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Carbon Offset

Carbon Offsetting is the process by which and individual or organisation can offset carbon emissions by paying for or organising a carbon negative activity. The carbon emissions associated with their day to day activities, are "offset" by good works elsewhere. An example might be the planting of trees in Africa that capture equivalent carbon that is equal to you might emit from flying to the Maldives for a holiday. In order for the UK to reach its 2050 target it is very likely we will need some form of offsetting.

To be clear you do not need to offset against a certain "thing" like a aeroplane flight or a falafel wrap, you could just purchase 1 ton of carbon offsetting, if that is what you want to do. But on the whole businesses want to offset a certain percentage of there emissions, or offset emissions for particular activity.

So for most companies there is a certain amount of accounting that needs to be done, and of course finding a reputable offsetting scheme. This scheme may need to be adjusted each year to accounts for growth, diversification, changes in operating procedures etc. and so the whole process of carbon offsetting can generate a lot of paper work. 

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Carbon Offsetting Problems

Approximately 2 or 3 years ago we received a phone call from a Company in a developing country, and their representative was very excited about setting up an offsetting scheme. All he needed was funding for a bulldozer. We then received a proposal by email which in short set out their proposal to bulldoze several thousand hectares of virgin forest, and then plant trees for offsetting.

In the country where this was proposed there was virtually no chance of this bulldozing being reported or indeed their might not even be laws to prevent it. Yet within 6 months you could in theory have a viable (if not ethical) offsetting scheme, and those buying in to it may be none the wiser. After all tress are being planted.

So the moral of this story, and the biggest problem with offsetting is that it is very hard to police, and unless you choose carefully you are at best wasting your money, at worst encouraging habitat loss.

Quite often there is also the problem of aligned interests between cost saving and carbon saving, which results in "double counting" of benefits this is a cunning way for  some companies to appear that they are offsetting when in reality they may have well introduced renewables or efficiency measures anyway as part of cost saving strategies. This concept is called Additionality and is very common in unregulated offsetting schemes.

Carbon Offsetting Success Stories

That being said if you are careful and choose a standardised, independently verified and (we would recommend) domestic offsetting scheme you are less likely to be caught out. One such scheme is UK Tree Planting, under the UK Woodland Carbon Code.

Carbon Offset Verification

Verification consists of the frequent monitoring and audit of live projects in addition to an audit after the project period has ended. The monitoring ensures that the project is meeting targets and operating properly. For example, if a project involves planting trees, monitoring allows for assurance that the trees are being planted and maintained.

This is the one of the more costly exercises that can be under taken in offsetting, and this is why it is so often overlooked leading to poor scheme being allowed to perpetuate themselves. Any brand name that hold value should look to verify that offsetting schemes are valid, and true to form. It is entirely foreseeable that any company entering in to an offsetting scheme might be duped, and as such it would not be defensible to say that a low cost scheme should have delivered on its promises without checking independently. Verification is a large topic and is where we can be of the most use:  Read more on Offset Verification.

Carbon Offset Standards

There are a great many standards for Carbon Offsetting, the temptation would be to pick a standard offered by ISO or one of the big players. But some standards lack detail, and with offset the detail is the most important bit. If you are buying offset based on a standard that does not require detail, then you are liable for disappointment.

The VCS Program is a favorite of ours, and we try to use that where possible. The VCS Program is the world�s most widely used voluntary GHG program. More than 1300 certified VCS projects have collectively reduced or removed more than 200 million tonnes of carbon and other GHG emissions from the atmosphere.

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon Sequestration is subtly different to offsets as it refers to the upkeep of carbon that has been locked out of the atmosphere. For example offsetting with trees is a popular concept, but after 100 years some of the CO2 will start to leak back in to the atmosphere. Sequestration considers how we might stop that happening, or other permanent method that might be utilised.