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Shrinking Bigfoot

The Carbon Calculus – What Counts?

“Eliminate Newspapers, Save the Planet?” ran the headline on The New York Times “Green, Inc.” blog reporting on the Marriott hotel group’s decision to discontinue automatic newspaper delivery to hotel guests – a move that, according to Marriott, will cut out some 13 million newspapers and save 10,350 tons of carbon emissions annually.

This is nearly equivalent to the carbon generated by 2000 average U.S. vehicles in a year – a significant carbon savings – but was this move, I wondered, truly motivated by a desire to be “green,” a cost-cutting measure or simply yet another blow to America’s increasingly distressed Fourth Estate?

“We’re not really happy with that positioning,” said Marriott spokesperson Stephanie Hampton who told me that the decision was “not driven by an effort to be green but more based on giving customers what they want and not wanting to be wasteful.” The Marriott press release led – not with the carbon footprint reduction – but by saying that guest demand for newspapers had declined by 25 percent and that cost-savings, if any, of providing papers only to guests upon request, would vary by hotel.

All of which led me to wonder what it really means to reduce one’s environmental and carbon footprint. Environmentally preferable purchasing – choosing products made with as little ecological damage as possible – clearly has benefits as does reducing overall consumption but is canceling my newspaper subscription an equivalent boon to environmental health as saving the same amount of carbon by reducing the miles I drive or the electricity I use at home?

Do I get to take credit for purchases not made when calculating my carbon footprint reduction or only for changing well-established practices? How close to one’s core operations does a reduction in resource use have to be to merit inclusion in this calculus? If I stopped all junk mail and catalogues from arriving at my house, would I be able to claim a carbon credit – or only if I drive fewer miles this year than last? And does a manufacturing company get to take credit for improving its environmental profile when its factories are idled during an economic downturn?

Given the current overload of global warming greenhouse gas emissions, any reductions are welcome, but as we rush to be declared good carbon citizens, there are also lots of hard question to ask.


Elizabeth Grossman, Contributing Writer, Earth Island Journal
Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, Watershed: The Undamming of America, and other books. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Salon, The Washington Post, The Nation, Mother Jones, Grist, Earth Island Journal, and other publications.

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I am agree with the post, Such a nice Post and informative aw well.Can you please provide me some more links for similar articles on my mail id.

By India's Property on Sat, May 30, 2009 at 4:07 am

You’re really thankful for this post, I’ve been really enjoying checking up your posts from time to time. Looking forward to see your future posts <a href=“”>a free family vacation</a>

By a free family vacation on Fri, May 29, 2009 at 7:55 am

I was thinking of looking up some of them newspaper websites, but am glad I came here instead. Although glad is not quite the right word… let me just say I needed this after the incessant chatter in the media, and am grateful to you for articulating something many of us are feeling - even from distant shores.

By Ammar on Tue, May 19, 2009 at 1:05 am

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