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Carbon offsets as an employee benefit

January 6, 2023
Article

How Sustain.Life offsets the personal emissions of its employees.

At Sustain.Life, we help businesses measure and manage their climate impact and operate more sustainably every day, so it should be no surprise that our team is also passionate about sustainability in their personal lives. In chat threads, we swap tips about food waste, talk about the benefits of heat pumps, wax poetic about renewable energy, and discuss new ways to live more sustainably.  

When we started Sustain.Life, we wanted to integrate sustainability into all disciplines and the fabric of our company culture, including the benefits for our team. To help foster and support employees in their sustainability pursuits, we offer a couple of sustainable employee benefits:

• A sustainable purchase stipend – Each team member can use this to fund personal purchases that help them make a meaningful environmental impact at home. Employees can, for example, put this toward the purchase of carbon-free transit like bikes and bike share memberships, solar panels, reusable diaper services, and home improvement technology like smart thermostats, tankless water heaters, etc.

• Personal emissions offsets – To extend our positive impact beyond the boundaries of our corporate footprint, which includes greenhouse gas emissions from our remote workforce, we wanted to neutralize our employees’ carbon impact outside of work-related activities. That’s why, in addition to offsetting business-related carbon emissions, we also offset our employees’ personal carbon emissions.  

Our reasoning for offsetting personal emissions

Initially, we considered offsetting employees’ home office-related emissions. But rather than trying to figure out exactly where each set of emissions belonged (is the landfill-bound waste from your groceries related to your personal life or your workday lunch?), we decided to offset all of our employees’ personal emissions. The personal carbon offset program aligns with our commitments and bridges the gap between a workplace perk and personal benefits like subsidized gym memberships.

For Sustain.Life, it’s essential that all our employees are carbon literate, and we want to provide the tools to foster that engagement.  

We ask employees to use Sustain.Life’s free personal emissions calculator to calculate their home emissions at the end of each year. The tool starts you off with a benchmark based on households of a similar size.

Personal emissions survey

From there, you add data about utilities, waste, vehicles, flights, and public transit, plus what you buy—food, consumables, and other services. (Little known fact: “Purchased goods and services” is the highest emitting category, which shows just how critical our consumption habits are.)

From there, we tally everyone’s carbon footprint and offset those along with our corporate emissions. It’s a benefit that’s both meaningful to our employees and allows us to take a stance when it comes to extending beyond our corporate footprint.  

In 2022, though we went from 23 employees to over 40, our total personal emissions came in at 333.4 MT CO2e (notably higher per employee than the previous year, mainly due to travel opening back up). It’s worth noting that we purchase high-quality, verified carbon offsets through our partner, Patch, and budget accordingly, given the expectation that the cost for quality offsets will increase.

We’re excited to continue to see the range of emissions reduction efforts employees take on—from switching to electric vehicles to removing oil heaters in favor of electric to many passionate home composters. Our cumulative personal emissions number will continue to grow as we add team members, but our goal is to reduce our emissions intensity (emissions per employee) as we continue to seek more sustainable lifestyles.

How we do our own carbon accounting

On the business side, we track our monthly emissions using our own carbon accounting software. Each month, we ask a different team member to do the calculations so we can experience what our clients do. In 2022, our corporate emissions total was 522.78 MT CO2e, with purchased goods and services comprising a large portion of that metric.

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Our philosophy: Mitigation before offsets

It’s important to emphasize that as a business, we take our own advice and prioritize emissions reduction above all else—we take every step to reduce emissions before we offset them. This happens primarily through scope 3 reductions (where 100% of our carbon footprint lies given our remote workforce).

Because Sustain.Life is a fully remote digital business, our emissions come from the digital services and products we use to support our platform. This data is notoriously difficult to obtain, especially for a company of our size. We continuously engage vendors for emissions data and prioritize those aligned with our sustainability values. The rest of our footprint comes from our people—both the energy consumed in remote work environments and business travel. To actively address these, we maintain policies to purchase energy-efficient equipment with ENERGY STAR and EPEAT ratings and minimize travel whenever possible in favor of virtual client meetings and team events.

At the end of the day, it’s next to impossible to live a completely carbon-free lifestyle or operate a business with zero emissions. While we work toward a future with zero carbon options for flights, servers, and much more, we look for ways to operate more efficiently and carefully select high-quality, verified offsets to neutralize emissions we cannot yet eliminate.

Editorial statement
At Sustain.Life, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Written by practitioners and experts, articles are grounded in research and experience-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by our team of sustainability professionals to ensure content is accurate and aligns with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.
Author
Annalee Bloomfield
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The takeaway

Companies can extend their positive impact beyond the boundaries of their corporate carbon footprint by neutralizing their employees’ personal carbon emissions.