As pressure rightly mounts for organizations to become more sustainably-minded, it can be hard to know how best to mitigate your company's carbon emissions. With more businesses pledging to offset their CO₂ footprint, there is increasing debate about the efficiency of these initiatives.
So is carbon offsetting an effective tool for reducing your business's impact on the planet? How can you be sure you choose the best carbon offsetting solution and are there any limitations to this approach?
Sadly so much of human activity results in carbon emissions. Everything we do contributes to our carbon tally, from the industrial processes that make our clothes and gadgets to eating meat and heating our houses. Measured in tonnes, a carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases that an individual or an entire organization generates through its activities.
To give this perspective, the
average person residing in India generates 1.5 tonnes of CO₂ each year. But while these figures can be overwhelming, we can take steps to reduce these numbers rapidly. For example,
every 1000 miles that travelers don't fly saves 0.45 tons of co2, and simply switching from air travel to rail journeys can have a significant impact, especially for frequent travelers.
carbon offsetting works because it allows anyone to be part of the global quest to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. As climate change is a worldwide issue, a company or individual can contribute to offsetting schemes and help reduce carbon emissions regardless of their location or circumstances.
Both businesses and countries can manipulate offsetting initiatives. There have been instances where organizations were incentivized to reduce their emissions where companies
deliberately drove up their rate of carbon contributionsto reap the benefits once levels were lowered again.
For example, one government might allow an initiative to transform an area of forest into a national park, only to have another elected party revoke the plan years later. After all, tree planting efforts are only effective in reducing carbon if they aren't cut down by future generations. On top of human intervention, the devastating fires that are increasing in frequency are yet another threat to the efficacy of reforestation efforts.
Emissions counting continues to be a highly contentious issue, with Brazil's request for more leeway in double-counting forming the main sticking point for negotiations at
COP25and courting further controversy at last year's
Overestimating the results of a project could also cause significant issues. For example, concerns over meeting key carbon emissions targets in Canada were raised after it was revealed that the government had been
overly ambitious in its calculations.
As governments ramp up their climate policies and public opinion cries out for meaningful change, businesses are deservedly coming under the spotlight for their unsustainable practices. Companies who are getting ahead of the curve and making substantial changes now are not only winning over customers, they are futureproofing their businesses.
In time organizations that ignore calls to aim for net-zero emissions may find this approach less cost-effective in the long term when governments implement more eco-inspired regulations.
Taking an honest audit of your emissions, from supply chain to corporate travel, and making real shifts to reduce your carbon footprint can win over clients and positively impact the planet. But this doesn't mean carbon offsetting projects have no value.
Carbon credits come in to help while more meaningful moves towards carbon neutrality are in progress and for the mitigation of those last unavoidable emissions.
Reforestation was traditionally used by offsetting programs to act as carbon sinks. But time has shown that forests can be subject to the whims of politicians and increasingly can become victims of forest fires.
As a result, scientists are exploring different methods to absorb our carbon emissions, like
turning them into rocks. While this technology is new and expensive compared to other solutions, the long-term benefits could make it the more efficient option.
As we have seen, another key factor in carbon offsetting is additionality. To overcome this concern, it is vital to find a project that commits to rigorous monitoring, regular auditing, and transparent accountancy of its results.
The third consideration to tackle is double counting. Does the program you are considering operate in a country that includes the emission reductions sold to other users in its own targets?
The final piece of the puzzle worth noting is leakage. Is the project likely to push environmentally unfriendly practices elsewhere, or does it support other sustainability goals like job creation that will likely strengthen its carbon-busting power?
It can be challenging to know where to start on your quest for an initiative that ticks all these boxes. The easiest place to start can be certifying boards that will have a roster of trustworthy programs you can peruse.
The most renowned accreditations include;
- The Gold Standard
- Plan Vivo
- Climate Action Reserve
- The Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance
- The American Carbon Registry
When choosing a carbon offsetting project to support, checking if it has received the seal of approval from one of these certifications is the easiest way to ensure your contributions are going to the right hands.