple and requires but one piece of support infrastructure that fortunately my fellow citizen coworker Ivan Storck is already hard at work on (more about that later).
So what’s the idea? Well, quite simply, it’s a web service that you use to offset the carbon footprint of your customers using your app. This would be mostly beneficial for larger services, but it’s my belief that every little bits counts!
For freemium services like Basecamp WordPress and Last.fm, providing an option for paying members to add $1/month to their bill in order to offset their use of your web service is where it begins. In exchange for this contribution, they would get a special distinction within the community, like a green avatar or badge to denote their carbon neutral status:
Now, this might seem like a trivial incentive, but then you might also be surprised to learn that the number one reason that people pay to upgrade their Flickr accounts is not because they need more storage or unlimited uploads, but instead because they want that tiny little PRO label next to their name. Offering a similar incentive on social networks — and making “offsetting cool” becomes a way to propagate this behavior, ultimately working towards completely offsetting the entirety of Web 2.0.
Now, those of you who have read up on carbon offsetting or know anything about the power that servers draw will quickly be able to recognize that $1 month to offset a single user account is going overboard, given that it technically only costs a few cents per month to power most people’s individual use of social networking sites. And while you wouldn’t be wrong, you’ve hit on an interesting social component of this campaign: those who want to offset can do so, and in doing so, won’t just be offsetting their footprint, but some their neighbors as well, in an act straight out of Caterina Fake’s culture of generosity. So it’s not so much about offsetting one’s personal use, but on offsetting at a social level — and that this good deed is reflected a user’s avatar or badge means that anyone can effectively “upgrade” themselves to carbon neutral status — once they get annoyed that all their friends have “leveled up” and they haven’t. Meanwhile, those who have upgraded as a proactive choice can feel reassured that their influence is affecting those around them to make similar decisions, even if for different reasons — in the end, the result doubleplusgood.
So, about that API that I mentioned. It’s important to realize that 1) we’re in the early stages of carbon offsetting and the 2) not all carbon offsetting funds are created equal (this is something I’m becoming evermore familiar with as we move to certify Citizen Space as a green office). Therefore, Ivan (who I mentioned and who also runs Sustainable Marketing and Sustainable Websites) has begun work on an API that will allow companies to purchase carbon offsets in bulk based on the actual amount of power consumed in something like a server farm evnironment (where power measurements are fairly easy to come by). Once initiated, the purchase will likely take place through one of Ivan’s affiliates based here in San Francisco called 3 Phases. In any case, we’re in the beginning phases of making this happen, but if you’re interested in helping or in offsetting your customers’ usage, leave a comment or drop me a note and we’ll see if we can’t push this work forward.
Likewise, if you can think of other ways to minimize the environmental footprint of your webservice or web office, blog about it and let others know! We’re doing what we can to create green coworking spaces and the more success stories we come across, the better.