Carbon offsetting can be complicated and not all offsetting is equal, but there is a danger that due to some negative stories that we totally dismiss all carbon offsets as something to avoid, yet it is a fundamental part of achieving carbon net-zero.
Let’s start with a definition Carbon offsetting as defined by Oxford Dictionary
“Carbon Offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by planting trees”
1. Carbon Offsets are fundamental to the Holy Trinity of Achieving Net-Zero
- Identify your carbon footprint - Once you know the target, you can begin to look to formulate a structured plan.
- Look at carbon avoidance and reduction techniques - Employ techniques within your business to bring down your carbon footprint (eg) Switch to renewables, reduce number of flights
- Carbon Offset the balance - Driving down your carbon footprint takes time, and even then it is difficult to totally avoid creating carbon emissions, therefore the balance (particularly in the short term) should be offset via reputable partners and NGO’s
In the Guardian Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England and envoy to the Cop26 climate talks, said: “[Carbon offsets] could provide a modest but meaningful contribution to the 1.5C goal. Carbon offsets have many benefits. They are complementary, first and foremost to companies’ efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions – companies must focus on absolute emissions reductions. Carbon offsets can be catalytic, used to fund projects that would otherwise not be funded, such as new technologies.”
2. Offsetting is Not Greenwashing
- Investing more money in marketing sustainability “initiatives” than you do in climate action initiatives.
- Making misleading or false sustainability claims.
- Not taking responsibility for your CO2 or offsetting it (ie) saying we’re not offsetting any emissions until we have Science Based Targets, and have reduced and or avoided CO2, is greenwashing.
There is a suggestion within the climate community that offsetting schemes are not really helping the climate crisis, and are instead a form of greenwashing, meaning that companies are reducing their investments in them. But this is not the truth, carbon offsets are extremely beneficial to our environment and should not be dismissed.
3. Carbon Offsets Give Businesses Sustainable Choices
There are a variety of carbon offset programs that can be invested in as a way of balancing their carbon footprint, for example renewable energy schemes or reforestation organisations.
Absorb or pull carbon out of the atmosphere:-
1. reforestation, peatland restoration, mangrove restoration
2. direct air capture
Reduce emissions by preventing release by other more harmful activities:-
1. renewable energy projects; solar, wind
2. household devices; cookstoves
3. waste management
4. forestry loss, forest preservation
4. Carbon Offsets are Verified and Regulated
There are standards of verification for carbon offset schemes, with the major ones being:
(a) Verified Carbon Standard: (Also known as Verra) non-profit organisation which develops and produces standards in voluntary carbon offsetting of greenhouse gases.
(b) Gold Standard: The Gold Standard is a not-for-profit organisation based in Geneva which sets requirements for designing carbon offset projects to ensure maximum effectiveness in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
(c) Quality Assurance Standard: (QAS) independently audits carbon offset products and programs against the highest standards world-wide.
5. They encourage long term change
The carbon offsetting schemes involve behavioural changes that can be used in the future to benefit the planet for many years to come. For example, tree planting and reforestation schemes train locals in these communities on sustainable farming techniques and forest management. These skills can be used for years, retaught and passed down generations, meaning that offsetting carbon emissions can continue in the future.
Tree planting with Eden Reforestation
6. Supporting Poorest Regions in the World
Many of the carbon offset projects help protect and restore not only the most devastated regions of the world, they also support the poorest and most vulnerable and developing communities. Whether that’s helping switch to cookstoves, replanting forests, or switching to more sustainable energy sources. They also provide those struggling with poverty jobs by hiring them or reforest or transport waste.
7. Triple Bottom Line
Focusing on the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit has been proven to drive exponential growth for businesses. With 81% of consumers preferring to buy from sustainable businesses with 4 of 5 people describing themselves as likely to choose a brand with a positive approach to sustainability. The world's largest companies such as Netflix are purchasing millions in carbon credits to ensure that their film production is helping save the planet, not destroy it.
Buying carbon credits is an easy and affordable option
8. Starting the race to net-zero with offsetting is affordable
Short term we need to lean into carbon offsetting, whilst we begin to focus on delivering avoidance and reduction, but the cost of around £12.00 per tonne for an offset, is a credible and inexpensive way to start that journey and to ensure that your business is doing what it can for the planet.
9. Offsetting is buying us time to tackle climate change
Carbon offsets alone are not enough to save our planet from climate change and we still need to focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the first place, they are still an effective method in slowing the climate crisis, that gives us some time to restore ecosystems and protect our wildlife. It allows us to come up with large-scale ways to remove carbon from our atmosphere and to come up with large-scale alternatives to carbon.
We need time to save the wildlife that is suffering from our negative carbon habits
10. It builds organisation awareness for climate change
By actively participating in offsetting, you are joining in with thousands of other businesses who believe that urgent action needs to be taken to save our planet, the more companies that join this fight the more attention is brought to the issue. This will hopefully lead to more people joining in on minimising carbon emissions.
Driving staff engagement and making the journey to net-zero more inclusive is the only way to truly change behaviour and to make us more environmentally accountable.