Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Carbon Offset Program for Shipping

uShip, the largest online transportation services marketplace, and TerraPass are working together on a new service, the TerraPass Certified Provider Program.

The program enables uShip service providers to balance out the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the shipment of goods by funding clean energy and efficiency projects. uShip calculates the monthly carbon footprint of service providers enrolled in the program using the weight and distance of shipments booked on uShip. These emissions are then balanced by TerraPass through domestic wind farms, biomethane projects, and energy efficiency projects.
I like it. At Christmas time, I was wondering how much fuel I was using and how much carbon dioxide I was emitting by shipping gifts throughout the country. With data from this service I can finally estimate its impact.

Their new service costs .031781 cents per ton/mile (seems a little exact to me, we aren't splitting the atom here people). A 500lb shipment going 1000 miles would cost $.08. TerraPass offsets for about $8 a ton of carbon dioxide (see roundup of offsetting prices from various companies). At $8 a ton of CO2 this works out to .08 lbs of co2 per ton mile.

I am not sure how they came to this number or what their underlying assumptions were. In terms of fuel use, at 20 lbs of CO2 per gallon of gasoline their price would come to 0.004 gallons of fuel per ton mile. Their estimate for fuel use is low compared to previous data I have looked at for semi-trucks that put it at 117,000 lb mile/gallon or .0086 gallons per ton mile.

I would guess they are just offsetting the fuel use for an eighteen wheeler and are ignoring the energy needed to manufacture the truck and any back office energy expenditures the companies have. I also don't know what they assume for the average load percentage of the truck or average amount of weight that it carries.

I was thinking it would be nice to have an option to offset your carbon when using UPS or USPS, but after looking at the numbers it seems so trivial it isn't even worth it. If I am shipping a 2lb package for 1000 miles, this would work out to .03 cents (that is cents not dollars). As I just wrote about, fuel makes up only 4.8% of UPS's costs. At $2 a gallon of fuel, offsetting comes to $.08 a gallon or 4% of fuel costs. 4% of 4.8% is .2%, so UPS could offset all their carbon for just an extra expense of .2% which is hardly nothing (well it is still $80 million which some people would still consider something but they are obviously small thinkers so you can safely ignore them).

I was wondering how much oil it takes to deliver my Netflix movies. Looks like not much. I was also curious about the impact of ebay renting. Even if you are shipping a 4 lbs package across country (2,500 miles), you are still using only .02 gallons (5 tablespoons if my math is correct) of fuel.

And how about offsetting all of the non-local food I buy at the supermarket? When I looked at this before, I figured I purchased 20 lbs of food a week, so lets call it 1000 lbs a year. The average food product goes 1500 miles (I think this really means it all comes from California, so you can adjust accordingly, but I digress). That gives me 1/2 ton * 1500 miles = 750 ton miles * .031781 =$.23. Just one quarter to offset my purchases for an entire year? Once again I come to the conclusion that buying local food to reduce fossil fuel usage is completely overrated.

via Green Car Congress


Anonymous said...

You can check on CShip.eu a good article (including all references articles) on how CO2 emissions are computed for shipping.

Fat Knowledge said...


Thanks for the info. Direct link to cship.eu carbon shipping calculator.

Den said...

Hi. Great blog! UShip is not that good. I did not get my delivery timely single time. It came 2-3 days later. Fortunately they manage not to damage the merchandise in the delivery. I read a lot of other reports about the company on this great site www.pissedconsumer.com. You can share your bitter experience there

Fat Knowledge said...

Den, good to know. I guess I will steer clear of them.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to disagree. If everybody says it's trivial and not worth offseting one's carbon footprint, we all will fry soon. If you don't want to split atom, you can offset your entire life style, the car, house electricity, travel by plane. Doesn't have to be exact, just do something for your kids, leave them the planet the way youe grandparents left it for you. There are websites selling carbon offsets. Just google carbo offsets.

One example of thinking it's trivial and not worth it from Jim Harris:
Four billion power supplies are sold annually worldwide with devices like TVs, DustBusters and microwaves. These draw power 24 hours a day even when “off”—sucking two to 12 watts on average, with some as high as 20 watts.


Standby power accounts for 10 per cent of U.S. residential electricity consumption, or more than US$6 billion in annual electricity costs. In 2004, U.S. residential electricity consumption was 1.29 billion MWh, meaning this “vampire power” consumed almost 130 million MWh. That’s equal to the output of 36 power plants. But here’s the kicker: manufacturers could build electronic devices that draw as little as 0.25 watts—often for no incremental cost, or at most 25 cents per unit.

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