Web 2.0 ways to pay for your eco-sins
Carbon offsetting sites adopt social networking and DIY options.
There are many online calculators for assessing how your lifestyle pollutes the planet; environmental nonprofits sponsor most of them, such as the Earth Day Network's Ecological Footprint Quiz. But learning about the downstream effects of your driving, computing, and shopping can give you guilt to last. Once you feel like the sky is falling, what are you supposed to do about it?
Entrepreneurs bent on spreading sustainability have created Web sites to capitalize on either your guilt, survival instinct, or nobility--whatever the personal motivation may be--by letting you examine the ecological impact of your way of life. Then, you can plunk down matching penance cash to fund clean energy efforts intended to cut down on carbon emissions and combat global warming.
Among the various carbon pay-up plans, Be Green incorporates social networking. This project of Green Mountain Energy lets you set up a personal page to show off your progress. It quizzes you about your use of energy and transportation, draws a chart of your carbon consumption, and then lets you buy certificates that send cash to wind and solar energy or reforesting projects. My chart (above, right) reflects how I've given up my car this year but have indulged in many plane trips. I'm supposed to pay $195 to enter the pearly gates of carbon neutrality. Be Green remains in beta testing, so it's currently short on user profiles.
Offset My Life beta gets a little more specific. Not only does it calculate carbon emissions from your jet-setting, it even adds up how much your coffee-drinking, TV-watching, Web-surfing, and UPS-shipping habits might contribute to climate change. The Web 2.0 angle is its invitation for you to add your own offsets and get a commission when someone pays up (anyone up for a chocolate offset?). A business edition is in the works.
TerraPass was one of the original carbon offsetting services, which have been winning corporate allies, as seen in Travelocity's partnership with the Conservation Fund. Along the same lines, Sustainable Travel seeks to remedy the blight caused by your flight. The Sioux-owned NativeEnergy helps you to finance wind and solar energy services. Conservation International lets you give offset gift cards, such as $10 to make up for a cross-country road trip.