Where does the Pro Mini 5V come from?

A look at the carbon footprint of the ProMini 5V

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The Pro Mini: A miniaturized and minimized version of the Arduino Pro 328, with five fewer components than its big brother.

As the sustainability coordinator and part of the green team (known as the Wildcats!) here at SparkFun, I decided to check out the carbon footprint of this tiny board.

So where do all the pieces that make up the Pro Mini come from? There are five countries they originate from, including China, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Czech Republic. But that's just the beginning! Nine out of 11 of the pieces on this board we get in bulk from Future Electronics. Future Electronics is based out of Memphis, TN, meaning that those nine pieces go through Tennessee before reaching us in Colorado. But since all of this is in bulk, it obviously isn't just nine different pieces that come in their own box with a special bow. It is hundreds of each of those pieces in their own regular boxes headed our way from Future - all for us to assemble the Pro Mini in our own building.

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The PCB, IC ATMEGA328, push button reset switch, green LED, red LED, and sometimes the resistors all make the long haul from China.

The resonator comes from Japan, and the capacitor (.1uF 25V) and resistors (both 10K ohm and 330 ohm) generally come from Taiwan.

Last but not least, the second capacitor (10uF 16V) comes from the Czech Republic and the voltage regulator comes from Malaysia.

In order to get down to the nitty gritty, we had to make some assumptions, and we couldn't get all the information about the products sent to us. For example, the parts that go to Future and come to SparkFun are flown direct to Memphis and then to Denver. Unfortunately, we cannot get all the shipping information from its original location, which is near impossible, and getting anyone to tell us that information can take forever.

So, using a carbon footprint calculator that anyone can use online, we calculated the air miles traveled. After that, the calculator comes up with a number for the metric tonnes of CO2 emitted, with the approximate cost per metric tonne.

After adding the carbon footprint of each shipment box (a box of hundreds of each of those pieces), we had a carbon footprint of approximately 18 metric tonnes of CO2 for this board. That means an offset of approximately $200 to go toward an organization that helps balance out that 18 metric tonnes of CO2.

So to follow up, I checked out the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to look up equivalences and what 18 metric tonnes of CO2 means in real-world terms. The EPA has their own equivalency calculator, so we can see some cool facts.

Some things I learned about 18 metric tonnes of CO2:

  • It is the amount of carbon stored annually by 14.8 acres of U.S. forests.
  • It is the equivalent of CO2 emission from 750 propane cylinders used for home BBQs.
  • It is the CO2 emission equivalent of 2,018 gallons of gas.

Since we want to do something about it, we will be offsetting the amount of CO2 emissions by doing a donation day similar to the one we did to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It will be a contribution from SparkFun Electronics to an organization picked by SparkFun employees' vote. We will update you with who we picked, so stay tuned!

If you have any suggestions about some cool ways to calculate carbon footprints or a good organization to donate to, let us know!

Comments 50 comments

  • Member #436831 / about 11 years ago / 3

    Better idea. Instead of buying in to the idea of carbon offsets, why not buy $200 worth of per food to support a no-kill animal shelter? Or use that money for a company picnic where each employee plants a tree? Or you pick a median to maintain and beautify it with flowers? Or you place a free component in every order? Don't give that money to an organization that you have no way to accurately track its use. You might as well flush it down the toilet. Keep it local, man!

    • Samantha2 / about 11 years ago / 4

      Hey, man, that's the plan! We like local. It will either go to a local organization or go toward something we actually do ourselves (e.g. planting trees).

  • TeslaFan / about 11 years ago / 3

    Wouldn't the planes get there faster if they went the other way? You've got them shown going the long way around. It's like Christopher Columbus went through all that trouble in vain.

    • Sleepwalker3 / about 11 years ago / 3

      Don't be silly, the Earth is flat and if you went the other way you'd fly off the edge!

    • scharkalvin / about 11 years ago / 1

      I think that map is simply showing the points on earth connected by Spark Fun's products, not the actual route by which they get there. Remember that the world is round and that map is flat. It would be kinda hard to show actual great circle routes on a flat piece of paper!

  • union7 / about 11 years ago / 3

    When you used the carbon calculator, did you account for the fact that more than just your items were on the plane? Or was it assumed that only your package was on the plane? What assumptions did you make as far as the way the rest of the cargo shared the carbon produced?

    • Samantha2 / about 11 years ago / 1

      Yes, we would assume that more than just our products were on the plane. A lot of our products come from Future Electronics, based out of Memphis, TN. Therefore, we could safely assume that other products on that plane go to Future Electronics and, most likely, somewhere else.

