What are your top tips for helping RedMonk/GreenMonk become carbon neutral?

Global Warming
Photo Credit azrainman

My colleague in RedMonk, Stephen O’Grady wrote a great post a few weeks back on his blog titled RedMonk: We’re Not Perfect, But We Try.

The post was about how we realised in RedMonk that there was a flaw in the way we licence our content as Open Source, something we had criticised other companies for. We addressed this flaw by hiring another company to write an Open Source WordPress plugin called Progressive Licence so that our content is now truly Open Source.

In a similar vein, we here in GreenMonk have criticised other companies efforts to be carbon neutral without having any concerted effort to become carbon neutral ourselves.

So we have decided to try to make RedMonk a carbon neutral company

This won’t be easy, we are a company of 5 people split across 3 countries (US, UK and Spain) with varying office set-ups and all doing crazy amounts of travel. I know that in my own case, my travel footprint will likely far exceed all my other activities and unfortunately, this is not travel which can be avoided.

It will be further complicated by the lack of standards in this area. Still we are determined to do it and we will post progress updates on this site.

As a first step, I’d like to enrol the help of the readers of this blog – what are your top tips for helping us become carbon neutral?


  1. says

    I don’t have any good answers for you but I do have some questions for you and for myself as I attempt to be more carbon neutral.

    What is the definition of “carbon neutral” ?

    This is not an attempt at sarcasm. Rather, if we are talking about infrastructure related things – homes, offices, data centers & appliances, computers, etc. – then a more efficient electric water heater contributes to reducing ones carbon footprint but what if the manufacturing of the new water heater is added in as well as the disposal of the old one ?

    Clearly, less physical travel is an option – less driving and flying would likely be a welcome change for Stephen – but then there is the trade-off against performance – using less carbon based fuel is a good thing but means very little if you go out of business.

    A lot of suggests depend on what GreenMonk already does to reduce the carbon footprint. I’m sure that is an an ongoing series of blog posts in and of itself. I would be interested in your activities with an eye on any that the rest of us could advantage ourselves.

    There are numerous little things – many of which I suspect are already in play.

    1) Live as close to work as possible. Collocate multiple small offices (I believe Stephen already does this).
    2) unplug electronic devices when possible (I am build a new small office and there will be an extra set of outlets that are on a switch at the door so people at the end of the day can easily turn off the power vampires).
    3) CF is getting better to the point they can be used for everyday lighting plus the for factors are more broad so they can be used in more fixtures (but this gets back to my first question about the environmental impact of manufacturing and disposing of CF lights).
    4) Use pubic transportation at home and when traveling. Boston did the worst possible thing (at lest in my thinking) when they spent $14.5B on the “big dig” which ostensibly makes it easier to get even more cars into the city. If that money were on modernizing mass transit, Boston would be a very different and healthier city. Singapore is an interesting model for public transportation and traffic control.
    5) still thinking of a a #5.

    Of course, some of these are less convenient than current behaviors. In the USA, odds are good you can’t easily use public transportation in many situations. Plus, it adds time to getting around. There are exceptions and building a list of best/worst cities for public transportation would help. It would also be a start if customer conference locations were biased to cities that had good public transportation, human appropriate climates, etc. I can imagine that 10,000 people in Florida in August uses more energy than the same 10,000 people in “fake Portland (that’s Oregon according to Stephen’s vocabulary).

    So, in short and long, I’d like some answers, some suggestions, and some hope – not necessarily in that order.

  2. Jamie says

    “this is not travel which can be avoided”

    Can you elaborate on this? I would have thought that using videoconferencing (eg Cisco’s Telepresence) would be a very effective way to substantially cut your carbon footprint. What is it about the purpose of the travel that makes it unavoidable?

  3. says

    You can take the bus all you want, but you won’t move your footprint needle much until you can figure out how to cut your air travel.
    The travel issue is not unique to RedMonk, I think overall companies have a huge responsibility in driving change so that less travel is expected. At Nortel we have quite an aggressive travel reduction target for 2008 and it’s amazing how much behavior can be changed by setting a goal.
    Are there trips where you have two people going where only one could do it? Are there ways to combine things in trips? For example I am doing a trip in a couple of weeks where I’m combining a couple of customer demos, an analyst meeting and some press interviews. It took a bit of work to coordinate but I am now only doing 1 trip instead of 3.
    I’m also surprised by how much people travel to attend conferences. So much of the material delivered is already available online and I see the same topics covered over and over again. I would love to see fewer, more targeted conferences.
    Lastly, I’d love to see wider use of virtual meeting technology. We all know the downside of conference calls. It’s time to try out some newer technology that is more “life-like” to get beyond this “we can’t cut travel” mindset.

