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A peek inside DuckDuckGo’s effort to go carbon negative

The privacy-minded search engine headquartered in Paoli said it purchased carbon offsets for 125% of its calculated carbon emissions since its 2008 founding.

Business all over the world. (Photo by Flickr user Kevin Gill, used via a Creative Commons license)
In the age of heightened climate change awareness, for-profit companies are taking action to reduce or negate their carbon footprint.

At the end of last month, privacy-minded search engine DuckDuckGo announced it had gone carbon negative — an environmental goal for sustainability minded companies or individuals — dating back to its founding in 2008. The goal is referring to work done to remove CO2 from the atmosphere that is produced by a company or person. Rather than offsetting all the CO2 DuckDuckGo produces, it aims to go further in reducing 125% of its full scope of emissions as a company, as the Paoli-headquartered company explained in a recent blog post.

“When we set out to do this, we quickly realized there isn’t much guidance for companies like ours that have 100% distributed teams and provide non-physical goods and services,” the blog read.

The company said it reached its goal by first defining its carbon footprint, which meant estimating the total environmental impact of all of its work over the last 12 years. That includes computer-powered search queries via its search engine, all of its marketing efforts, and the impact of its local working environments.

Things like energy used to access the internet to build the search engine, heating or cooling the spaces used to work in, travel for commutes over the last 13 years, and even storage for materials, technology or trash disposal in an office space counted toward calculating the company’s carbon footprint.

The estimate also included surveying employees’ work-from-home setups, the software they use and even the fuel from Lyfts or Ubers over the years to get to meetings. The company also checked the sustainability programs of vendors used over the years, and corporate purchases.

The audit found that DuckDuckGo’s 2019 carbon estimate reached 1,075T (that’s tonnes, aka metrics tons) of CO2e, or 14.33T of CO2e per year per full-time team member on average. The company’s estimate for its entire existence from its founding in 2008 through 2020: 5,875T of CO2e.

The company then partnered with Gold Standard, a nonprofit that manages best practice standards for climate and sustainability and invests in carbon offsetting projects around the world. DuckDuckGo said it purchased offsets with Gold Standard that went to funding biomass generators in India, Malawi and Kenya, funding new wind farms in India and Indonesia, and providing solar cooking stoves in Chad, among other projects.

DuckDuckGo didn’t share the total cost of this effort, but GoldStandard’s site shows that its available projects run from $10 to around $50 per tonne. The company said it’s purchasing Gold Standard offset credits at 125% of its estimated emissions, which through 2020 amounted to 7,343T.

A spokesperson for DuckDuckGo declined to provide additional comment on its carbon offsets work.

The internet privacy company reportedly raised $100 million in 2020, as reported in June, as well as saw a 55% increase in search traffic over the previous year. As the company continues to grow, it also said it would be joining Stripe’s Climate Program to lower the cost of technology that would physically remove carbon from the air. The commitment to carbon negativity will also persist into future years, the company said.

“We applaud DuckDuckGo for taking full responsibility for their climate impact, including harder-to-measure Scope 3 emissions, by supporting high-impact, community-based Gold Standard projects,” Gold Standard CEO Margaret Kim said in a statement. “Beyond that, DuckDuckGo is financing climate mitigation that’s more expensive today in a bid to bring down the cost curve for future scaling — this is in the spirit of the WWF Blueprint for Climate and Nature, and a model for others to follow.”

Companies: DuckDuckGo

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