Earlier this year, we announced that Basecamp was committing to getting to carbon negative for our cumulative history and moving forward. Today, I want to share an update on that commitment.
Note: I edited this post on Nov 5, 2020 to include the prices paid for all carbon offsets and explain a little more about the 7,000 tCO₂e cumulative carbon footprint following a question from a reader. Thanks!
Basecamp has purchased 7,000 verified carbon credits to offset our first twenty years of business (1999-2019)
By purchasing carbon credits, we financially support projects that sequester additional emissions to compensate for Basecamp’s historical direct and indirect emissions.
Many have written on the promise and perils of carbon credits. I’ll sum it by saying: carbon credits are not a panacea to the climate crisis, but they are part of the path to net zero emissions. As a company, we still have a lot of work to do to chart a viable path to reducing our overall emissions such that we’re only offsetting what we cannot mitigate.
As we researched carbon credits, we used the following core tenets to guide our decision. These tenets build on standard guidelines for high-quality carbon credits, as explained in the helpful Carbon Offset Guide from the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute and the Stockholm Environment Institute, with additional factors in recognition that efforts to reduce carbon emissions do not exist in a vacuum. Environmental sustainability intersects with many other issues, from economic justice to international systems that have long disadvantaged nations that now disproportionately face the negative impacts of climate change.
- Additionality: some assurance that the sequestered and/or avoided carbon emissions are higher than the business-as-usual baseline. For forestry projects for instance, you can look at whether the adjacent land have been converted into farms or commercial timber plots. Or for alternative energy projects, you assess financial feasibility in the absence of carbon credit financing.
- Reasonable Estimation: a carbon credit is 1 tCO₂e sequestered or avoided. To get from a project design and implementation to credits registered and sold, you need data: for instance, about the kinds of trees planted and how much carbon those species sequester at different ages. You also need to account for what happens if something goes wrong: e.g. a wildfire or displacement of emission-generating projects to other areas. There are methodological standards for quantifying carbon credits for different kinds of projects. Each project we’ve purchased carbon credits from meets at least one if not two of those standards.
- Permanence: because the effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are long-term, we also need long-term sequestration of carbon. Biosphere-based projects such as forestry carry higher risk for reasons ranging from wildfires to competing uses of land. That’s why it’s important to consider protections put in place (e.g. conservation easements), buffer supplies, and ongoing monitoring to mitigate the risk.
- Exclusive: we want to make sure we’re buying carbon credits that have not already been claimed by others. Each project we considered works with an official registry that handles the accounting to make sure double-counting doesn’t happen.
- Co-benefits: besides carbon sequestration and/or avoidance, do the projects have other benefits such as preserving or restoring biodiversity? Income generation for the local community?
- Some US presence: the US and other developed nations have contributed far more to the current climate crisis than emerging nations. I felt it was a moral imperative for Basecamp, an American company, to invest in some carbon credits generated from US-based projects as a result.
- Community-centered: how money flows matters. We sought out projects where the majority of the financial benefit from the carbon credits went to the community putting in the work.
- Transparent platforms: some carbon credit projects work directly with small-volume purchasers but others instead rely on middle-layer brokers that connect individual buyers to projects. We evaluated broker platforms on whether they emphasized mitigation first and then offsetting, how they approached teaching their potential customers about carbon credits, and how transparent they were about their finances.
Earlier this year, we calculated our 2019 carbon footprint in detail. We also roughly estimated our cumulative footprint based on key evolutions to the company’s infrastructure and staffing since 1999, rounding up generously to err on the side of over-compensating rather than under-compensating.
To offset Basecamp’s historical emissions from 1999-2019, we purchased credits from the following portfolio of projects:
- 2,500 credits from Klawock Heenya Corporation via Cool Effect (US) for $10.99/credit
The Klawock Heenya Corporation is owned and operated by indigenous Alaskan Natives. The corporation owns land in Alaska, given back by the US government as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Rather than commercially logging the forest on that land, the corporation has created a carbon credit project so that their community can earn a living while stewarding the forest. We purchased these credits via Cool Effect, a nonprofit platform focused on connecting individuals and businesses with high-quality carbon credit projects.
- 2,500 credits from TIST directly (Uganda) for $12/credit
TIST stands for The International Small Group and Tree Planting Program. It’s a program as old as Basecamp: founded in 1999. The program works with self-organized smallholder farmer groups that decide to plant indigenous trees on their land, reforesting otherwise degraded and unused land that was previously logged. Today, over 90,000 smallholder farmers take part in TIST across Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and India, earning income through the carbon credits and the literal fruits of their labor. We directly purchased our carbon credits from TIST as the option was available.
- 2,000 credits from Bhadla Solar Power Plant via GoClimate (India) for $6.33/credit
We wanted to diversify our portfolio of carbon credit projects and investing in more renewable energy infrastructure was an appealing alternative. India has an aggressive renewable energy strategy and the Bhadla Solar Power Plant is a big part of it. The government has taken barren land in an area that’s typically 47℃ (116℉) and begun converting it into the world’s largest solar park. We purchased these credits via GoClimate, a Swedish enterprise that operates with fantastic transparency.
We’ve also invested $100k to permanently sequester 116tCO₂ through Climeworks
Humanity has under a decade to get to net zero emissions and stay within the 1.5°C carbon budget. To stay within our budget, we’ll likely need technologies that don’t yet exist at scale today. Climeworks directly captures carbon dioxide from the air and, in partnership with CarbFix, sequester that CO₂ into stone. What’s particularly appealing about this sort of technology is the much smaller land and water footprint requirement than other sequestration methods. Climeworks has a detailed scale-up roadmap in place, which should eventually lower the cost-per-ton sequestered to ~$100 and make the technology widely attainable. We’re happy to be an early purchaser to help with this work.
Our work and learning continues
Since our public commitment to getting to carbon negative, we’ve continued to connect with other companies and groups that have been doing this work and are at various parts of their journey. I want to give a shout-out to the ClimateAction.tech community. I also want to thank my colleague Elizabeth Gramm for helping vet projects; Stacy Kauk for sharing more about Shopify’s thinking behind carbon credit purchases; Trevor Hinkle and David Mytton for sharing research and thoughts on the carbon footprint of cloud services; and the fine folks at Whole Grain Digital, whom I haven’t had the pleasure of speaking with directly but am a fan of for their Sustainable Web Manifesto and excellent newsletter on digital sustainability.
Here at Basecamp, we still have work to do. While we’ll continue to purchase carbon credits to offset emissions moving forward, mitigation is the more critical part of the work. In 2020, our carbon footprint will be lower than 2019’s. However, that reduction is largely because of the global pandemic, not conscious decisions we’ve made. We’ll need to make those decisions deliberately after a vaccine has been well-distributed and we need to get more granular, reliable data behind our largest emission driver: cloud hosting. As we do the work, we’ll share more updates.