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#Boulder, can we be #carbonfree? Help us build a platform for citizen-engagement around achieving carbon neutrality:



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Climate change is not fun. It is frustrating, uninspiring, and depressing. Hope for a better future is dim and often the widespread action, that the world so urgently needs, seems unlikely, if not impossible.

This could be the end of the story. But it is not. Because every single thing once seemed impossible before it was first done: Human-powered flight, the 4-minute mile, the eradication of smallpox. And now: attaining a carbon-neutral future.

When human beings come together under a shared vision and a joint purpose, incredible things happen. Carbon Neutral Boulder is an initiative to do just that: Bringing Boulder together around achieving the incredible — carbon neutrality.

Why carbon neutrality? In 2014, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) calculated that we must limit cumulative emissions to 1,000 gigatons CO₂ to stay within the 2°C limit [1]. To achieve this, humanity eventually needs to become carbon neutral between 2060 and 2075 — meaning net annual greenhouse gas emissions of zero.

In 2014, Boulder co-founded the Alliance for Carbon Neutral Cities — an international network of 17 cities committed to trailblazing the path towards a future free of greenhouse gas emissions. With that, the city decided to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 relative to the 2005 baseline [3].

So far, most of the city's efforts have been focused on top-down, city-council-level change. This proposal seeks to change that by involving the community at large in the ambitious plan for carbon neutrality. Carbon Neutral Boulder envisions two major components: 1) empowering and enabling citizens to reduce personal carbon emissions, and 2) leveraging the collective expertise, creativity, and people-power of Boulder's community to support the city council's efforts towards carbon neutrality.

Fun Fact: “Carbon Neutral” was the Oxford Word of the Year 2006 [4].

What actions do you propose?

** Disclaimer **

I haven't seen particularly much interest in this idea and am therefore hesitant to continue development. We built an early-stage prototype of one part of this idea: getting people to make commitments to reduce their carbon footprint. You can take a look here and log in with username "test" and password "test". If anyone is interested in continued development, please reach out and Iet's talk!

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The proposal at hand focuses on the overarching idea rather than the

specific steps that will need to be taken. One reason is that for now, the overarching idea is more important than the details. But the other reason is that no single individual can do this alone. You (yes, you! ☺) can help improve this proposal by signing up on this platform and clicking the “edit” button at the top of this proposal. Together we can create a greatly improved, collectively-created and -owned, and more detailed plan for making Boulder carbon neutral.


In 2014, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), working closely with the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), calculated that, to limit global warming to 2°C, we must not emit more than a total of 3,670 gigatons CO₂ [5]. When we factor in other greenhouse gases, the total CO₂ budget falls to approximately 2,900 gigatons CO₂ [6]. Since the late 19th century, we have already emitted roughly 1,900 gigatons CO₂, leaving us with a budget of at most 1,000 gigatons CO₂ left to spend [7].

With a limited budget for how much more CO2 we can afford to emit into the atmosphere, it is clear that sooner or later — depending on our emission trajectory over the coming decades — we will need to reduce net global carbon emissions to zero. According to the UNEP's most recent evaluations, this will need to happen some time between 2060 and 2075 [8].

In 2014, Boulder co-founded the Alliance for Carbon Neutral Cities — an international network of 17 cities committed to trailblazing the path towards a future free of greenhouse gas emissions. With that, the city decided to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 relative to the 2005 baseline [9]. This means reducing emissions from the current 19 metric tons CO₂ per capita to just 3 metrics tons CO2 per capita [10].

The city is currently drafting a city climate action plan and has put much time and effort into crafting city-level policies and initiatives that will reduce our collective carbon emissions (see details in the plan). However, achieving carbon neutrality requires that we all work together: city government, businesses, organizations, and residents. So far, most effort has concentrated around top-down, city-council-level change. This proposal seeks to change that.

Proposal: Carbon Neutral Boulder

Carbon Neutral Boulder is an initiative to bring Boulder together around achieving carbon neutrality.