      Since we were focused on our product and not everything else on the plane, we did not look too closely at whatever else there would be. All these products come from different countries and likely come in different shipments. So, our product is sharing a carbon footprint with anything else coming on that shipment. Furthermore, all of the Pro Mini product is not coming to Boulder at the same time. If all of the parts were coming at the same time, the carbon footprint would be much smaller, but unfortunately that is not the case. It would be hard to get all these parts in one shipment due to the fact that we sell the parts individually as well as a part of other boards.

      An assumption could be made based on sharing carbon. We would assume that our box(es) is some fraction of the carbon it takes to get from one location to another. We did not go this route because we don't know how many boxes are on that plane. making it really hard to calculate. Therefore, we assumed that only our box is on that plane (although we know that is not true). Another reason we did this was to assume a sort of maximum amount of carbon emissions. Calculating individually yields a much higher number, which helps us to offset other methods of transportation that these components take to get to Boulder (e.g. shipping trucks from distribution centers). Thanks for the questions!

      • crlanglois / about 11 years ago / 1

        I'm fairly sure that most (or all) of these components came by ship so your actual footprint is probably far less than you anticipate. Most distributors (like Future) have weeks to months lead time on parts because of this. Nonetheless I get that the purpose is to educate on the complexity of sourcing while also being altruistic so it's not really worth getting into much further than that.

        Good article.

      • Oxameter / about 11 years ago * / 1

        we assumed that only our box is on that plane

        Seems like that would give you a value many magnitudes greater than the actual. Maybe for a more accurate estimate:

        Emissions generated transporting your box = Total Aircraft Emissions*(Weight of your box/Max payload weight of aircraft)

        You'd still have to make quite a few broad assumptions (aircraft at max capacity, etc) but if you know the shipping company and route you should be able to find the exact type of aircraft used.

  • TheRegnirps / about 11 years ago / 3

    I can drop a couple big western hemlock stems down a mine shaft in a subsidence zone. Or turn it into quality furniture so that the carbon is locked up indefinitely. How much can I get for that?

    • How much can I get for that?

      No matter how much you charge, we still aren't getting off your lawn.

      • TheRegnirps / about 11 years ago / 1

        As long as you keep your shows on and quit absorbing all the vitamins.

  • vind0 / about 11 years ago / 2

    I think its great you did this study, but I bet there are ways you could reduce your carbon footprint right in your own back yard. How much energy does SparkFun consume each month to run all their assembly equipment as well as their offices? Maybe you could invest money in alternative energy sources like solar and wind to help offset the power consumption at the office and assembly areas? I think it would be a lot easier to measure since most of the variables are known.

    • Samantha2 / about 11 years ago / 5

      Absolutely! My next blog post in a couple weeks will go over this. At our new building, solar panels will fill the roof (192 of them!), giving us quite a bit of our current power consumption. Also, we will have meters for essentially every department on their energy and water consumption in which we can further inquire to reduce our consumption. There is a lot more to the new building that will help with this, in which I will probably write about it when our new home is built.

      Our currently building is over 20 years old and in need of some serious remodeling. Since we rent this building and will be leaving it soon, we decided to invest most of our time for this in particular to the new building. We do a lot here at SparkFun in terms of sustainability and we want all of you to know that. There will be more blog posts soon as well as a mention on the About Us page. Thanks for the comment!

    • andy4us / about 11 years ago / 1

      Especially since they're building a new building, I can't remember if Nate said it would be LEED certified. One of the car companies, maybe Ferrari, use a lot of natural light in their buildings, as well as having a lot of indoor trees and plants, both to help offset carbon, but to provide a better working environment. With all the dogs around though, maybe indoor trees are not such a great idea !

      • Samantha2 / about 11 years ago / 3

        Our new building will actually exceed LEED certification requirements. Boulder County requires all new buildings to go through the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) and it is something that SparkFun wanted to go through anyway. So we could technically be LEED certifiable, but the knowledge that we are going through international codes with a greater standard is humbling :) Anyway, the IgCC requires that at least 25% of all light is natural lighting and a lot of people like to have plants here. As for the dogs, our dog tribunal will have to figure that one out!

        • berfel / about 11 years ago / 1

          25% of all light must be natural? So you have to make it like an aquarium to meet winter-time operations where there is no natural light for perhaps 16 hours a day.

          The 25% figure sounds like a mis-communication or misinterpretation. I can't find any reference to it in the public version v1.0 of the code.

        • l0gikG8 / about 11 years ago / 1

          Have you included the environmental impact of the kegerator?

