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Yahoo! Goes Carbon Neutral

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Back in April, Yahoo! announced that it will be going carbon neutral in 2007, and pledged to be entirely transparent about the process. They acknowledged the controversy around offsets:

We know carbon neutrality isn't without controversy. And it's honestly deserved if companies and individuals don't first make an effort to find direct ways to reduce their impact. We'll continue to be vigilant about cutting ours, looking for creative ways to power our facilities, encourage even more employees to seek alternative commutes, and generally inspire Yahoos around the world to think differently about their energy use. ... We'll also be deliberate about investing in offset projects that can verifiably deliver their expected environmental benefits.

Last night, the company announced the investments that would bring it to carbon neutrality for 2006:

After much due diligence, Yahoo! has decided to offset its 250 thousand metric ton carbon footprint from 2006 through hydropower in rural Brazil and wind turbines in India. We've partnered with EcoSecurities and CantorCO2e, who helped us source, vet, and execute these projects.

(The hydropower project is of the eco-friendly run-of-river sort, not a huge dam.)

These sound like great choices -- I can't imagine even the grinchiest offset critic taking issue with them. But one aspect of the story struck me as somewhat remarkable.

When I talked to Chris Page, Yahoo!'s director of climate and energy strategy, she told me the total investment to offset a year's emissions was $2 million. Two million! I mean, that ain't nothing, but it really isn't all that much for a company with revenue of $6.7 billion in 2007. Hell, it probably cost 10 times that to get Flickr. It turns out Yahoo! doesn't emit all that much CO2, so it's not all that expensive to offset it.

On the bright side, going carbon neutral was fairly cheap for Yahoo! On the other hand, it's cheapness demonstrates that it's not doing a hell of a lot of good beyond the symbolism of it.

So why not maximize the symbolism? Why shouldn't Yahoo! make its entire history carbon neutral? Why not make its partners carbon neutral? Why not go carbon negative? Why not offer carbon neutrality to the most loyal customers?

If it's not Yahoo!, it will be Google or some other company come along to do it first. If the $2 million is any indication, such feats wouldn't be all that expensive, and they would be enormous public relations coups.

Time to start thinking big!