Lyft on Thursday announced a multimillion-dollar investment to counterbalance the pollution produced by its entire fleet of ride-sharing vehicles, by immediately purchasing carbon offsets verified by a third party. The plan to become fully carbon-neutral, it says, makes Lyft one of the top voluntary purchasers of carbon offsets in the world.
In a blog post on Medium, co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer say they expect to offset more than 1 million metric tons of carbon, "equivalent to planting tens of millions of trees or taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road." Lyft plans to make its rides carbon-neutral by directly funding efforts to reduce emissions from tailpipes and automotive manufacturing itself, renewable energy programs, forestry projects and initiatives that capture emissions from landfills.
The transportation sector, which includes car and trucks but also commercial aircraft and railroads, accounts for 27 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. The co-founders write that they "feel immense responsibility for the profound impact that Lyft will have on our planet."
"In the future, all vehicles will operate with clean energy," they write. "But climate change is not waiting. It's happening now, and it presents a clear and immediate threat to our world and those who live in it. Action cannot wait."
The program will be independently verified by green-energy outfit 3Degrees, which will also ensure that the program supports new initiatives that would not have happened without Lyft's investment. Most of the projects will be located near Lyft's largest markets, the co-founders said, and all will be based in the U.S.
"This isn't just about buying (carbon) credits to feel good about yourself, it's about investing in projects that otherwise wouldn't happen, whether it's a wind farm in Oklahoma or reducing emissions from an auto parts plant in Michigan," Zimmer, who is also Lyft's president, told USA Today.
Lyft has a history of supporting efforts to mitigate climate change (plus an idea to introduce "smart lanes" to reduce traffic congestion). Last year it announced it was joining We Are Still In, the Michael Bloomberg-led coalition to buck President Trump's move to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord. It also has appointed an outspoken environmentalist and author to be its advisor on climate-change strategies, and it established a series of climate-impact goals, including powering all of its autonomous electric vehicles with 100 percent renewable energy.
Lyft still trails far behind rival Uber in size and the number of rides given (about 500 million annually compared to Uber's 5 billion, at most recent count). But given Uber's nightmarish string of bad publicity recently, ranging from the downfall of former CEO Travis Kalanick to the death of a pedestrian after being struck by a self-driving Uber car last month, Lyft figures to have a lot to gain from its new initiative.