Great for Privacy, Great for the Environment: DuckDuckGo Is Now Carbon Negative

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  • DuckDuckGo is now carbon negative dating back to our founding in 2008 through 2020, and is committed to being carbon negative in perpetuity.
  • We've poineered new estimation techniques, given our distributed team and non-physical product.
  • We're accounting for our full scope emissions (including upstream and downstream suppliers).
  • Yearly, we're donating 125% of calculated net emissions to Gold Standard projects, which are committed to improving the lives of the people involved in the supported projects in addition to more rigorously measuring their carbon reductions.
  • We're additionally giving that same dollar amount yearly to advance carbon removal technology via the Stripe Climate Program.

At DuckDuckGo our vision is to raise the standard of trust online. We do of course also care about our impact offline, and so we've stepped up to do our part in the climate crisis. We have already been doing what we can to minimize our carbon footprint including using sustainable energy to power our servers and being a fully distributed company.

Today, we’re proud to announce DuckDuckGo is now carbon negative dating back to our founding in 2008 through 2020, and we are committed to being carbon negative in perpetuity.

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. We hope our experience figuring this out can be a reference guide for similar organizations. Here’s the summary:

  • Redefining the Scope. We defined our carbon footprint in the broadest possible sense, including all of our suppliers and vendors (in carbon language that means Scopes 1, 2, & 3, as well as any other upstream/downstream activities we could find). This means we estimated the total impact of all search queries using our search engine, all our marketing (including the carbon used when viewing our online display ads), and, given we are a fully distributed company, the impact of all our local working environments.
  • Estimating Emissions. We estimated not only for 2020, but back-estimated to our founding in 2008.
  • Net Zero Emissions. We then funded Gold Standard projects to achieve net zero emissions. The projects are committed to improving the lives of the people involved in the supported projects in addition to more rigorously measuring their carbon reductions.
  • Going Carbon Negative. Then to go carbon negative, we first funded an additional 25% of reduction (for 125% of our emissions). We then doubled this dollar amount and spent the second half on Stripe Climate to help build a much-needed market for carbon removal, which is necessary to combat climate change at scale.

We will use this blueprint for 2021 and beyond.

Redefining the Scope

We set out to calculate our carbon footprint using the commonly used Greenhouse Gas Protocol. The Protocol groups emissions into three “scopes” and additional activities:

  • Scope 1: Direct emissions, e.g., emitted by factories or vehicles you own.
  • Scope 2: Indirect emissions from purchasing energy, e.g., buying electricity for or heating and cooling your buildings.
  • Scope 3: Other indirect emissions from making products and services, e.g., from purchased materials, business travel, etc.
  • Full Upstream/Downstream Activities: Other emissions not covered so far in the full lifecycle of your products and services, e.g., distribution, storage, and disposal, sometimes covered in Scope 3 definitions and sometimes not.

Many companies who claim they are “carbon neutral” are often only looking at their Scope 1 or Scope 1 & 2 emissions, even though Scope 3 and Full Upstream/Downstream Activities are often where the vast majority of emissions take place, especially for organizations not producing or processing physical goods.

In addition, many organizations only look at activities where clear guidelines have been defined (e.g., air travel), but ignore areas where there are no guidelines (e.g., impact of marketing, home offices, etc.), even if much of the organization’s carbon emissions are the result of these activities.

At DuckDuckGo we didn't think the standard went far enough, so we redefined our approach to make us responsible for all emissions we cause that are not already net zero, regardless of their categorization (or lack thereof).

Estimating Emissions

To estimate our emissions, we pulled together leading source material from environmental agencies around the world including the UK DEFRA / DEEC 2012 GHG Conversion Factors for Company Reporting, the EPA's 2018 Emission Factors for Greenhouse Gas Inventories Report, the BEIS' 2019 Government Greenhouse Gas Conversion Factors for Company Reporting Methodology Paper, and the Environmental Commission of Ontario's 2019 Climate Pollution Report. From here, we mapped out the carbon footprint of every single transaction on our books for the entire 2019 calendar year (since we started working on this in mid-2020), and used that to build a model to estimate category emissions per accounting transaction. That means every vendor bill and credit card purchase by a team member.

While some transactions fit into standard models developed by government agencies (e.g., air travel), it turns out that to our knowledge, no one in government has ever calculated the carbon emissions of an online display advertisement. So, in cases where there was no standard model, or we felt a standard model clearly under-estimated the actual carbon footprint, we developed our own formulas.

This led to us estimating some currently unorthodox emissions including:

  • The hardware and software our staff use in their home offices.
  • A proportional amount of heating/cooling used in each home office during the work day.
  • The fuel used in the Lyft they take to a partnership meeting.
  • The emissions that stem from our marketing (both online and offline), such as showing a display ad on a user's computer.
  • The amount of emissions generated from each DuckDuckGo Search query itself.

