Carbon offsetting: a waste of time?

Carbon offsetting is now big business - but not all the providers do exactly what they say on the tin...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

By now most of us probably understand the basic principle of carbon offsetting, the process whereby companies acquire carbon credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions - and with governments across the world putting increasing pressure on businesses to reduce emissions, it’s an issue that’s becoming increasingly important. However, if you're anything like us, you might be a bit hazy on how the whole thing works - and possibly even a little sceptical about whether it's actually worthwhile.
 
Fortunately for us, however, we have some nice people down the corridor at Environmental Data Services to fill in the sizeable gaps in our knowledge. ENDS has just published an in-depth guide to the world of carbon offsetting, which explains how the process works, provides an idiot-proof guide to the terminology (i.e. we understood it), talks through some of the main objections, and identifies the offset providers that are worth their weight in, erm, carbon.
 
One of the key points to remember is that many people remain unconvinced about offsetting. Some argue that it's a waste of time; others that it doesn't work; that it's only done as a publicity exercise; or even that the whole principle is flawed. And ENDS seems to have identified one reason why: of the 170 offset providers it looked at, only 30 were named as ‘quality providers’ – that is, they actually delivered the promised carbon savings (the ranking was based on various factors including choice, transparency and guidance offered).

In other words, not all offset schemes are created equal. Renewable energy and industrial reduction schemes apparently tend to deliver the best results, but others – particularly tree planting schemes, according to ENDS – are of ‘questionable quality’. Although the good news for patriots, in the week of St George’s Day, is that 10 of the top 30 are based in the UK (another 15 are in Europe, so at least we Europeans are still world leaders at something).

But the broader point ENDS is making is that offsetting isn’t a viable strategy in itself – after all, it doesn't actually reduce overall emissions; it just prevents them increasing. If you’re really serious about trying to combat climate change, you should to be trying to cut your own emissions at the same time, not just using offsetting as an alternative (as many still do).

So by all means get your company offsetting, but don’t leave it there. And make sure you choose a provider that's doing more than just planting a few trees...


You can read more about the ENDS report
here.

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