          • Samantha2 / about 11 years ago / 1

            Good reminder! You'll see that info in the next blog post!

  • h22 / about 11 years ago / 1

    One of these days some forward thinking progressive genius will discover that the earth, is in fact, partly made up of carbon. They will be astonished to learn that we, and most life on this partly carbon rock, are carbon based life forms. They might even discover that trees and other such green plants actually breath the stuff. They then will try to figure out how much of the earth is actually made of the vile, detested carbon, and when they figure out the "carbon footprint" of carbon, if their heads dont just explode from the shock of it all, they will conclude that the earth will infact be completelly destroyed from spontanious earthly combustion in exactly two days before the day after tomorrow. All life as we know it will be obitorated, and yet the carbon will remain. Life will start anew, and natural selection will cause it to evolve over billions of years into the supreme creature known as manbearpig, who will study the earth around him and come to the conclution that there is O2 on the earth, and if there is a .000002% increase in the amount of this nasty 02 stuff in the air the world will freeze over. So get a head start guys and gals, I'm selling O2 credits for a mere $10.00 a share, lets overt the comming ice age.

    • We don't appreciate comment wars. Please don't start one.

      • h22 / about 11 years ago / 1

        wasn't going for a war of any kind, just injecting a little humor to illistrate a different take on the whole global ice age.. wait, that was a certain inevitabillity when i was in grade school 30 years ago (polar bears were dying off by the thousande back then too, and we should all be under ice right now), I meant global cooling,... wait that was like 10 years ago, i meant global warming,..... no wait, that is so 5 years ago, climate change (yea that's it!) thing . But I guess I already knew that when it comes to manbearpig there can be no differing oppinions.

        • c32652 / about 11 years ago / 1

          I too remember the panic about global COOLING back in the 70's. It's sad how these days you are some kind of heretic if you even suggest another point of view. Perhaps while it may be true that humans contribute to climate change it is also true that earths climate changes far more dramatically than we as humans can influence and that almost all the "carbon" schemes do more to put money in someones pocket than actually affecting the climate in any way.

          The climate on mars changed dramatically with no human intervention, it has both warmed and cooled dramatically here on earth long before any of us were here too.

          I'm all for cutting down on pollution, planting a tree and keeping our water clean but even if we do all that the climate is going to change, as it always has, and we will adapt. It's a far better plan then thinking we can prevent climate change if we just tax carbon enough in some way.

          • nickwest / about 11 years ago / 3

            Um, I don't think there was ever a "panic" about an impending ice age in the 1970s. Not among climate scientists at least.

            In the 1970s there was a lot of discussion about ice ages and climate cycles. No informed source was sowing panic about an impending ice age. Even back in the 1970s we could do simple math, and we understood the time scales involved.

            The sheer speed with which we are putting CO2 into the atmosphere is orders of magnitude different from the timescales of ice ages, which is part of the reason there is concern.

            Note also that the idea of anthropogenic climate change due to CO2 is not new. I'd have to dig out the references, but this was being discussed 100+ years ago when scientists calculated net solar radiation over the globe as a whole.

            I hope I'm not encouraging the trolls by feeding them.

            • Note also that the idea of anthropogenic climate change due to CO2 is not new. I’d have to dig out the references, but this was being discussed 100+ years ago when scientists calculated net solar radiation over the globe as a whole.

              The other day I visited Powell's City of Books in Portland and came across this newish anthology, edited by Kim Stanley Robinson, of Kenneth Rexroth's writing on the Sierras. I've probably read the bulk of Rexroth's more formal published output by now, but there were some excerpts from newspaper columns I'd never come across before, culminating in a couple of pieces on ecology and what we'd now consider the environmental movement. It was interesting to realize that concerns about atmospheric carbon and anthropogenic climate change were already widespread enough in the mid-to-late 1960s that a literary figure with an educated layperson's knowledge of the sciences would be articulating them in terms familiar to early 2000s readers.

              (And yeah, the editor is that Kim Stanley Robinson, whose SF I'm now quite a bit more inclined to check out.)

            • SomeGuy123 / about 11 years ago * / 1

              Indeed. In the 1970s, there were more scientists predicting global warming than there were predicting global cooling.

          • h22 / about 11 years ago / 1

            c32652, well said. I wasn,t going to bring up the fact that the polar caps on mars are mirroring our own (poor martian polar bears :-( . As facts like these seem to be meaningless in climate change conversations. I guess you also remember the overpopulation crisis as well :-) . We seem to be doing pretty good considering 15 years ago we all either starved to death or were killed in world wars brought about by anarchy and global food shortages . Some of the current generation might actually remember the the planes falling out of the sky, nuclear reactor meltdown, zombie apocalypse that was going to happen on "Y2K".

