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"There is no one right way to live."

- Daniel Quinn, American environmentalist author

Carbon Offsets: Polluting without Polluting?!

By Dalí ten Hove on 25 August 2012

As determined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, worldwide temperatures are in fact rising gradually. Global warming is thus a confirmed reality, and there is a 90% chance that it is caused by our excessive emissions of greenhouse gases. Although its effects are not yet fully comprehended, research thoroughly suggests that they will be disastrous to the Earth’s ecological system, ranging from rising sea levels to increases in huricane-intensity. So what to do next? One lovely way to reduce our ecological footprint, applicable to individuals, families and businesses, is to perform so-called carbon offsets. This practice consists in compensating for one’s Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions – or that of any other greenhouse gas measured in Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e) – by donating to any of numerous organisations which invest in projects that reduce emissions elsewhere.

I have known about carbon offsets since ‘high’ school, my economics teacher introduced our class to the renowned Kyoto Protocol, the world’s most prominent environmental treaty. We learnt that it imposes limits, better known as caps, on the quantity of greenhouse gases each ratifying state is allowed to emit. As such, governments are obliged to reduce their national emission levels, which is often accomplished by dividing the overall cap into carbon permits that are sold to individual companies. If a firm or government is unable to comply to its cap, it can purchase offset certificates from various organisations.

What I was completely unaware of, but delighted to learn about, was the existence of a voluntary market for carbon offsetting in which any individual, household or firm can participate. I came across this whilst reading about ecosia.org, a “green search engine” which, besides donating 80% of its revenue to a rainforest protection program, offsets its CO2 emissions through PURE, the Clean Planet Trust. After looking into this a little further, I came to understand that we can use carbon offset organisations (for-profit or charities) to measure emissions generated by our cars, electricity and gas usage, flights and so on – you name it! Once that information is obtained, the amount of funds necessary to compensate for the emission is determined, and the client may choose what project to donate to. For instance, carbonica.org offers a carbon footprint calculator to determine the CO2 emission of one’s car in the whole of 2012. Let’s assume mine runs on petrol, that I sometimes drive in the city, and that I do not know what engine it has. Estimating that I will have driven 10,000km by the end of 2012, the calculator informs me that my car’s CO2 emission will equate 2.25 Tonnes. It would cost me 15.75£ to offset it, after which I’d receive a certificate (usually PDF file). Projects primordially involve renewable energy or forestry affairs, but may take many forms. On carbonfund.org, for example, besides supporting the making of a small wind farm in India, or reforestation in Louisiana, I can have my money invested in a (soon-to-be) new type of energy-saving lightbulb from New Zealand.

It’s wonderful to be able to clean up one’s own mess.

What concerns firms, they can hire carbon ‘offseters’ to make complete audits – of the entire company or specific departments. This may improve the public view of the firm, and many offseters claim that carbon efficiency may increase the firm’s revenue. According to ecopush.org, “companies who are offsetting their emissions are reporting revenue increases of over 20%”. Intuitively I’d say it sounds too good to be true; but what do I know? It definitely seems like an avenue of interest all firms should investigate.

Besides the ones already mentioned, here follows a list of some (apparently) reliable offseters according to the Green Wiki:
- The CarbonNeutral Company, based in London and New York;
- Brighter Planet, based in Middlebury, Vermont;
- Blue Ventures Carbon offset, based in London;
- Carbon clear, based in London;
- Climate care, based in Oxford;
- The World Land Trust, based in Suffolk, England;
- Climate Friendly, based in Sydney;
You can also easily search for other offseters through Google (or Ecosia!).

Additionally, when choosing an offseter or a specific project to donate to, it is crucial to be aware of its quality. The most prominent industry standards that assess the reliability of projects are the Gold Standard and the Voluntary Carbon Standard, but there are numerous others. It’s worth looking into.

“Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

About the author

Dalí ten Hove

Editor, Writer

Born in Amsterdam, raised in France, Dalí is Diaforlife’s youngest contributor. He completed the later part of his primary education at an international school, a period during which he developed…  Read full bio