The Beginner’s Guide to Carbon Offsetting
When looking at the constant, evolving issue of global warming, it’s hard to overlook humans have been inherently responsible for an increase in global greenhouse gas emissions. While everyone has a responsibility as an individual to make smarter and more eco-friendly decisions, unless there is global widespread change, it will amount to very little. Collectively, however, it’s a drastically different story.
It’s no wonder why there is a global effort to decarbonize effectively and quickly, to prevent global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees centigrade. As a result, businesses across the world are implored to reduce emissions at scale, from their internal processes to everything all parties do within global supply chains. While more needs to be done, there are undoubtedly increased efforts and improved attitudes towards reducing the amount of unabated carbon companies emit.
One of the most talked-about mechanisms is carbon offsetting, which is what will be outlined in this short guide, to help companies new to this concept get started.
What is Carbon Offsetting?
Carbon offsetting refers to the act of balancing out your carbon emissions. In other words, whatever emissions your company produces, you compensate in the form of activities that equate to the amount of carbon used.
For example, if you commute to an office in a petrol (gas) car, you emit a percentage of carbon on both your outward and return journeys. Let’s say this trip emits 650 milligrams per kilometer, and the journey totals 14km both ways, this would mean during your journey, your car emitted 9,100 milligrams of carbon.
With carbon offsetting, you, or more specifically your company, would complete an activity designed to absorb or eliminate these 9,100 milligrams. This could be anything from planting trees or switching to renewable electricity or energy sources.
However, the above scenario is one very small example. Ultimately, the company is making a conscious effort to keep carbon levels from increasing. It’s likely an organization that takes carbon offsetting seriously will extend their offsetting activities company-wide, rather than for one specific individual. It’s a case of balancing all their emissions, not just some of them, to make as positive an impact as possible.
Benefits of Carbon Offsetting
Offsetting can be advantageous to almost any business emitting carbon, however minimal their emissions.
- Businesses get the opportunity to give back to the environment and reduce their carbon footprint.
- It helps those with small footprints feel involved in the fight against global warming.
- It helps fund global environmental projects, making it easier for businesses without low- or zero-carbon options to give back.
- It provides a mechanism by which companies can track and reassess their own carbon emissions.
- It’s reassuring for customers, partnering or working with companies taking sustainability seriously.
- It allows companies to advertise themselves as carbon neutral or negative.
- It helps firms become and stay compliant with relevant standards and regulations in certain areas.
- It also helps policymakers and regulators enforce greater widespread change.
- It’s not restricted to a local area – businesses can offset carbon by supporting projects in areas where there are projects, often where positive impacts can be made.
Measuring Your Company’s Carbon Footprint
Measuring how much carbon your company releases into the atmosphere will depend on what products you sell, or services you provide, as well as what type of – and how many – customers you work with.
The easiest way to calculate your business’ carbon emissions is to use online calculators from worldwide sites like WWF.org or Carbon Footprint Calculator.
Alternatively, you can seek outsourced support from a trusted consultant or advisor who can create detailed reports and show valid insights into the eco-friendliness of your business activities. From this, you can then take the necessary steps to reduce your carbon footprint. A report like this might recommend smaller and simpler contributions such as switching to environmentally-friendly printing for your marketing materials, or it might go further towards widespread change, like moving all petrol fleet vehicles to electric or hybrid models. There are numerous changes a carbon specialist might recommend.
How to Offset Your Business Carbon Footprint
There are many plans, projects and groups your business can join to begin offsetting your carbon. These include (but are not limited to):
- Forest Carbon
- Native Energy
- Carbon Footprint Ltd
- My Carbon Plan
- Carbon Checkout
It’s worth paying close attention to specific plans or schemes, and finding out more about them, to decide which one is ultimately the right one for you.
Carbon offsetting projects aim at reducing emissions on a broad scale. Companies can invest in these projects directly, or buy carbon credits as a way of balancing their emissions. One carbon credit equates to various values, depending on the project type and volume sold.
Carbon reduction and offsetting projects include:
- Renewable energy
- Waste to energy
- Community schemes
Carbon offset projects make use of a carbon credit system, as defined by the Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement between countries working collectively to reduce carbon emissions. The protocol establishes a pricing scheme so companies can trade and exchange carbon credits between markets, usually based on the location and amount of emissions you will offset.
Is Carbon Offsetting the Only Option?
There is an argument that carbon offsetting schemes only serve to ‘greenwash’ or absolve companies of their own responsibilities. In other words, many critics feel companies are less inclined to change their behavior with carbon offsetting, given they ostensibly delegate funds to other projects while they continue as normal.
Critics also point to evidence showing carbon-offsetting projects have varying levels of impact, quality and transparency, hence why some projects are more funded than others.
However, it’s beneficial to know there are alternatives to carbon offsetting projects if you feel it is not in your best interests. These include the following:
- Reducing the number of days employees need to commute to the office or meetings.
- Encouraging more eco-friendly decisions in the way employees travel to work.
- Recycling or donating equipment instead of sending it to a landfill.
- Holding non-essential meetings online and via video, instead of commuting to a physical space.
- Repurposing furniture instead of buying new items.
- Cutting back on fossil fuel industry funds. Some bank plans regularly contribute towards the use of fossil fuels.
- Donating to charities tackling environmental issues.
- Switching your energy provider(s) to ones using renewable, green resources.
- Investing in solar panels or heat pumps.
- Being smarter with food and water conservation and wastage.
It’s clear to see sustainability and corporate social responsibility run deeper than simply recycling occasionally. Companies have the potential – but also an increased expectation – to make a big, positive difference in how much carbon they use. Therefore it’s no surprise wrapping your head around the issues, and how best to address them for your organization, can feel overwhelming.
However, it’s important to note there are plenty of free and helpful resources out there to help you get started with offsetting. Even if it’s not your priority, you can find plenty of alternative ways to make more eco-friendly decisions in the workplace.