  • vapidr1 / about 11 years ago / 1

    "Does your cauliflower have a big carbon footprint?"

  • Member #220339 / about 11 years ago * / 1


    Parts come from separate sources and at different times via separate shipments -- check.

    Two quick questions:

    **1.) Approximately how many boxes in total were shipped to satisfy the manufacturing requirement of 700 boards, AND... **

    **2.) What, in your estimate, is the average weight of one of these boxes? **

    Of course different shipments will have different corresponding weights, and I don't expect you to tally each of the individual boxes associated with the separate shipments, BUT... Ballpark estimate - if you would be so kind.


    • TheRegnirps / about 11 years ago / 1

      Also everything in China is made from coal in one way or the other. US made stuff is a higher percentage of hydro and nuclear. This is the kind of thing that provides permanent employment in government and keeps the rest of us scrambling. With China and India out there you have about as much chance of having any effect as a molecule of medicine surviving in a homeopathic dilution.

    • Samantha2 / about 11 years ago / 1

      These questions are a bit difficult to answer in terms of shipments. To make this only for 700 boards is difficult as well. Our shipments come in the thousands typically. Each component on this board also goes toward the assembly of many different boards as well as individual sales. So essentially for 700 PCBs and 700 of each component that makes up the Pro Mini 5V, it would only take up the space of a single standard size box. The weight would be about 1-2 lbs tops.

      A single shipment of each of the components far exceed the amount necessary for the assembly of the Pro Mini. That would mean approx. 11 boxes that weigh variously depending on the quantity ordered. I understand this is vague, but there is really no way to track these parts specifically for the Pro Mini without a good amount of assumptions. The above (a single box) would be the overall weight and shipment size that would come out of those thousands of components ordered if we counted it out.

    • Samantha2 / about 11 years ago / 1

      Good questions. This is going to take me some time and a chat with a couple different people, but expect a reply from me soon. Thanks!

  • LC / about 11 years ago / 1

    A couple years ago I heard about a couple different endeavors to prototype and market "carbon negative" farming. I didn't do a ton of research into it but on the surface it sounds like a good idea. Does anyone in our community have any info about these types of endeavors and where they are going these days?

  • berfel / about 11 years ago / 1

    Where did the materials to make the ATMEGA328 come from? Do you have to account for the "embedded carbon" in them when they're at the despatch good loading bay at the factory where the device was "made"?

    The costs of supplying the bureaucratic food chain is a tax if imposed by law. A tax which, in the case of "air miles" is substantially outside of the sovereign territories of those imposing the tax. Imagine going on vacation in a foreign country and being taxed by them for your (notional) activities at home?

    How much of the embedded carbon has already been accounted? Isn't the true cost embedded within the price that you pay for the component?

    Any contributions that you make to the farce will continue to fuel the farce.

    Concentrate on making fun stuff. That makes more sense and has the potential to improve the human condition for the growing generations.

  • fle33.com / about 11 years ago / 1

    What about the embodied energy within the parts materials, as well as energy required to manufacture the components, as well as carbon miles for the delivery of materials to the component manufacturer.. Most likely impossible to oversee stewardship of raw materials to finished product, but might also be able to be calculated.

    "Sustainable growth is 0%" So it would be better to fudge the numbers on the conservative side and return more to carbon sequestration than to overlook the energy involved in taking raw materials and turning them into a widget on my desk.

    Good work! I really enjoy seeing Sparkfun evolving with progressive business methodologies.

  • jdesbonnet / about 11 years ago * / 1

    Since pretty much all modes of long distance transport burn oil (in one form or another) [1] why not use transport costs as a means of calculating your carbon foot print. Transport companies don't operate at a loss... else they won't exist. But let's put an upper bound on this by assuming that they spend 100% of their fees on fuel. So assume crude oil is $100 barrel, and you spend $1000 on transport, then that's 10 barrels of oil. I believe that's approx 0.5 tonnes CO2 / barrel [2] .. so 5 metric tonnes of CO2.

    [1] Ya, JetA1 != Diesel != Petrol ... but it must be in the same ball park. [2] http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/pubs/calcmeth.htm

  • TheRegnirps / about 11 years ago / 1

    Maybe there is a market for international freight gliders or Zeppelins. Maybe clipper ships? Instead of "slow steaming", big sailing vessels - made of wood of course so there is a small footprint in building the ship. Oh, and cotton/hemp sails and lines. They can be coated with natural tar to prevent rot, or soaked in borax and glycol. That works well. Then satellite weather systems to minimize transport time and maximize safety. Gimme yo ho blow the man down!

