From radical suggestions like having fewer children to more practical solutions like eliminating red meat from your diet, you’ve probably come across dozens of lists suggesting “ten ways to reduce your carbon footprint”. While ambitious, it’s not always feasible to implement every single recommended tactic. For example, one could choose to fly less than usual, but between business, holiday and family travel, it can be difficult to stop flying in general. And even if you did manage to ditch your travel habits, stop eating meat, switch to efficient energy sources and so on, you still wouldn’t entirely eliminate your carbon footprint.
None of this should be discouraging, in fact, you should take as many steps as you can to reduce your footprint. Fortunately, there’s also an option you can look into to negate your footprint: carbon offsets. You’ve likely heard of carbon offsets (carbon reduction achieved through a project that generates carbon credits) but perhaps you’re unfamiliar with them or believe they are sold only to corporations and large companies. In reality, individuals like you can purchase carbon offsets from trusted providers too.
I’ve worked with the nonprofit Cool Effect, an online platform that allows individuals to support carbon reduction projects since its inception in 2015. Our model and baseline mission is ‘Carbon Done Correctly.’
As CEO of Cool Effect, I’ve learned a great deal about the value of carbon offsets and the importance of supporting verified, truly impactful carbon reduction projects. Here are four pillars to help you make an educated choice when it comes to donating to reduce carbon emissions.
Raising the Standards
The carbon offset market exists under both compliance schemes and voluntary programs. My insights here will focus on the voluntary market as this is where individuals can shop for credits. When voluntary carbon offsets rose to prominence, many critics emerged pointing out issues ranging from a lack of transparency to a lack of quality assurance. In reaction to the criticism, it was determined that projects should meet certain criteria to receive a more legitimate stamp of approval which led to the development of offset standards.
Each standard differs slightly, but many are recognized as major standards including: the Gold Standard, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), Climate Action Reserve (CAR), American Carbon Registry or the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism.
At Cool Effect, when we select projects for review, we start by checking to see if the project has been reviewed and verified by one of the major standards, so it’s safe to say you should to.
All About Additionality
You may have heard some fuss over the issue of additionality when it comes to carbon offsets. But what exactly is additionality and what exactly is all the fuss about? In order to qualify as a genuine carbon offset, the reductions achieved by a project need to be ‘additional’ to what would have happened if the project had not existed.
Additionality is important to ensure that people aren’t paying for emissions reductions that would have occurred anyway. For example, if a government says you must implement a certain carbon-reducing technology, you have to do it regardless of carbon credits or not, so if you’re issuing credits, those would not be additional.
Similarly, if you are running a profitable business and want to add on carbon credits, those credits would also not be additional because you – or someone else – would probably run your profitable business anyway. Buying an offset that is certifiably additional, is the only way to ensure that your contribution is resulting in a net benefit for the planet.
Tried & Tested
Another key differentiator is a project’s verification. The verification process is intended to assess the degree to which the project’s reductions are correctly quantified and scientifically proven. While many of the standards require third-party verification, it is important to take a second look into all the details of a project. Equally important is to make the data and documents for any project available for anyone to review. After all, a well-informed decision means you can feel certain and proud of the contribution you’ve made.
At Cool Effect, we share verification and due diligence documentation for each project featured. You can delve as far as you’d like into the paperwork to see how reductions are calculated and how much CO2 is being reduced. If you’re exploring another offset provider and they are unwilling to provide supporting documentation, you may want to consider moving your contributions elsewhere.
It's OK to Be Picky
When you start researching offset providers, I recommend looking for providers that allow you to support individual types of projects. While there are some credible vendors out there who simply sell tonnes at a set price without specifying which project (or projects) the funds are going to. I don’t think I’m alone in the desire and expectation today for transparency as to where exactly my money is going.
Knowing which project you’re supporting allows you to check that the project has been certified to meet standards and to confirm that it is both additional and verifiable. Furthermore, when featured accurately, carbon reduction projects are priced differently due to a variety of factors. Everything from where they’re located to how much the retirement fee for the registry is, will play a role in determining how much one tonne will cost for each of the projects. The ability to choose among a range of projects allows individuals to find a project within their budget or one that may spark a personal interest.
Next time you’re on the hunt for ways to reduce your carbon footprint, I encourage you to refer to this article as a guide to help you make a well-informed decision. Personal lifestyle changes are impactful and important, but there are a variety of options out there for supporting your efforts with carbon offsets that are verifiably reducing carbon pollution. Your contribution can have a real and lasting impact.
Guest post by Marisa de Belloy
About the Author
Marisa de Belloy’s expertise spans a multitude of fields, including nonprofit management, investment banking, strategy consulting, and international entrepreneurial ventures. She has also been a professor and is a frequent speaker on climate change issues. Marisa couples her extensive background in international business and finance with her dedication to human rights to bring a unique approach to her position as CEO of Cool Effect. Marisa is an expert on the causes of carbon pollution and its impact on our planet and people. She is relentless in her pursuit of solutions, often traveling the globe to personally inspect the science behind projects that mitigate greenhouse gases. She is just as comfortable in a small setting with local residents to discuss issues as she is appearing on a panel of climate scientists and policy makers. Marisa’s passion comes not only from her education and strong work ethic, but also from her commitment to leaving her four children with a world they can enjoy for generations to come.
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