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Carbon dashboards--the latest bean counter's tool

What are those offsets worth? Canadian outfit Carbon Networks develops service for measuring financial impact of carbon-reduction programs.

Carbon counting, it seems, is a growth business.

Carbonetworks, from Victoria, British Columbia, has developed software that gives companies a way to make financial decisions around their carbon emissions. It's one of several organizations sprouting up and looking to build a business or derive revenue from regulatory limits on carbon.

Although North America does not yet have regulations that cap greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, companies are already keeping track of their emissions, said CEO Michael Meehan, who started Carbonetworks in early 2006.

Even after doing an inventory, though, companies don't have a unified way of managing that information, he said.

Carbonetworks' software lets people bring their inventory information from different sources, such as environmental, health and safety applications, into one place and make decisions on how to reduce it.

A company could purchase renewable energy credits, which are meant to promote clean energy projects, invest directly in a clean energy project, or undergo an energy-efficiency program. The software gives people a way to compare the financial impact among different types of projects, Meehan said.

The company also acts as a broker between providers and buyers of offsets, including renewable energy credits (REC), which are the green attributes of electricity generation.

Needless to say, accurate information on carbon emissions and offsets is increasingly important.

There are already local carbon-capping regimes being put in place in North America. At the federal level, there are a number of laws now in the works.

Corporations who aren't from typical "smokestack" industries, like power generation, oil, gas, or heavy manufacturing, take emissions seriously.

Yahoo, for example, on Monday detailed two projects it invested in--a hydroelectric plant in Brazil and wind turbines in rural India. It's part of its plan to be a carbon-neutral company.

At the same time, there is a growing scrutiny of carbon-offsetting practices. A BusinessWeek article published on Friday profiled an environmental officer at Aspen Skiing Company who is moving away from renewable energy credits because of doubts over their effectiveness. Voluntary carbon offsets for individuals have also faced the same sort of scrutiny.

Meehan said Carbonetworks works with verification companies on offset projects. At times internal projects prove more beneficial than purchasing carbon credits, he said.