To do so, we envision two major components: 1) empowering and enabling citizens to reduce personal carbon emissions, and 2) leveraging the collective expertise, creativity, and people-power of Boulder's community to support the city council's efforts towards carbon neutrality.

Individual Action: Assessment and Reduction

The behaviors and emissions of individuals are easily overlooked when discussing climate change mitigation strategies. A study by Vandenbergh and Steinemann (2007) showed that a large portion of carbon emission result from the behaviors and actions of individuals [12]. Carbon Neutral Boulder's platform focuses on empowering individuals to assess their greenhouse gas emissions and reduce them.

Assessing personal emissions. Before being able to reduce our personal emissions, we first need to understand which areas of our lives are responsible for the greatest emissions and which areas hold the greatest potential for reduction. The first step on the individual action platform is to assess one's emissions using a Boulder-specific carbon footprint calculator [11]. After answering multiple questions about one's daily commute, household, travel, food habits, and a few other areas of life, the resident will be presented with their annual greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a breakdown of their emissions into the various sectors. To provide some perspective, these emissions (for each sector) will be contrasted to the average "Boulderite”, the average American, as well as the global average. The breakdown and comparison allows for a first impression of which areas of life hold the greatest potential for improvement. We will also show the goal for 2050: the carbon-neutral individual with emissions of zero CO2 per year.

Reducing personal emissions. After assessing one's carbon emissions, the user will receive individualized, Boulder-specific recommendations for decreasing their carbon emissions (based on their input in the carbon footprint calculator). These recommendations range from very simple and easily implemented changes (“wash your clothes using cold water”) to more challenging, longer-term (or ongoing) commitments (“buy local food”; “have vegetarian meals on three days per week”). The user can choose from a variety of different recommendations from various areas of life (food, transport, household, clothing, …) or can have the platform automatically compile a list of the easiest and most cost-effective steps for reducing annual emissions.

Collective Action: Ideation, Feedback, and Implementation

Similarly important to doing our part in reducing carbon emissions is coming together as a community and reducing our collective emissions. While we, individually, can control and reduce the amount of electricity that we use, it is not up to us individually to decide where our electricity comes from (fossil fuels, nuclear, renewables, …). We can only make those decisions collectively.

The Climate CoLab contest is a great example of collective action. By allowing anyone to submit proposals for tackling climate change, the contest enables us to crowd-sourcing ideas and expertise from within the community. What if we could take the best practices from the Climate CoLab (community ideation, feedback, discussions) and pair with an additional element focused on bridging the gap between idea and implementation?

Co-Creation. Leverage the collective intelligence, creativity, and experience within the Boulder community by allowing anyone to get involved in the ideation of strategies for emissions mitigation. The Climate CoLab provides a great example for how this can be done. But rather than being a one-time contest, this platform will be in a continuous state of ideation (as well as feedback and implementation).

Feedback. After an idea has been proposed, community members can give their feedback. On the most basic level, members can upvote, downvote, abstain from voting, and veto ideas.This provides direct feedback of how the community feels about an idea. Equally important is the discussion around an idea: Constructive feedback allows community members to iterate and improve upon the ideas. This form of decision-making is based on the online democracy platform Loomio.

Implementation. If an idea is agreed upon, it moves into implementation stage. Here the action has to shift from the virtual platform to the physical world around us. The online platform cannot replace the human effort it takes to do this, but it can be a tool in this process by enabling the community to map out required steps, leveraging collective action, and for coordinating efforts.

These ideas — co-creation, discussion and giving feedback, and implementation through road-mapping and sharing and coordinating responsibilities — are not new. They are reflective of the process we engage in when we try to solve a problem as a group in the real world. The purpose of the platform is to make this process scalable to a group as large as the Boulder community.


Carbon Neutral Boulder is an experiment of community-powered action towards mitigating climate change. By providing people with the available resources, metrics, and information, we seek to facilitate a sense of identification with the city's goals towards carbon neutrality. By allowing individuals to assess and reduce carbon emissions, we aim to put ourselves into an active rather than a passive role. And by bringing people with a shared vision together around the co-creation of a carbon neutral Boulder, we hope for a collective redefinition of the boundaries of possibility.

