Carbon offsets allow individuals and businesses to participate in solutions to climate change by offsetting personal contributions to the global warming problem. You produce carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, through activities such as driving, flying or home energy usage. This contribution is called your “carbon footprint.” Your first move always should be to attempt to reduce your emissions directly. However, carbon offsets can help you further reduce or even eliminate your carbon footprint by investing in projects such as wind farms.
Choosing an Offset Provider
Research how carbon offsets work. When you buy a carbon offset, your money goes to support a project happening somewhere else in the world that reduces carbon dioxide emissions. Tree planting and soil management projects actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while energy efficiency projects, such as wind and solar farms, reduce overall emissions.
Projects are undertaken all over the planet, so you have your choice of projects to support with your carbon offset dollars. Choose a project based on your own personal interests.
Look over the top carbon offset providers for trustworthy options. Choosing your carbon offset provider can feel overwhelming, so start your search by looking up lists of top providers. Look at their websites to get an idea of what a legitimate provider looks like and what their projects are. Top trustworthy providers include:
Carbonfund.org Foundation at https://carbonfund.org/
Sustainable Travel International at https://sustainabletravel.org/
Green Mountain Energy at https://www.greenmountainenergy.com/
Native Energy at https://nativeenergy.com/
Look for carbon offsets that are legitimate and permanent. For your carbon offset to be effective, you have to choose a provider that’s funding a real project to enact permanent change. A legitimate provider will be verified and enforced by third-party organizations as well.
Find articles and reports on the offset provider to determine if the project is legitimate.
Make sure that the offset provider takes steps to make their changes permanent and lasting. If a project involves planting trees, the provider should be helping the trees reach maturity by protecting them from fires, for example.
You know an offset provider is trustworthy if it’s been reviewed and certified by a nonprofit organization like Climate Action Reserve, Green-e Climate, Gold Standard, or the EPA Climate Leaders program in the U.S.
Buy from your utility company for a convenient option. Many utility companies sell carbon offsets to their customers that will help offset the carbon dioxide produced by your use of electricity in your home or office. Because these are measured and sold directly, this option may be more convenient for you.
Typically, you are charged a premium on your regular utility bill that offsets the carbon dioxide produced by your average energy use for that month.
Evaluate the “additionality” of the offset. “Additionality” means that the offset must provide additional protection for the environment. In other words, your contribution shouldn’t help accomplish something that would have happened anyways; it should give additional protection.
For example, if the carbon offset provider is paying farmers in the Amazon to protect trees on their property from loggers, but one logger had no intention of allowing loggers to harvest trees on his property anyway, your carbon offset hasn’t done anything that wasn’t already going to be done.
You also have to be on the lookout for leakage. Preventing deforestation by paying farmers in the Amazon to protect trees doesn’t really do anything additional to protect the environment if a logging company can simply cut down the trees next to that farmer’s property.
Review the audits of the offset provider’s portfolio. The project typically will be audited on a regular basis by the same organization that provides certification for the product or vendor. These audits are just like financial audits conducted by any company or organization.
If an offset provider is a nonprofit organization, you typically also can access the organization’s financial reports. Through these reports, you can learn exactly how much of the money paid for an offset is going directly to the listed projects. For-profit offset providers rarely make these reports available to consumers.
Making Your Purchase
Compare prices. The cost of carbon offsets varies greatly depending on the expense of the project as well as the general laws of supply and demand. You can expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $50 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions.
Keep in mind that just because one offset is more expensive than another, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better quality. Do your research on the projects independently of price, then choose a high-quality offset that best fits your budget.
Make sure your offset will be retired. You can’t claim the benefit of your carbon offset until it is retired. Once the offset is retired, it cannot be resold to anyone else. Retirement indicates that the specific amount of carbon dioxide you purchased has in fact been reduced or eliminated.
For smaller-scale transactions, you typically don’t have to worry about retirement – retailers automatically retire the carbon offsets when they’re purchased. However, in the case of a larger purchase of carbon offsets, it may take some time before retirement can take place.
Complete your transaction. Once you’ve decided which carbon offset project you want to support, you typically can purchase your offset online using your credit card. Determine how many offsets you want to purchase and make sure the provider has that many available.
Make sure you get a receipt for your purchase. In some countries, carbon offsets may be tax-deductible.
Purchase additional carbon offsets when traveling by air. Airplanes contribute considerable global carbon emissions. Many airlines as well as travel agencies provide the opportunity for you to purchase an offset when you book a flight.
