RIDGEWOOD, New Jersey. Amy Webster describes her new 5,000 square foot, five-bedroom home in this affluent suburb of New York as her dream come true. "We finally have four separate air-conditioning zones," she says with relief. "Now I don't have to fight with the kids over the thermostat."
But along with the creature comforts came a nagging sense of guilt, she says. "The people from Greenpeace would come to the front door, and when I'd tell them to get off the property they'd yell 'McMansion' back at me. I had to look that word up, and it wasn't in the dictionary."
After a little research, Amy stumbled across EnergyXchange, a Vermont-based cooperative that sells "offsets" in renewable energy resources to those whose carbon footprint is several sizes bigger than what is considered acceptable by environmental groups. "We bought an animal dung fuel pack," Amy says, "and I threw in some potpourri from Pottery Barn as a little thank you to our 'offset' family in the Bolivian Andes."
The Websters got something back that brought home to them just how personal the fight for a cleaner environment could be.
"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Webster and Webster wawas" (Quechuan for "child") read the thank-you note from Yamil Callisaya, an Andean shepherd. "Thank you for the three-pack of cow, sheep and llama dung we received from the EnergyXchange gift catalog. We are enjoying it tremendously, and hope to progress beyond a subsistence economy now that our winter fuel needs are taken care of. All the best--Yamil."
On Monday, Amy's husband Bill, a venture capitalist, will hop aboard a jet bound for California, where he will spend the week with a potential investment. Bill admits he could complete his due diligence from the East Coast, but he's going to try and sneak in 18 holes of golf at the historic Pebble Beach course, where greens fees run $425 a round, not including golf cart.
"Amy's put the environmental bug in my ear," says Bill with a sheepish grin. "I told her I was already paying a 'green fee,' but she told me I needed to do something more." So Bill has purchased a "Get Ox Out of Ditch Free" card to offset the 2,030 pounds of carbon dioxide his jetliner will belch into the atmosphere during his travels. The card will be sent to Myanmar, where Khin Maung has been waiting for relief since his ox, Than Shwe (whose name is a tongue-in-cheek dig at the country's current military leader), fell in a deep irrigation ditch last week.
Back on the job!
"Thank you for the Get Ox Out of Ditch Free card," Khin writes. "This is like a AAA membership for a farmer such as myself, with roadside service coming just in the nick of time! You guys rock! Khin Maung."
EnergyXchange executive director Allison Goode admits that she sometimes helps her third-world clients with their thank-you notes, based on the extensive training she received in the Business Etiquette class she took at Buckhill College in upstate New York. "A well-written thank-you note can mean the difference between being a highly-paid professional in America and living like a peasant in Burkina Faso," she says. "I know which one I'd rather be."