Click on a poster to view in higher resolution.

Who will take these actions?

Community ownership. Carbon Neutral Boulder is a community-led and -owned initiative. Everyone is invited to participate and shape its future.

Under C3Boulder? Rather than starting a new entity, Carbon Neutral Boulder could be run under C3Boulder. C3Boulder is a citizen-led organization with the goal of connecting and facilitating collaboration between the various climate stakeholders in Boulder. Rather than initiating action, projects, and events themselves, they want to bring those together who are already doing these things. In a similar fashion, Carbon Neutral Boulder does not propose community actions and projects, but presents a platform for the community to come together and propose actions and projects themselves.

Planning & discussion. If Carbon Neutral Boulder becomes an initiative under C3Boulder, a Hylo project page (within the C3Boulder Hylo community) could be used for planning, exchange, and discussion. If not, Slack could be an alternative.

Transparency. All resources, documents, and notes will be made easily accessible and shared openly with the community.

Governance. Decisions will be made democratically.

Roles within Carbon Neutral Boulder. Flat, horizontal distribution of power. No hierarchy. Open tasks are publicly accessible and can be adopted by anyone who is interested.

Platform development and maintenance. Code will be open source and available for co-creation on GitHub. Contributions to code will be made on voluntary basis.

Other key actors. We want to create a proposal that the city council approves of because their collaboration will ultimately be required: Ideally, they will work with the collective action platform in regards to initiatives around climate mitigation (by posting proposals, generation discussions and feedback, and allowing for collective implementation).

What are the key challenges?

1. How can we measure consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions? By deciding to measure consumption-based rather than production-based emissions, we will be measuring the emissions we are truly responsible for. These will likely be higher than our production-based emissions but the importance of tracking consumption-based emissions was recognized by the Climate Commitment Planning Advisory Board [13]. It is yet to be determined how we can go about measuring our actual, consumption-based emissions (ideas welcome!).

2. How can we develop a Boulder-specific carbon footprint calculator? Around 2009, there existed a Boulder-specific carbon footprint calculator [14]. We can probably draw on their work and improve the assessment from there.

3. How can we identify/come up with recommendations for personal emissions reduction? Many generic recommendations for individual emissions mitigation exist [15]. With the help of the various climate change-focused organizations in Boulder, we should be able to compile a comprehensive list.

4. How can the personal emissions assessment, commitment to carbon mitigation, and the reduction recommendations be fun, engaging, and motivating? Individuals can compare their footprint to their friends' and compete for the greatest commitment and the lowest emissions. Competitions could also take in the workplace [16]. Offering rewards for successfully reducing emissions is another promising avenue.

5. How can CNB also involve local businesses and organizations as climate mitigation stakeholders? We could develop a separate carbon footprint calculator for organizations and businesses and allow them to also make commitments to reduction. Businesses and organizations could be competing with each other for the lowest carbon footprint.

What are the key benefits?

The proposal's primary purpose is to leverage the collective expertise, creativity, intelligence, wisdom, and energy of Boulder's community to support the city's efforts towards attaining carbon neutrality.

In addition to engaging the community in supporting the city's efforts towards carbon neutrality, the proposal has three other key benefits:

Bringing the community together. The shared vision of carbon-neutrality in Boulder will foster a strong aspect of identification with the city. By allowing citizens to come together and collaborate, the platform helps bring the community together. This is furthered by an increase in the sharing economy (such as sharing of household appliances, carpooling, urban gardening projects, …).

Strengthening the local economy. Reducing our carbon emissions means that we will rely more and more on the resources that are locally available. The increase in interest in local resources will lead to a growing and strengthening of the local economy.

Trailblazing the path for other communities around the world. Boulder is only one community out of 17 in the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. If the proposed actions work for Boulder, they can be scaled to other places in the world.

What are the proposal’s costs?

The minimum costs for Carbon Neutral Boulder are a domain name and a server on which the website and platform can run. These products will be purchased from a web hosting provider that shares our values. One example is the gaia host collective — a worker-owned cooperative dedicated to environmental and social sustainability.

