For the first time in our company’s five year history, we are reporting on our greenhouse gas emissions and have offset them completely for carbon neutrality. This report documents our best understanding of our environmental impact during 2016.
In celebration of Earth Day, we’ve taken a new step this year and conducted an environmental impact report for Alpine Labs, as well as offset our greenhouse emissions so that we are fully carbon neutral. Though very few companies of our size take account of their emissions or report them, we feel that it's the right thing to do.
We founded Alpine Labs out of a desire to allow photographers to better capture the people, places and things that we love. For us, that very much includes the outdoors and wild places like Yosemite. Acting in an sustainable way means being knowledgeable and transparent about our impact. We hope that this report inspires other companies and the community to question and reflect on their own impact and what they can do about it.
We do our best to create photography gear of lasting value that improves people’s lives. The better your gear, the less you need. Throughout our design process our ethos is to reduce waste and increase efficiency. As such we rely on product designs and production tools that accomplish this. Especially being a hardware company, we are proud of how small our 2016 impact was.
From production to end user, we account for all greenhouse gas emissions and aggregate them into six main categories. While we have relatively high certainty for some categories such as employee commute, others like product manufacturing have significant uncertainties. To error against underestimating we used independent calculation methods and reported the highest estimates. Given that approach, we've likely overestimated our emissions in several categories.
In total, we were responsible for just over 250 metric tonnes of CO2e (the standard unit for greenhouse gas emissions that also takes into account methane and nitrous oxide emissions). That equates to the emissions from 27 houses over the course of a year, or burning the coal carried in one and a half train cars.
Approximately half of our emissions result from manufacturing our products in China. From an environmental perspective we do not have much control or insight into our supply chain. However, we do have direct control over the design and engineering of our products. Through careful industrial design and design for manufacturing we minimized and nearly eradicated all waste associated with the production of our plastic and electronic components.
Considering that we send our products to users in over 90 countries around the world, we're excited about the efficiency of our shipping. Seemingly small things add up when you do them tens of thousands of times - like working with UPS and our warehouse to design packaging that is lightweight, fits their ideal transport characteristics, and is plastic free and recyclable. We also incentivize against speedy air transport, which is inherently emissions intensive, by offering free standard shipping on most orders.
In early 2016 our team grew considerably and we moved into a shared office building. Previously we were in a smaller and less energy intensive space. Additionally, we consolidated our engineering, design, marketing and customer support operations to Boulder, CO after also operating in San Diego, CA. Notably, the electricity use in San Diego, CA was neither additional nor large so we do not account for it.
Being outside is part of our DNA and is what drives us on the weekends. When we needed a larger office in early 2016 we were careful to select a location that doesn't require a car. Everyday we walk to lunch and half of us either bike or walk to work.
By consolidating offices we reduced our business travel between San Diego and Boulder. To minimize our flights to China to oversee manufacturing, we book longer trips when we do fly, and work with trusted partners who require less hands-on oversight.
For the first time ever, we are carbon neutral! We worked with Natural Capital Partners, a world leader in protecting biodiversity and reducing emissions to prevent greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere. Through purchasing offsets we counteracted our emissions and supported projects with social and economic co-benefits.
We supported two projects: one in rural China to match our manufacturing efforts there and another in New York to offset our US operations. In New York, the Seneca Meadows Landfill Project is capturing methane, that otherwise would be released into the atmosphere, and turns it into natural gas to power nearby homes. These offsets also support wetland conservation in the areas surrounding the landfill and the creation of more than 140 construction and energy jobs.
In China we directed our support to the Danjiang River Project where low income and rural families commonly cook with coal-fired stoves. Our support funds the distribution of solar-powered stoves, which hugely improve both indoor air quality and the families health and allows them to save about 10% of their annual income that is otherwise spent on coal.
Overview for six categories:
We omit product use, which even by conservative estimates would have the least emissions of our categories.
We use 2009 Defra factors which are based on the cost of manufacturing various components. While we do have quantity data for parts and materials our understanding is that Defra protocols are of higher accuracy for companies of our size with largely unknown supply chains.
For all shipping related emissions we calculated emissions using 2009 Defra, 2015 EPA and multiple 2015 World Resources Institute GHG protocols. For both downstream domestic transportation and distribution as well as downstream international transportation and distribution (reported as shipping to customer) we report Defra values as they are the highest. For upstream transportation and distribution (reported as shipping to warehouse) we report estimates derived from EPA emission factors which rely on tonne-miles.
We do not have office energy use data for our unique operations and assume that we use 20% of our building’s electricity. From this assumption, we arrived at an emissions estimate based on 2015 EPA electricity factors. We independently calculated office emissions based on 2012 US Energy Information Administration office electricity use averages and arrived at an estimate within error of the former (and slightly larger) estimate.
Given our team size, we can be detailed and precise in our travel assumptions. We base emission factors on the 2015 EPA protocols for gasoline use by vehicle year.
We calculated emissions using 2015 EPA protocols in conjunction with air passenger miles for long and medium haul flights, where appropriate.