• This blog is maintained by Stephen Filler, a New York-based attorney with expertise in business law, contracts, intellectual property and litigation. He represents a wide variety of businesses, technology, media companies and individuals. He also provides legal and consulting services to sustainable, environmental and renewable energy businesses, non-profit organizations and trade organizations. He is on the board of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association and Secretary of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. His business website is www.nylawline.com.

    The Green Counsel consulting website is www.greencounsel.com.

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Shea Gunther

I have to disagree with you Stephen. It's not perfect, but it's a great step. It's a sad but true fact that a lot of people don't make green choices because the decision to go green isn't put right in front of their noses. Ford is using their reach and power to give their customers a very eco-positive choice to make.

I don't think it's a question of just saying "Hybrid" or "Fuel Efficiency", there are a lot of other, smaller steps Ford and other car companies can make along the way. With gas prices going up as much as they are, if nothing else the market will push them to start getting serious about greening up their vehicles. I think it's fair to say that we're in the beginning stages of that already.

Ford isn't perfect, but everything I've seen from the company leads me to believe that Bill Ford wants to get a green future, he's just fighting a lot of interests within his company, his industry, and his nation in getting there.

Stephen Filler

I posted my comment to the Terrapass blog. You can see their response, and my further response below. There's other discussion at the link:

"10. Comment by Steve @ Apr 26, 2006 2 PM . Several days ago, I questioned in my blog whether “offsets” really “offset” greenhouse gas emissions (see “Offset My Ass” http://nylawline.typepad.com/greencounsel/2006/04/offset_my_ass.html). Offsets are certainly beneficial, should be encouraged, and may even help build a renewable energy economy, but except in certain circumstances (sequestration, planting new trees), they do not directly negate the impact of (i.e. “offset”) the C02 that is otherwise being emitted.

From Terrapass’s point of view, this announcement is very positive. But for the rest of us? Ford isn’t even buying the offsets themselves, they’re just marketing offsets to their customers.

So Ford is helping to burn the world with its core products and they’re marketing offsets??? Can Ford say “hybrid”? Can they say “Fuel Efficiency”? Can Ford say (let’s go on a limb here, I know you guys at Ford are smart) “80 MPG”?

Perhaps Ford could advertise a way to “Greenwash Your Mustang”?"

"12. Comment by Adam @ Apr 26, 2006 5 PM Steve — some of your points are legitimate, and some we don’t see eye to eye on. The fuel efficiency of Ford’s fleet obviously could be better, and we happen to think that improving their vehicles’ efficiency would make both good environmental and good business sense. In our opinion, the world is moving toward more efficient vehicles, and the company would do well to get ahead of this trend. So on this point, we agree.

On the other hand, Ford has made some strides that we think are worth acknowledging. They are the first US automaker to come out with a hybrid (and still the only US automaker offering a full hybrid). It’s also the first company in the world to offer a hybrid SUV, which is actually pretty important, because there’s a much greater environmental benefit from moving someone out of a non-hybrid gas guzzler than out of a non-hybrid Corolla. Obviously Ford still has a long way to go, but they are moving in the right direction.

Finally, I think I see what you’re saying regarding the different types of offsets — you’re drawing a distinction between sequestration offsets and other types — but this distinction is definitely out of step with current thinking on the matter. Energy demand is rising so rapidly that any action that reduces demand creates real reductions in emissions. Also, your specific example of sequestration through trees is considered problematic for a number of reasons, which is why TerraPass will never purchase these types of offsets.

Anyway, thanks for your thoughts on the matter. Offsets are a complicated topic, and we hope to dive more deeply into the science of them in upcoming posts."

"15. Comment by Steve @ Apr 26, 2006 7 PM

Thanks. I don’t dispute that Ford is taking some positive steps. However, more fuel efficiency (as well as reducing Ford’s footprint in materials, construction and waste stream) would be even better. Cars are what Ford makes; and Ford (and the rest of us humans) need to make them cleaner and more efficient — and soon. To the extent that marketing “offsets” provides cover for us not to do the hard work sooner – that’s a negative, and potentially a large one.

