Consumers and companies step up to reduce their carbon footprint

Ryan Sheridan

Walmart joins others buying local produce

If you’ve flown in an airplane within the last few years, chances are you were given an opportunity to buy a carbon offset.

As a voluntary tax-deductible contribution, buying a carbon offset is like paying back the environment for all the carbon dioxide — a harmful greenhouse gas — your plane ride lets out into the atmosphere. The donation is given to an organization like Sustainable Travel International, which uses the money to fund reforestation and renewable energy projects.

Carbon offsetting has become a trend among the world’s largest companies, whose services emit unnatural, large amounts of greenhouse gases.

“Because these gases are naturally found in the atmosphere and environment, I wouldn’t say they are bad,” assistant geography professor Emariana Taylor said. “The issue is the scale and magnitude of greenhouse gases found in the atmosphere relative to Earth’s ability to absorb and diffuse them.”

The end result means higher temperatures on the Earth’s surface, which is harmful to humans, Taylor said.

“These warmer temperatures in turn potentially lead to a variety of cascading changes through all Earth systems,” she said, “many of which may not be beneficial to human beings, such as expanding habitats for disease vectors and reducing habitable or arable land areas.”

Along with major airline companies reducing their carbon footprint, perhaps most surprisingly is Walmart. In an attempt to compete with Whole Foods, a national grocery chain that sells organic and locally produced food, Walmart has recently changed the way some of its stores receive produce.

As part of a program called Heritage Agriculture, Walmart’s warehouses will take in and sell crops from local farmers who can deliver them within one day. It reduces the need for big semi-trucks, which take several days to deliver crops from California and Florida.


Assistant geography professor Emariana Taylor offers some quick and easy ways you can reduce your carbon footprint:

° Increase your use of compact fluorescent light bulbs

° Move away from plastic bags — charging a surcharge for bags

° Try and use a wider variety of “green” consumer goods — from recycled post-consumer goods like toilet paper and greeting cards to hybrid vehicles

° Be aware of the impact of plastic bottles — especially the ubiquitous water bottles — and encourage your friends and family to buy and reuse their own decorative water bottles

° When dining out, use cardboard rather than Styrofoam to-go containers. Bringing your own container is even better.

° Increase your use of digital media (paying bills online and using e-mail) and move away from paper.

“Walmart says it wants to revive local economies and communities that lost out when agriculture became centralized in large states,” wrote Corby Kummer, who reported on the program for The Atlantic. “It’s not something you expect from Walmart, which is better known for destroying local economies than for rebuilding them.”

Since the 1980s, the federal government has also stepped up, putting into place steps to reduce a company’s carbon footprint with a mandate called cap and trade.

Cap and trade puts “caps,” or limits, on how much a company’s factory is allowed to emit. If the factory exceeds its pollution limit, it buys, or “trades,” with a company that emits less pollution. In short, it’s a reward for the companies with the least emissions.

“I think carbon cap and trade is a good idea, in that it represents a win-win solution between development and environmentalism,” Taylor said. “Capping emissions increases both awareness and efficiency, thereby driving innovation and technological progress.”

Taylor emphasized the importance for companies and consumers to think about and try to reduce their carbon footprint.

“Given the potential negative consequences of warming to humans, it makes sense to find sustainable ways to support development,” she said. “At the same time, we should try to reduce our environmental footprint in an effort to sustain Earth. It is our only home.”

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