These offsets are calculated for you personally based on the environmental impact of the flight you’re taking.
If you purchase an offset through the airline, typically the cost for the offset is simply added to the price for your ticket.
Carbon offset retailers offer Air Travel Offset options to neutralize specific amounts of mileage.
Advertise your business’s carbon neutrality. Particularly if you’re buying carbon offsets for a small business, your customers will want to know that your business is socially and environmentally responsible.
Avoid advertising carbon neutrality until your carbon offsets have been retired. You also might consider having your carbon neutrality certified by a third-party organization.
Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Directly
Identify ways in which you produce carbon dioxide. You can’t reduce your carbon emissions if you don’t know where they’re coming from. Once you’ve identified sources of carbon dioxide production in your daily life, you can come up with ways to reduce your dependency on those sources.
Driving is the main source of most people’s carbon dioxide emissions. Other sources include air travel and household energy consumption.
You also should look at the products you buy and use. If they were shipped long distances to get to you, carbon emissions were involved in their transport. Carbon emissions also occur when products are built in factories. If you buy those products, you are also contributing to carbon emissions that way.
Calculate your carbon footprint. Make a list of the ways in which you produce carbon dioxide, like driving, air travel, and household energy consumption. Then, search online for a carbon footprint calculator that you can use to get a rough estimate of the size of your carbon footprint.
Just do a search for “carbon footprint calculator” online, or check the website of a nonprofit environmental organization to see if there’s one they recommend.
Since these calculators may vary in their methodologies, you may want to use more than one and average the results.
The more information the calculator allows you to enter, the closer to reality the estimate will be.
Drive less. Since driving typically makes up a large portion of your carbon footprint, one easy way to reduce your carbon dioxide emissions directly is to use your car less. Take public transportation, walk, or ride a bike when you can.
Try to do multiple errands at once so you take fewer trips, and start a carpool at work.
There are ways you can increase the fuel efficiency of your car, or you may want to consider living without a car altogether.
If you’re in the market for a new car, you can reduce your carbon footprint by buying one that is hybrid or fully electric.
Carbon offset retailers offer Vehicle Offset options to neutralize the emissions from your specific vehicle type.
Save on heating and electricity in your home. The carbon dioxide produced by the electricity or other fuel that you use to light and heat your home is another big source of carbon dioxide emissions.
Simply lowering your thermostat a degree or two in the winter (and turning it up a degree or two in the summer) can substantially reduce your carbon dioxide emissions.
You also should turn off lights when you aren’t in a room. Open curtains and blinds so you can use natural light rather than electricity during the day.
Buy energy-efficient light bulbs, which also will save you money on your electric bill and last longer than regular light bulbs. If you have the ability to do so, you also should consider replacing older appliances with newer, more energy-efficient ones.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can try using solar energy to heat your pool or making your own electricity.
Carbon offset retailers offer Home Offset options depending on the square footage of your home.
Insulate and seal windows and doors. If you own your own home, getting better insulation and energy-efficient doors and windows can help you conserve electricity. Some governments also offer tax incentives for you to make these home improvements.
Buy locally grown foods. Transporting food grown in distant locations causes significant carbon dioxide emissions. Food prepared and processed in plants also results in the emission of a lot of carbon dioxide. Organic food grown locally will help reduce your carbon footprint as well as being more healthy for you.
You also can potentially save money by shopping at a local farmers’ market.
Reduce waste at home and at work. If you want to reduce your carbon footprint and support a clean and healthy environment, avoid using disposable products that cause waste. Reuse things as much as possible, even if they were originally designed to be thrown away after one use.
With household items such as toilet paper that cannot effectively be reused, consider buying products that contain a large percentage of post-consumer recycled material.
Buy larger quantities of products to reduce the amount of packaging. Reuse containers or set up recycling for materials such as plastic, metal, and paper that can be recycled.
Avoid printing documents unless you absolutely need a paper copy. Sign up for electronic billing rather than receiving a paper bill in the mail. Use both sides of every sheet of paper and recycle any paper once you no longer need it, instead of throwing it in the waste bin.
You also might want to look into composting your organic waste such as food scraps.
Limit unnecessary purchases. Since producing and shipping consumer products adds to carbon emissions, limiting the new things you buy can help reduce your carbon footprint. Before you buy something, think carefully about whether you really need it.
Try to buy products from companies that are carbon neutral or at least strive to be environmentally responsible.
Buy used when you can. For example, you typically can find used books or used clothing at thrift stores that will suit your needs just as well as something new. Used items also typically are less expensive than buying something brand new.