  4. says

    Travel, as you say, is the biggie. Watching @monkchips on twitter, I see him bouncing back and forth between the US and UK — sometimes twice in two weeks! I know it’s great to get home and be with the family, but if you stick something in between and stay stateside, you’ve cut your carbon for the trips practically in half. Can you send US-based people to events in the US, and Europe-based ones to events there, instead of flying between?

    Thinking of scientific history, in the early 20th century physics made incredible progress, across multiple continents, and the great minds would simply get on a boat and spend a few months someplace else, spreading ideas and collaborating. And this was before email, telephone, and video conferencing!

  5. says

    While most “presented” content of a conference would carry over to an on-line format, the real value of the conference is in the face-to-face opportunities. For example, the place where I actually *met* RedMonk was at a conference and it significantly strengthened the business relationship. The meeting was only 15 minutes but sitting down and exchanging ideas and getting to know the other person is just not possible in an on-line environment.

    I work for a company the does a very good job at managing travel but we have a written rule (yes written not un-written) that customer travel gets approved unless there is a temporary rule in place to override it. The reasoning is simple, “face-to-face engagement with people builds trust”. the complimenting point is that non-customer travel is heavily scrutinized. Now, if you look at a small company like RedMonk and by extension GreenMonk, I would bet nearly 100% of the travel is customer travel so it would be hard to reduce it significantly. As for combining trips – that is a great suggestion. I know Stephen manages 4,5 even 6 different customers, conferences, press, and briefings in virtually every trip. Take a look at his blog when he says where he will be.

    Finally, I like the idea of telepresence systems but they are costly and both endpoints need the system. If/when high definition telepresence is as affordable as a webcam and network bandwidth is as ubiquitous as water, then there is a great chance that travel will get reduced. (I know of at least one small company developing good low cost technology in this space.) There will still be a need for face-to-face meetings early is a business relationship but it can be reinforced and developed with telepresensce.

  6. says

    Here are five tips:

    1. Have Stephen not attending boring baseball games and instead watch them on TV.
    2. Have Stephen stop traveling from Boston to Middle America and stay in one place.
    3. Have Governor and Cote provide commentary on the green aspects of the companies they cover. A little community understanding of startups is in order.
    4. Offset bad Redmonk behavior by encouraging others to be charitable. Have you checked out Kiva. No business model is more eco-friendly.
    5. Talk more about the behavior of conferences you attend and their habits of throwing away food that can help the poor. If you stop wasting half the food, you can cut down on carbon by almost half.


  7. says

    Tom, congratulations! You know, going though your blog, you have a much clearer understanding of the context of how this all works than most of the general populous. As for your concerns about how hard it would be for Greenmonk/Redmonk to go carbon neutral, I think it is going to be easier than you think!

    We have got a few organisations we work with multiple international offices, and we are developing an approach to simplify the audit process for organisations that cross over international boundaries.

    You see, the whole issue, as far as I see it, about greenwash is the lack of veracity or verification of claims by independent third parties.

    Basically, the process with us is to work with clients to define a legally defensible, robust and transparent organisational boundary: every emission source that sits within that boundary needs to be reported.

    Then, we work with the client to build the emissions inventory: the list of all of the potential sources of emissions occurring within the organisational boundary.

    Following that, we switch to “audit mode” where we ask for detailed data to populate the inventory.

    After that, we calculate emissions, and report on them.

    Effectively, we become an “internal auditor” to do our job. In an ideal world (and maybe into the future) we would be operating as a truly independent external auditor. The thing is at present, we have to work with clients to be able to tell them the things they need to tell us.

    From there, you have the emissions “number”, if you want to offset. The key here is transparency when reporting what has and has not been included in the organisational boundary as well as how you have gone about offsetting (project type, third party certification/verification of credit quality), and a clear description of your emission management plan to reduce emissions (we provide an emission management plan as part of our reporting).

    I am really keen to follow this conversation on because it would be an interesting project for us to go through via long distance (all of our current clients have an Australian base at present, and have offshore operations).

    Looking forward to hearing back from you, and getting to know more about where you are at and what you do! Could be some interesting synergies for us…



  8. says

    In terms of the standard we audit to just FYI, the WRI GHG Protocol ( and ISO 14064-1 are the basis for audits. In Australia, we now have the National Greenhouse Energy Reporting Act 2007, which is mostly based on the GHG Protocol. And, if you are looking for credibility, I’m not going to go with the mile long list of clients (). Instead, I now just point people to the fact that we are invited members of the WRI/WBCSD Technical Working Group for the determination of Lifecycle or Scope 3 emissions ( Now, that might sound a bit “what the…?” at present to you, but as we move into more discussion about how this all works, you will see what a “scope 3 emission” is, and why we are so worried about them…

  9. Jamie says

    Come on guys, let’s not turn this into an offsetting sales pitch – that’s so 2001. I’m sure Greenmonk have a sophisticated enough understanding of the environmental sector to know about that option before posting.

