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Spirit’s Carbon-Neutral Journey, Part 1, 2019-2020

Spirit’s Sustainability Program was not fully realized until late 2019 with the hiring of a dedicated Program Manager. As that program took off, we realized that we needed to embody the ambitiously practical sustainability efforts that we advise our clients on regarding carbon emissions reductions. As a result, we ultimately decided to offset our residual emissions with a bulk purchase of high-quality carbon offsets for 2019 and 2020.

As a professional services firm that leases office space, our direct (scope 1) emissions are minimal, consisting of a single fleet truck and some natural gas combustion for heating in the Rocky Mountain Region. We track the mileage and know the fuel efficiency of the fleet truck, and we used our proportionate square footage and the heating use in our building in Denver to calculate the natural gas consumption.

Our emissions associated with purchased electricity (scope 2) are more significant. We worked with building management in our three (3) offices in Austin, Houston, and Denver to get annual electricity information and were able to help them set their buildings up in Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager system. Using our regional electrical grid emissions factor published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for Texas (ERCT subregion) as well as the more specific emissions factor published by our local electric provider in Denver (Xcel Energy), we were able to determine the emissions associated with generating and providing our electricity. Scope 2 emissions are typically offset using Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) on a 1:1 basis on usage in total Megawatt Hours (MWh) of consumption. We decided in this first effort to purchase carbon offsets for our scope 2 emissions using the calculated carbon emissions.

 

For our scope 3 (indirect) emissions, we chose to begin with the ones that seemed meaningful, relatively easy to quantify, and could reasonably fall within our direct influence. This type of a materiality assessment mirrors the process we use for our clients, and resulted in our looking at emissions related to business travel (airline flights, reimbursed mileage, and rental cars) and those incurred by Spirit team members as they commute to and from the office. We chose to offset the business-related travel only for the first two (2) years, but also offered to support our team members in offsetting their commuting emissions by matching any offsets they chose to purchase.

Ultimately, for our 2019 and 2020 emissions (400 metric tons of carbon), we decided to go with a landfill gas capture project . This project was selected for a number of reasons:

  • Familiarity with the project concept (Spirit works with clients that capture methane from landfills) made it comprehensible and accessible across our offices.
  • Due to professional relationships with offset brokers on behalf of clients, we were able to secure favorable pricing.
  • Landfill gas capture focuses on methane capture, either for power and/or heat generation or destruction (flaring), both of which are significantly better than the status quo of direct venting.
  • This technology is cost- and logistically- limited, and we wanted to gain more exposure to better understand where these projects could be installed and potentially identify additional local opportunities.
  • The offsets were registered under the Climate Action Reserve (CAR) standard, one of the major registries.
  • The co-benefits include reducing local air pollutants like Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), reducing safety risk of underground gas migration, creating additional employment in a rural area, and providing more renewable energy for the local electricity grid.
  • The basic concept of a metric ton of carbon emitted being offset by a metric ton of carbon not emitted made logical sense, even in the case of scope 2 emissions.

For our first foray into the carbon emissions offset market on behalf of the company, Spirit followed the type of ambitiously practical approach we advocate for to our clients. Following the science, looking for strong value, and selecting a familiar and impactful project type enabled greater communication internally and messaging externally.

For our 2021 offsets, we were able to take a more nuanced and complex approach, which we will share in Part 2 of this series.

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