We then surveyed our team to better understand their home-office/co-working situations, including the hardware and software they use, their work-related transit, and recorded all this usage as if it were regular direct Scope 1 emissions.

Lastly, we checked for the sustainability programs of every single vendor we used or had made a corporate purchase from in any capacity. Where one couldn't be identified, or where the program clearly failed to account for 100% of their carbon emissions, we recorded the full CO2e emissions from those transactions as our own.

In the end, our estimate for our 2019 emissions — including Scope 1, 2, 3, and Full Upstream/Downstream Activities — totaled 1,075T of CO2e. That works out to 14.33T of CO2e/per year/per full-time team member on average, which we used to calculate a total of 5,875T of CO2e for the entire existence of DuckDuckGo back to our 2008 founding through 2020.

Net Zero Emissions

Once we felt our carbon emissions were properly estimated, we set out to understand how we could properly achieve net zero emissions in a way that would:

  • Directly reduce carbon.
  • Not come at other environmental costs.
  • Respect and improve human life.

After an extensive review of our options, we ended up partnering with GoldStandard.org, an international non-profit foundation that is focused on reducing carbon emissions through sustainable investment in carbon reduction projects that also help improve the lives of those involved. In their words these projects "make a net-positive contribution to the economic, environmental and social welfare of the local population that hosts it, in the form of contributions to a minimum of three Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

We are funding Gold Standard projects to account for 125% of our estimated emissions, which through 2020 amounted to 7,343T. These projects included:

  • Funding biomass generators in India, Malawi, Kenya, and biodigesters in Cambodia to bring safe, clean, self-reliant energy to small rural farming villages.
  • Funding new wind farms in India and Indonesia, to provide clean energy to regions currently dependent on coal burning electricity.
  • Providing solar cooking stoves in Chad, and improved clean efficiency stoves in Guinea and Rwanda, to end coal burning pollution and help protect families from inhaling toxic fumes when cooking in the home.
  • Funding hydroelectric power in Honduras, and renewable energy in Brazil.
  • Supporting biomass conservation and local biodiversity reforestation in Nicaragua and Ethiopia to help local farmers and conservationists rebuild soil that is suffering from desertification due to deforestation.

The full list of these projects and credits can be validated on the GoldStandard.org Impact Registry. We're proud that DuckDuckGo is not only achieving net zero emissions, but doing so in a way that we hope will have a transformative and on-going impact around the world, creating jobs and improving the health and quality of life for many.

“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. 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.”
– Gold Standard Chief Executive Officer, Margaret Kim

Going Carbon Negative

Addressing the climate crisis requires us to collectively get to net zero global emissions. We believe doing so will require the use of new technologies at scale such as physically removing carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it permanently. Unfortunately, this technology is too expensive right now to make an impact at scale.

That's why we are proud we were one of the first companies to join Stripe's Climate Program to bring down the cost of this technology by making commitments to fund this new type of carbon reduction. Unlike other carbon reduction methods, Stripe's program requires that all carbon removal has a permanence of greater than a thousand years, is directly measured and verifiable, and has a net-negative lifecycle ratio of less than one.

While the program is normally only available for Stripe customers, DuckDuckGo is pleased to work directly with Stripe and has committed that every year, whatever amount of money we spend on Gold Standard projects, we will make an equal dollar contribution to Stripe's climate program to help directly remove carbon from the air, and more importantly, help pull this technology forward.

“We launched Stripe Climate to make it easy for any business to support high-potential carbon removal technologies. DuckDuckGo was one of the earliest Stripe Climate users—we’re grateful for their partnership and we hope their ongoing commitment can serve as a powerful example to other businesses who want to join the growing coalition of companies working to mitigate climate change.”
— Nan Ransohoff, Head of Climate at Stripe.

Sustainability at DuckDuckGo

As a DuckDuckGo user, we hope you can rest assured that we are doing our part in the climate crisis. In creating our sustainability program, we researched extensively to understand the true scope of our emissions.

We're now achieving net zero emissions through programs that not only are rigorously measured, but also continue to have a positive environmental and societal impact year after year. After all that, we're going carbon negative by funding projects to account for 125% of our emissions, and then doubling that total amount to invest in physically removing carbon from the air to advance this important technology for our future.

At DuckDuckGo, we're committed to doing our part, both online and off.


Note: This blog post has been edited since initial publication with additional information about our sustainability commitments.

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Great for Privacy, Great for the Environment: DuckDuckGo Is Now Carbon Negative
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