Domain. The domain name will cost $20/year.

Server. The server costs will depend on the number of users interacting with the platform. At the beginning, this will not be in excess of $300/year ($25/month). Once more people use the platform, costs will be higher, but obtaining additional funding will be a likely consequence of being able to provide evidence of traction.

Additional resources. If additional financial resources are made available for this initiative, they can be used to hire one full-time staff member, or pay for part of the website/platform development, or be used for offering rewards for successful reduction of individual greenhouse gas emissions.

But if no resources are available, the work of the full-time staff member will be divided up between volunteers, the website and platform will be developed by volunteers, and rewards will be offered by other means, for example partnerships with local businesses. With or without funding, there is a way to engage the community around Boulder's efforts towards carbon neutrality.

Time line

2005: Annual greenhouse gas emissions total 1,955,000 metric tons CO
₂. This presents the baseline against which to measure emission reductions [17]

2012: Annual greenhouse gas emissions total 1,952,500 metric tons CO₂ or 19 metric tons CO₂ per capita [18]

November - January 2016: Carbon Neutral Boulder Ideation

February 2016: Proposal revision

March 2016: Launch of Early-Stage Prototype

March 1 – April 15, 2016: Testing Phase at Naropa University

April 22, 2016 (Earth Day/Week): Platform opened up to the Boulder community

May – August 2016: Iteration and improvement of platform

September 1, 2016: Launch Boulder-wide campaign to raise awareness about carbon neutrality

January 2017: Min. 90% of Boulderites know about Boulder's commitment to carbon neutrality

Summer 2017: 15,000 Boulderites have calculated their carbon footprint + 1,000 are actively using the platform (using it at least once a month). The average active user of the platform has reduced her personal annual greenhouse gas emissions by 5 metric tons of CO₂ (reduction of min. 5,000 metric tons CO₂ overall)

2020 (or earlier): Peak Emissions — constant reduction in GHG from hereon

2021: 5-Year anniversary. Evaluate the scalability of the citizen-engagement platform to other members of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance

2025: Boulder is carbon neutral

Related proposals

Unleash the energy of millions by making climate action simple, relevant and fun


[1] UNEP (2014). Emissions gap report: Executive summary. Retrieved from

[2] UNEP (2015). Emissions gap report: Executive summary. Retrieved from

[3] City of Boulder (2015). Boulder's climate commitment: Rising to the climate challenge, powering a vibrant future (Draft Oct 2015). Retrieved from

[4] Oxford University Press (2006). Carbon neutral: Oxford word of the year. Retrieved from:

[5] UNEP (2014). Emissions gap report: Executive summary. Retrieved from

[6] UNEP (2014). Emissions gap report: Executive summary. Retrieved from

[7] UNEP (2014). Emissions gap report: Executive summary. Retrieved from

Quéré et al. (2015). Global carbon budget 2014. Earth System Science Data, 7, 47-85. Retrieved from

[8] UNEP (2015). Emissions gap report: Executive summary. Retrieved from

[9] City of Boulder (2015). Boulder's climate commitment: Rising to the climate challenge, powering a vibrant future (Draft Oct 2015). Retrieved from

[10] City of Boulder (n.d.). Boulder's community greenhouse gas inventory. Retrieved from

[11] For some examples, see the (carbon) footprint calculators by


[12] Vandenbergh, M. P. & Steinemann, A. C. (2007). The carbon-neutral individual. New York University Law Review, 82(6), 1673-1745. Retrieved from

[13] City of Boulder (2015). Study session: Climate commitment goal and strategy discussion. Retrieved from

[14] City of Boulder (2009). Community guide to Boulder's climate action plan, p. 42. Retrieved from

[15] For a few examples, see the recommendations from...


[16] For an example, see We Act (Swiss).

[17] It is difficult to find data on Boulder's 2005 greenhouse gas emissions. Boulder's 2012 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Summary states a 0.5 increase in emissions from 2005 to 2012.

[18] City of Boulder (n.d.). Boulder's community greenhouse gas inventory. Retrieved from