Bessemer joins carbon neutral parade

Last week, Bessemer Venture Partners became the latest VC firm to announce plans to reduce its fossil fuel-consumption guilt by offsetting its carbon footprint.

The Larchmont, N.Y.-based firm plans to reduce its energy usage and purchase carbon credits to offset the estimated 728 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions released annually as a result of its travel-intensive operations. The firm did not disclose how much it will spend on the program. Based on prices quoted by carbon offset merchant TerraPass, a footprint the size of Bessemer’s would cost about $3,000 a year to offset.

San Francisco-based TerraPass, a VC-backed company that has raised money from Nth Power and Maveron, helps people balance the environmental impact of their driving, flying and home energy use by purchasing carbon offsets, which the company uses to fund clean energy and efficiency projects, such as wind farms, or to help plant trees.

In addition to purchasing the offsets, Bessemer plans to reduce its carbon footprint by cutting office waste, investing in energy efficient systems and selecting renewable energies from utilities providers. The firm plans to reduce carbon emissions by 25% by 2013.

Justin Label

, head of Bessemer’s cleantech practice, characterized the move as “a way to stay engaged on carbon issues and add to the pool of capital available for creative solutions.”

In addition, the firm is offering to consult with its more than 100 portfolio companies to develop their own carbon footprint reduction programs. “We hope to fund a new generation of companies committed to constructive carbon policies that reduce the harmful emissions which cause global warming,” says Bessemer Managing Partner Dave Cowan.

Bessemer’s not the first to hop on the carbon neutral bandwagon. San Francisco-based Expansion Capital has been purchasing offsets for more than a year.

Mark Donohue, a managing partner at Expansion Capital, says that members of the cleantech venture firm, which includes several full-time employees, board members and technology advisors, travel about 300,000 miles a year by air for work and cover another 50,000 miles by car. Add in other indirect causes of carbon dioxide creation, such as paper usage, and the total output for Expansion Capital is an estimated 215 metric tons of carbon. Expansion Capital spent about $1,200 for offsets in 2005.

Some VCs are taking it further. Sanjay Wagle, vice president in the cleantech group at VantagePoint Venture Partners, made sure the only car he’s ever bought—a Toyota Prius hybrid—was previously used. “Half of the environmental impact of a car is in the manufacturing, not the operation,” he explains.

Wagle also spent $150 last year to offset his personal carbon footprint. “It’s counteracting the effects you had that resulted in carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere,” he says.

Calculate your carbon footprint

Worried about your carbon footprint? Here is the annual amount of carbon dioxide produced by some common VC activities.

Commute from Woodside, Calif., to Menlo Park, Calif., in a 2007 Mercedes-Benz E550 with automatic transmission: 4,128 pounds.

Same commute for a 2007 Hummer H3 4WD with automatic transmission: 4,598 pounds.

Roundtrip flight from San Francisco to New York (JFK): 2,010 pounds.

Roundtrip flight from San Francisco to Beijing: 4,599 pounds.

Roundtrip flight from San Francisco to Bangalore: 6,788 pounds.

Flying in a Gulfstream 400 for one hour: 8,785 pounds.

Home energy consumption, based on $165 monthly power bill: 13,000 lbs

Source: Carbon calculator at