The point I’m making about the different type of offsets is this: If I emit X tons of CO2 and I want to be carbon neutral, I need to do something directly to take that CO2 out of the atmosphere to be a true offset. To pay a subsidy to wind power, for example, is good; but the wind power is largely carbon neutral (ignoring C02 emissions in production) and it doesn’t negate my carbon emissions. In order to negate them — to truly “offset” them — I would need to do something that is actually carbon negative, not just carbon neutral.
Please tell me how I’m wrong here. On the Terrapass website it says “TerraPass funds clean energy projects that reduce industrial carbon dioxide emissions.” http://www.terrapass.com/howworks.html . Clean energy projects can only reduce CO2 emissions if they replace carbon-emitting energy production. If we all increase our energy demand and some of that demand is met by clean energy, we haven’t reduced emissions. Creating less emissions than we otherwise would have used by using fossil fuels is not less emissions — unless you believe that I earn $15 every time I forego buying a new CD that I want to buy.
You say that “Energy demand is rising so rapidly that any action that reduces demand creates real reductions in emissions.” I agree. But projects that encourage inefficient use while at the same time support renewable energy, don’t do that. This is one reason why I think the Ford project is problematic.

On the other hand, if the project leads to more renewable energy, and convinces Ford that being green has so many benefits that they become a world leader in creating a clean, renewable and sustainable future, it will be a huge success. I hope it is."

Stephen Filler


The problem I have with Ford is they are putting the choice (and most of the burden) on their customers and taking credit for it themselves. I'm not suprised to read in Grist that Ford approached Terrapass on this, and it appears to have arisen from Ford's marketing people. http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/4/26/18359/7250

Ford should be building greener cars with a greener production cycle, and they shouldn't be opposing higher fuel efficiency standards. According to JumpStartford.com "Ford Motor Company has had the lowest fleet-wide fuel economy for the past 5 straight years, and for 20 of the last 30 years. Ford is America’s most oil-dependent automaker." http://jumpstartford.com/

Bill Ford may have the greenest of intentions, and to the extent that he does and is acting effectively upon them, I fully support him personally. But the company has to be judged upon what the company does, not upon what its CEO would like to see.

Stephen Filler

I received this very useful comment from Adam at Terrapass on their blog. It doesn't answer all of my questions, but it does answer some -Steve

Comment by Adam @ Apr 27, 2006 12 PM:

"Hi Steve,

We very much agree with your comments regarding the importance of developing more efficient cars and of not using offsets as a cover for avoiding real change. The good news is that Ford is actually a pretty good exemplar of the right way to do things. Over the past 5 years, they have reduced their own carbon emissions from manufacturing by 15%, or about 1.5 million metric tons. This is simply a huge number, and it’s significant that Ford even measures and tracks this number. Most companies don’t.

On top of this conservation, Ford has taken the next step and used carbon offsets to bring its total carbon footprint from the manufacture of its hybrid vehicles all the way down to zero. This is the patter we like to see: conservation to reduce waste, followed by offsets to balance the rest.

Again, this is not to suggest that Ford is perfect, or even close to it. But these kinds of steps convinced us that Ford is sincere and is a partner that we could work with.

Regarding your question about the nature of offsets, there’s a bit of ugly industry jargon that gets to the heart of the issue you’re raising. It’s called “additionality,” and it refers to the notion that for an offset to really be a true offset, the carbon reductions have to be “additional” to what would have happened if the offset had never been purchased.

It’s a complicated topic, but it’s an important one. For now, I can point you to some other resources online, but I promise a fuller post on this issue coming soon.


And here’s a link that talks about additionality specifically in the context of wind. The crux of it is that wind energy isn’t quite cost-competitive with coal, but a subsidy from your TerraPass is used to make up the difference. The wind energy then displaces coal energy from the grid, resulting in real CO2 reductions.


OK, back to the conference booth!"

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