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.
Why are we doing this?
Though very few companies of our size take account of their emissions or report them, we feel that it’s right for us to do so.
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 environmentally responsible way means being knowledgeable and transparent about our impact - two things that are not dependent on size.
Throughout our blog posts and updates we try to give a behind the scenes look at how things are made. We hope that this report is equally insightful and ultimately inspires our peer companies and community to question and be open about their impact.
We do our best to create photography gear of lasting value that improves people’s lives. Throughout our design process our ethos is to reduce waste and increase efficiency. As such we rely on product designs and production tools that minimize waste. The reality is, however, that all goods and services have an impact, especially electronics. While the following numbers pale in comparison to those by most companies who take account of their emissions, they are nonetheless present and a reminder that stuff has an impact, no matter how small it is.
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 mitigate against underestimating we have used multiple and independent calculation methods and we reported the highest estimates. As such, we have likely overestimated our impact 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 the manufacturing of our products. Most of our raw materials and parts were sourced from China or the Asia region, as that is where most electronics components are produced. 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 have minimized and nearly eradicated all waste associated with the production of our plastic and electronic components.
Despite the emissions that result from shipping from China to the USA, overseas manufacturing is holistically favorable because of the combination of quality, speed, efficiency and cost. Manufactured products were shipped to the USA by airplane which is inherently emissions intensive. We rely on speedy freight travel since we manufacture in small, bulk batches. The less emissions intensive transit option of water travel is therefore not a viable alternative for us. Transport mode aside, we designed our products and packaging to be as weight-efficient as possible. For shipping to individual users, the resulting emissions vary by mode of transport with orders from outside the USA generally being more emissions intensive.
Our team grew considerably in early 2016 and we moved into a shared office building. Previously we were in a smaller and less energy intensive space. Additionally, in 2016 we consolidated our engineering, design, marketing and customer support operations to Boulder, CO. Previously, we were operating from both Boulder and 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. It also means that on the weekdays half of us either bike or walk to work. When we needed a larger office in early 2016 we were careful to select a location which supports biking and walking to work, as well as to lunch.
The biggest reduction in our business travel has resulted from our geographical consolidation and less flights between San Diego and Boulder. However, these avoided emissions are small relative to our flights to China to oversee manufacturing. We are careful to minimize these flights by booking longer trips when we do fly, and working with trusted partners who require less hands-on oversight.
For the first time ever, we chose to offset our emissions and are carbon neutral company. We worked with Natural Capital Partners, a world leader in protecting biodiversity and reducing emissions, to verifiably and permanently eliminate emissions that would have otherwise occurred without our support.
We directed our support to the Danjiang River region in China, where low income and rural families commonly cook with coal-fired stoves. Using coal is both detrimental to the environment and the health of women and children who are affected by the indoor air pollution from cooking. Our support funds the distribution of solar-powered stoves, which reduce emissions, improve local health and allow families to save about 10% of their annual income that they otherwise would have spent on coal for cooking.
We chose this project since about half of our emissions stem from operations in China. Additionally, we wanted to support a project that focused on emissions along with social and economic co-benefits. Through this approach we feel that we are offsetting our impact for good, in a way that touches on more than the environment.
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.