    Seriously. Nuclear or solar plants to make hydrogen and H2 jet engines. The only problem remains the hi temps and the nitrogen compounds you can't avoid.

    • A hypothetical product gets moved 7000 miles on a organically built ship powered by wind, solar, and self satisfaction...people still upset at $5.95 cost.

    • SFUptownMaker / about 11 years ago / 2

      We've got a few glider pilots in the building, and that had me thinking if long distance freight gliders could ever be a viable proposition.

      I have a feeling it would require some sensor infrastructure- plotting heat islands which create strong updrafts, for instance- but getting wide spread data networks in place these days is pretty easy.

      • TheRegnirps / about 11 years ago / 1

        Love soaring. But I forgot to factor in the cost of a space based positioning and weather infrastructure :-( When you add it all up that must be gigantic.

  • Member #283407 / about 11 years ago / 1

    This is kind of silly. Real scientists know that CO2 is a beneficial gas and that it does not cause global warming. (See this paper in particular.)

  • scharkalvin / about 11 years ago / 1

    I hope you DON'T mean PER BOARD, or you guys are going to go BROKE VERY QUICKLY!

    Actually you said: "After adding the carbon footprint of each shipment box (a box of hundreds of each of those pieces), we had a carbon footprint of approximately 18 metric tonnes of CO2 for this board. That means an offset of approximately $200 to go toward an organization that helps balance out that 18 metric tonnes of CO2."

    So my question would be just what is the footprint for EACH item sold, and what is the carbon cost of a single board ordered? I assume that this cost is included in the price of each item?

    • Samantha2 / about 11 years ago / 1

      Haha that is a fact. See above for some clarification.

      For each individual board, it's approximately .026 metric tonnes of CO2. That number would be increased depending on where the board is shipped and how it gets there (via plane and/or truck) after leaving SparkFun's building.

      We currently are not adding a carbon tax to any of the items sold. It has been discussed and we decided; rather than our customers paying for our carbon emissions, SparkFun would donate to an organization instead.

      Thanks for the questions!

  • andy4us / about 11 years ago / 1

    Do you mean 18 metric tons and $200 per board produced, or per X number of boards based on how many items fit in a box, multiple etc ?

    Also, wouldn't a lot of the parts make the long journey by ship ? A lot of stuff we buy, granted finished boards etc, not components have 6 to 8 week lead times due to shipping time, and we have to pay a premium for 7 day air transport.

    • Samantha2 / about 11 years ago * / 1

      Good questions. To answer the first question: There are approximately 700 Pro Mini's in our building, each requiring 11 components. 18 metric tons refers to the amount of Pro Mini's currently in our hands (and typically there is always around 700). To offset the amount of CO2, it costs around $200 to offset 700 Pro Mini's.

      I also mentioned that there are some assumptions that we have to consider. Since we get our parts in bulk from a large supplier, in which they work with the original company, it is REALLY hard to find the exact route it took to get to where the product is today, and furthermore, how that route was taken. There is a long chain of people to contact and people aren't always too cooperative about the way they do things. Due to this, we chose essentially the shortest route as well as the fastest way to get here. In the original study, there is a 5% to 10% variance factor for the various ways that these products are handled and brought over to us. Apologies for any confusion or lack of clarification. Thanks for the questions!

      • scharkalvin / about 11 years ago / 2

        Ah, so to answer my previous question, the cost per item is about 29 cents. That's about 3% of the pro-mini's selling price, or about what the sales tax used to be many years ago in most states! (It's now about twice that). That cost is built into your overhead and reduces your profit on sales of the items, but it's a noble idea. This should influence some people's ideas about where to purchase their kits if there is a choice between supliers.

        • Sleepwalker3 / about 11 years ago / 1

          Of course all of us sitting on our computers, chewing up (largely) coal derived power, using tons of plastics and chemicals and manufacturing energy that went to make up our laptops, phones, PC's or whatever, and ordering said Pro Mini, to be flown to the other side of the globe (again) to XYZ (non US) customer and be added to more tiny bits that have been brought in probably far more than triples whatever figures they came up with. So... We should all turn off our computers, never come to Sparkfun again and go and plant trees for a hobby instead :D

          ...well, perhaps we could just do that for a day or two a year :) - The Sparkfun Tree Day! And Dave can bring along Mr Plantsy Pants! (If that evil Robert hasn't already killed it).

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