In the first part of our series of blogs on carbon offsetting, Carbon Offsetting 101: your doubts answered. Part 1, we covered the basics: from understanding greenhouse gases and their effect on our planet, to diving into different types of carbon offset projects and finally, explaining why you should use carbon offsets. This second part aims instead to answer some of the frequently asked questions we get about carbon offsetting. Understanding how to offset and its benefits, but also how projects are regulated, are all key for making the right choice, as a consumer but also as an organisation.
How can I offset my carbon emissions?
There are different ways to buy carbon offset credits and reduce your carbon footprint: marketplace, external service providers, brands’ websites.
There are many different carbon offset providers and most have their own marketplace, where you can select and buy carbon credits from various projects. For example: Marketplace from UN and Gold Standard, where you can find up to 40 projects.
External service providers
Recently, external service providers have emerged on the market to provide consumers with more options to buy carbon offsets. They often highlight 3-4 projects, which they will resell to business partners and individuals. These resources often boast a carbon calculator, that consumers can use to calculate their carbon footprint. For example, SouthPole, who offers more than 700 projects, sell credits directly on their website.
As carbon neutrality has become more of a hot topic, many brands have added a function to compensate for the carbon emissions applying directly to online purchases. 75.7% of those who told us that they had previously purchased carbon credits, bought them directly from the company’s website. This is most common with airlines who will offer a service to compensate for the carbon emissions from a flight at check-out.
Do carbon offset projects have any additional benefits?
Carbon offsets have a lot of benefits – aside from the most obvious, reducing carbon emissions and slowing down climate change. Carbon offset projects apply to many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, a blueprint set out by the United Nations to work towards a more sustainable future for all. For example, a community project with efficient cookstoves helps to fight against poverty, hunger, supports good health, gender equality, economic growth, reduces inequality and takes a big step in climate action. This one project alone supports up to 7 different SDGs.
Voluntary and mandatory offsets – what’s the difference?
As an everyday consumer, you’ve probably heard of the voluntary carbon offset market, like compensating the emissions from a holiday flight or buying carbon credits to offset an online shopping order (source here).
However, in a lot of countries there is a mandatory offset market in place. The mandatory market was put in place in 2005 as a result of the Kyoto Protocol, signed by the United Nations in Kyoto. From that point on, the European Union has worked on the “Cap & Trade” principle, meaning that each country has an individual cap of carbon emissions they are allowed to emit.
For example, large power plants and energy intensive production sites are part of a mandatory carbon offset market, which covers up to 40% of the carbon emissions in the European Union with almost 11,000 production sites (source here).
How are these projects regulated?
The voluntary carbon offset market started in 2005 as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and came into effect as a part of the Kyoto Protocol.
Carbon offsets are regulated through independent verifiers like the CDM to ensure that the projects function as they’re supposed to and the benefits are tangible. Since the CDM was introduced, other verifiers have entered the market to ensure that projects follow rigorous standards and are held accountable.
Clean Development Mechanism
The CDM was the first mechanism used to outline the rules for carbon offset projects and served as the foundation for all standards that followed. The CDM is a mechanism which allows industrialized countries to buy certified emission reduction (CER) credits from offset projects in developing countries.
Gold Standard, established by the WWF in partnership with supporting NGOs, is an iteration of the CDM, which is also used by the UN agencies themselves. In contrast to the CDM, Gold Standard also supports projects taking place in developed countries. Gold Standard claims to have the most stringent environmental and social safeguards. For example, all Gold Standard certified projects need to have a gender-sensitive project design and must always include local stakeholders. Further, project types with greater risk and potential for negative impacts, like large hydropower projects that can harm the wildlife habitats will not be certified. All verified Gold Standard projects are registered in a database that tracks the retirement and cancellation of all credits sold.
Verified Carbon Standard
The Verified Carbon Standard was developed by Verra, a leader in setting global standards and frameworks for project financing. VCS covers over 1600 projects worldwide, that are audited by independent third parties and Verra staff to ensure that the defined standards are met and maintained. All VCS projects are registered in a database that tracks the retirement and cancellation of all given certificates.
What are the different variations of offset offerings?
In addition to carbon dioxide, there are many other harmful greenhouse gas emissions that need to be considered.
For example, emitting one kilogram of methane is 84x more harmful in the short term than carbon dioxide, and overall is 25x more harmful to the environment. Luckily, there are offset projects that work to reduce methane emissions. These projects are typically recalculated as carbon offsets in order to streamline the process of offsetting and make it easier for consumers to understand.
Another very important variety of offsets are water offsets. In our daily life we consume a lot of water, actively and passively. The water used to produce the products we use everyday contributes to our passive water use. For example, the production of a normal cotton t-shirt requires up to 2,700 liters. So, in order to ensure that everybody has access to safe water sources in the future, you can also compensate your water usage by buying water benefit certificates.
Example of different water benefit projects include:
These are some of the frequently asked questions we get about carbon offsetting, but if you have any other curiosity or are interested in getting started on carbon offsetting, stay tuned for the next blog. Or you can check out our carbon offsetting platform, Simplizero Ecommerce, to learn how brands can make their products carbon neutral.