  10. says

    @Jamie – in fairness to Tim, he emailed those comments in private to me and I asked him to post them here so others could benefit from them.

    @Tim – thanks for the comprehensive post and like you, I’m a strong believer in the necessity of external auditing of any claims of carbon neutrality

    @James – thanks, we’ll look into those

    @Glen – exactly, I’d love to be able to do all conferences virtually but unfortunately that means you miss out on the networking opportunities which can be of far greater benefit than the talks themselves.

    @Asa – what Glen said!!!

    @April – Love the idea of virtual meetings etc. and I do lots of teleconferences but unfortunately I also have to do a lot of travel, as do the others in RedMonk. Not much way around that yet. Nortel aren’t working on a Transporter by any chance, are they? 😉

    @Jamie – As I mentioned above the travel which can’t be avoided are when giving talks at conferences or client meetings/briefings

    @Glen – great reply, thanks. Personally, I work out of home, use CFLs and all my devices are on power strips so they can all be turned off at flick of a switch but then again there are all those flights!

  11. says

    First, kudos to you for “walking the talk.”

    Second, amen to April above when she says, “it’s amazing how much behavior can be changed by setting a goal.”

    I’m going to push back yet again about travel. I know that your business is built on trust with & thorough understanding of clients, and on networking your way to new clients. But I would still challenge you to take an engineer’s approach to the problem, with targets to reduce the number of flights and the number of flight miles within a certain timeframe — e.g. by 10% of each over the next six months in comparison to the past six months.

    This may, by the way, offer you a better chance to educate your clients: you reinforce the importance of bit-miles versus human-travel-miles by, for example, always charging the client for travel *including offsets*, and by charging extra fo physical trips taken above a certain threshold.

    In terms of work philosophy, this may lead you to a sort of mega-batch-processing over the course of the year. That is, you each spend longer continuous periods working from your home bases, then longer, more intense periods traveling, with more client engagements per mile traveled. (In fact, that could give you another metric to ponder: hours of client/networking facetime per air-mile traveled. Seek to improve the ratio my meaningful amounts during each half-year.)

    Hope this helps. I’ll be interested to see what you come up with.

  12. says


    I won’t pretend to have every answer. All I can speak to is what we have done as a company, and I feel it is from some level of appropriate authority as we also operate virtually spread worldwide and travel fairly extensively.

    We, like you started with the small stuff: less commute times via virtual office, reducing paper wastes, electronic communication when possible, etc. These are all noble, helpful and fairly simple, so I won’t spend any time there.

    Like you, or largest impact is due to travel – mainly via air, but also considering auto transport, hotel stays and the like, we could no longer ignore our, shall we say “unintended impact” that consists of ancillary items we tend not to think about even in travel.

    To that end, we dialogued extensively with to really explore the impact of our travels and overall business practice. We then took it a step further and added a certain percentage to what we knew to cover for the unintended impact I mentioned.

    The result was a great partnership with these fine folks that allowed us to adopt an internal program of calculating what we made, reducing what we could, and then offsetting the rest of our impact. We were allowed to allocate funds to cover emissions to initiatives of our choice, allowing us to invest in alternative energy sources, reforestation, etc., in amounts equal to offset our calculated impact.

    An added bonus of this, beside the accompanying stewardship angle, is the ability to propose this behavior to others, even to the point of covering external emissions (as we are doing for a portion of the upcoming EclipseWorld conference attendees).

    In summation, I’ll steal the tagline: we “reduce what we can, and offset what we can’t.” And we’re hoping others can do the same moving forward.

    As a side note, to the many “man is not creating this crisis” or “carbon offsetting is a big myth” folks out there, I ask: what harm is being done by putting forth such efforts? Suppose we were to debate endlessly about the source of warming, proposed impact, etc. The key is: if it is a real issue (as I believe it is) what are you doing to step up to the plate as an individual or company? Will you simply berate others as disingenuous for attempting to do their part?

    If it is not a controllable or legitimate issue in some way, what harm has been caused? Investing in wind energy, reducing emissions and pollution, reforesting our planet? Where is the harm in that? It seems we are either responsible to take action to protect our future or to improve the quality of our environment in either case.

    Kudos to RedMonk and GreenMonk for stepping out boldly yet again. We look forward to bearing the fruits collectively as a community and planet as a result.

    Jens Eckels

  13. says

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