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Carbon Poditive: Can Your Podcast Save The World?

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In our recent IndyPod Census, nearly 60% of podcasters said their goal was “to help others.” Now there’s a way that podcasters can help the environment. Carbon Poditive is the first service specifically for podcasters to combat the climate crisis. The company aims “to make podcasts the world’s first carbon-positive medium by 2030.” Sounds great, but what would this mean for independent podcasters? It’s more meaningful for big podcast platforms, networks in the top income bracket, and advertising companies to buy into reputable carbon offset credits. Carbon Poditive may be an answer, but is it the answer?

podcasting and climate

What Is Carbon Poditive, and How Does It Work?

Every time we use carbon-emitting fuel, we add to the damage it causes to the planet’s ecosystem. So, when a podcaster uses electricity to make their podcast episodes, this does a bit of damage to the environment. Carbon Poditive purchases carbon offset credits in bulk on behalf of podcasters to mitigate this damage. Individual podcasters can buy in at a rate based on their average episode length and number of downloads per month. They can display their Carbon Poditive badge on their website and social media to show their commitment to fighting the climate crisis.

What Are Carbon Offset Credits, and How Do They Help The Environment?

A carbon offset credit is an investment in a company that works to mitigate damage caused by burning fossil fuels. Whether or not carbon offset credits are helpful to the environment is a subject of debate. Some invest in solar, wind or hydroelectric power. Many carbon offset companies invest in land and tree planting operations to prevent deforestation. Other companies tackle different kinds of carbon damage. For example, Mootral reduces methane emissions from cattle, and they benefit from carbon credit purchases. So, if you can’t record your podcast without a cheeseburger, investment in Mootral can offset your podcast’s carbon footprint.

These credits help companies such as Gucci, Disney, Delta Airlines, and Shell claim their overall operation is carbon neutral. On the other hand, a recent report from The Guardian shows that more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets certified by Verra, the biggest certifier, are worthless.

podcasting and the environment

How Does Carbon Poditive Help Indie Podcasters?

Carbon Poditive’s website has a calculator to guide you through the process. Enter the average number of downloads your podcast gets per month and the average number of minutes each episode runs. The website gives you a monthly price to buy enough credits to offset your podcast’s footprint by 120%. After clicking “Buy Now,” the website shows you the annual fee. They charge you once a year to save on processing fees.

After that, Carbon Poditive sends you a media kit, which includes a special green badge to put on your podcast website. This shows that your podcast is certified carbon-neutral.

Case Study: The Carbon Credits for ADWIT vs The Joe Rogan Experience

Let’s compare an independent podcast to a chart-topper with loads of episodes and downloads. We’ll take my little engine that could podcast, ADWIT: The Audio Drama Writers’ Independent Toolkit, and see how much it can invest versus The Joe Rogan Experience.

Carbon Poditive’s Carbon Footprint Calculation

ADWIT averages about 130 downloads a month, and the average episode runs approximately 25 minutes. On the other hand, for JRE, episodes average 2 hours, 36 minutes and 59 seconds run time. In 2019, Rogan said that his podcast averaged 190 million monthly downloads. He says a lot of things, but for the sake of argument, let’s use that number.

According to Carbon Poditive’s calculator, ADWIT’s price would be $3.99 monthly or $47.88 yearly.

JRE’s price would be $160 a month or $1920 a year.

Sure, JRE has more annual episodes, more downloads, and longer sessions, so their price should be more than ADWIT’s, right? You might want to back off the accelerator pedal there a bit, Steely Dan.

ADWIT’s $3.99 a month price tag, divided by 130 carbon-producing downloads, works out to 3-4 cents per download. JRE’S $160 a month worth of carbon offset credits comes to 0.0000009 per download.

The Elephant in the Room is pushing a bunny podcaster and a squirrel podcaster away from the microphone.

How Does Carbon Poditive Calculate Independent Podcasters’ Carbon Credits?

Carbon Poditive’s founder, Andrew Bosomworth, told me how they calculate the individual’s purchase amount. He said, “I developed an algorithm that takes into account everything from global download speeds to avg energy production and even listeners’ choice of devices. For example, listening on a phone uses approximately 600 times less energy than listening on a desktop computer or laptop. I then wanted to make it super simple for podcasters to go onto the website and input just two pieces of data, and then the algorithm can do the rest.”

Bosomworth said that a show like The Joe Rogan Experience, with that many episodes and downloads, would qualify for enterprise pricing, and they’d create a special package for that kind of show. I was very happy to be wrong in my estimation of those numbers.

What Does Carbon Poditive Do With Independent Podcasters’ Money?

To explain Carbon Poditive’s impact, he said, “We have partnered with a UK leader in carbon offsetting, a company called Ecologi, and they are our official offsetting partner. They work with some really big corporations such as the BBC, Vodafone, Coop and many more. They work around the world on projects such as the first-ever wind power project in Honduras, solar farms in Egypt and restoring forests in Peru.” Bosomworth also sent me a PDF of information about the company.

Excerpt from Carbon Poditive's slide presentation about their carbon offsetting partner, Ecologi, and their certifying organizations, including Verra.
Excerpt from Carbon Poditive’s slide presentation about their carbon offsetting partner, Ecologi, and their certifying organizations, including Verra.

It’s probably a coincidence that they mention a reforestation project in Peru. One of the Verra-certified projects referenced in the Guardian article as having little to no value is also a reforestation project in The Andes.

As it stands, 57% of independent podcasters surveyed in our census use a home studio. Figuring out how much carbon emissions come from podcasting separately from the rest of the home is a mystery. Independent podcasters fund their recording, editing, hosting and promotion. Carbon offset credits are another bill to pay. Putting this kind of burden on independent podcasters is like telling the passengers on the Titanic, “stick some gaff tape on that hole in the boat.”

Carbon Poditive Is Good For Listeners and Ecosystems, Not Independent Podcasters.

Let’s take a look at the big picture. Audiences can insist that media companies and podcast platforms sign up with Carbon Poditive, buy offset credits and get that little green seal of approval. Boycott the big-media shows that don’t have that little green badge in their show notes or website. Again, assuming that all carbon offset credits are meaningful investments in action against the climate crisis, they’re the ones with the cash. They’re responsible for more downloads. They have staff who use more computers and power to produce the episodes. If independent podcasters want to buy into Carbon Poditive, great. But the companies that produce more emissions should shoulder more responsibility for cleaning up the mess.

podcasting and climate change

Carbon Poditive and Transparency about Carbon Offset Markets

Carbon Poditive needs greater transparency about calculating prices and investing podcasters’ money. Do the carbon offset credits invest in preventing deforestation on protected land where it wouldn’t have occurred anyway? Do they invest in biofuels, renewable energy, and minimizing cow burps? Carbon Poditive’s website and social media should include their relationship with Ecologi, how they’re certified, and the algorithm since it’s something to be proud of.

Melissa Lindsay, the founder of Emstream and Emsurge, a carbon trading firm, recently said more transparency in the carbon offset market is possible due to tech improvements to verify emission reduction and removal. “Credits from more biodiverse projects will command a premium… until it becomes the norm.” This is great. Not all carbon offset credits are good, and many are traded around like Pokémon cards. Carbon credits are a brand-new financial market, with not enough oversight.

The climate crisis is so bad right now that in 30 years, our podcasting skills will be whatever helps us survive in a Station Eleven scenario. $50 worth of carbon credits is a drop in the bucket. For a company like Apple or Spotify, buying carbon credits from a company like Carbon Poditive isn’t hard. Taking money from independent podcasters for carbon credits is more than a bit short-sighted, without more transparency and accountability.

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