Carbonal Indulgences?

Courtney Miller

Confession: For most of the past year, I haven’t been commuting by bike.

Without context, this may not seem like a horrible sin – it’s been a wet winter, so I get a pass there. And plenty of people don’t bike to work, especially in elevationally challenged towns like Asheville. Considering that my business brand is built around biking, however, it feels a bit scandalous.

The primary reason for choosing to drive is an unexpected move last winter combined with a basic self-preservation instinct – a desire not to risk my life on the shoulderless, blind curves of Beaverdam Road. So to relieve my conscience and stay true to my brand – “The greener way to keep clean!” – I’ve ramped up an alternative approach to keeping my business extra-eco-friendly: carbon offsets.

For the uninitiated, carbon offsetting is a way for people to “offset” their carbon footprint by donating money to companies that specialize in projects that reduce carbon emissions (wind energy, e.g.). Many companies exist, some more trustworthy and effective than others. After much research, I chose a company called TerraPass – partly because they’re verified by an independent nonprofit, partly because I like their projects, and partly because they choose projects within the United States. This last piece was the selling point for me. Many companies choose projects in third-world countries; considering that the U.S. rivals China for the title of “Worst Carbon Polluter,” it’s important for me to support change at home. Plus, it has the added benefit of helping with unemployment issues.

So, I monitor my mileage for the year and pay a small fee to TerraPass to offset the carbon use accrued from driving. That money is then funneled into projects that produce renewable energy – primarily wind turbines and dairy farm methane digesters – and projects that directly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like landfill gas capture.

The primary criticism of carbon offsetting is its potential for abuse – it allows people to get away with environmentally unhealthy behavior instead of incentivizing change. This is a largely individual issue, however. Some individuals indeed do everything in their power to change their behavior and use carbon offsetting as an added contribution to their preexisting environmental values and actions. If Beaverdam had a bike lane, I’d ride. Even those who do abuse the system, however, have a beneficial effect – their carbon use is offset; they’re contributing to environmental projects. The only people fairly considered problematic are those who both fail to change their behavior and fail to purchase offsets.


As a side note, my business’ reliance on carbon offsets is hopefully only temporary. I’ll be relocating out-of-state this summer and would like to sell my business. Ideally, a new owner would continue the bike-commuting aspect of 2 Wheels and a Mop. If you’re interested, or know someone who might be, contact me at