We spend our days making the internet a better place and recognize that our planet’s survival is essential to the continued existence of the web. Profit goals often overlap with social and environmental ones, and we believe that businesses that focus on all three are more sustainable. Long-term sustainable growth is good for our business, good for society, and good for the planet.
For the first time in the history of our world human activity threatens more species with extinction than ever before. Human fossil fuel emissions are causing climate change and we are quickly depleting our natural resources. The good news is that it’s within our power to shape our future in a more sustainable way so that future generations can prosper. As a sign of our concern for the planet we have measured our environmental impact and are publishing it here.
You can read more about some of our recent sustainability work in this post from 2020 which explains our current efforts and our plans for the future.
Since our company consists of a distributed workforce, the majority of our employees work remotely from home, reducing the need to commute daily to a central workplace, and greenhouse gas emissions as a result. Employees at Automattic are invited to share the distance of their previous commute. On this basis we are able to calculate that we save approximately 30,049 kilometers of travel every work day.
However, we also believe that it’s crucial to meet together in person several times a year, and those flights can have a very large impact. We don’t have exact data yet, but our rough estimate is that (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) each Automattician is generating about 2,500kg of CO2 per year for work related flights.
Automattic powers WordPress.com, WordPress VIP, Jetpack, Simplenote, Cloudup, VaultPress, Akismet, Crowdsignal, Gravatar, Longreads, and Simperium in multiple data centers all over the world. Our carbon emissions come from work-related travel and the data centers that power our servers.
Our data centers have approximately 3,440 servers with a total annual footprint of 1,850 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). That’s 26 grams of CO2 per user account on WordPress.com per year. This is just over the amount of CO2 required to power a single LED bulb for a single day1. As of 2020, about 50% of our data center energy needs come from renewables and we’re working to increase that number (read more about how that number is calculated in this post).
Starting in 2020, in order to better meet our goals for the environmental impact of our data center emissions, we have been purchasing carbon offsets. While this is a relatively easy action to take in the current market, the choice of offsets matters considerably and it’s not easy to see the differences up front. The best guide we’ve found to the topic is the aptly named Carbon Offset Guide. The authors identify five criteria for high-quality offsets, where GHG reductions/removals are:
- Additional – wouldn’t have occurred in the absence of a market for offset credits
- Not overestimated
- Not claimed by another entity
- Not associated with significant social or environmental harms
Some of these criteria are harder to assess than others, and with every form of offset there’s always a “but”. For example, paying to plant trees may meet the additionality criterion, but the trees may burn down (i.e., they’re not permanent) and some reforestation projects result in the displacement of indigenous communities (social harms). That’s why in general it’s better to avoid emissions rather than pay for offsets, but while we work on that, we will still help to fund the best offset programs we can find.
To that end we’ve chosen to invest in Institutional Improved Cook Stoves for Schools and Institutions in Uganda, which reduce carbon emissions and deforestation by upgrading stoves at schools to use less wood and burn it more cleanly. This Gold Standard project helps work towards nine of the UN sustainable development goals, including quality education, gender equality, and decent work and economic growth. To learn more, it’s worth watching this short video about the project.
We’ve also decided to purchase offsets and removals from BeZero’s Premium Removals Basket: A new product that combines pre-purchasing Direct Air Capture (DAC) credits from Carbon Engineering with a fallback to highly-rated nature-based removals. The fallback is needed because the DAC plants are yet to be built. This option is more expensive but somewhat appealing because there’s evidence that tech like DAC will be needed to reduce and potentially reverse some of the impact of past, current, and future emissions.
In 2021, we purchased offsets of 1,630 tons from the UN Offset program and 370 tons from the BeZero platform.