It seems that carbon offsetting has been “having a moment” lately. Greta Thunberg brought international attention to the impacts of travel-related emissions when she crossed the ocean by boat instead of plane. Since then we’ve seen airlines and e-commerce stores begin encouraging you to add carbon offsets to your purchases. While it may be tempting to partake as a way to neutralize your carbon footprint, I would advise you to refrain and instead conduct your own research to properly evaluate carbon projects before contributing. Keep reading to learn why.
So what is my carbon footprint and why should I care about it?
Well, your latest vacation or online shopping spree aren’t the only carbon culprits in your life. The food you eat, cleaning products you use, how you dispose of waste, your daily mode of transportation, it all contributes to how much carbon you’re emitting, which makes up your carbon footprint (calculate yours here).
It’s important to reduce this footprint because carbon emissions contribute to this little thing called climate change by creating a warming effect. This rise in temperature then causes weather extremes, rising sea levels and a plethora of other climate related issues.
There are a variety of actions you can take to reduce your footprint such as making low-waste swaps, traveling more consciously or even switching your bank. But for areas where you’re struggling to cut back (because hello, who is actually going to give up online shopping or air travel), you can attempt to “neutralize” your emissions by purchasing a carbon offset.
What exactly is a carbon offset?
Well, it is essentially a donation to a project that helps remove carbon from the atmosphere (i.e, if your impromptu trip to Bali to “find yourself” created 1 ton of CO2 emissions, you could purchase an offset that would remove 1 ton of CO2, thus making your trip carbon neutral).
To be clear though, carbon offsets are not a license to participate in carbon emitting activities guilt-free. Purchasing an offset is like eating a salad after eating 3 slices of pizza. You can’t undo damage done by the pizza, but at least eating the salad puts something good in your body and it’s better than eating a fourth slice. The best thing you could’ve done though, was not eat the 3 slices in the first place.
Ok great, so should I purchase one?
There is a lot of debate over this question. Given the level of environmental degradation the planet has endured, many argue that becoming “carbon neutral” is simply not enough. While yes, handing out solar cookstoves and protecting endangered forests are not the sole answers to combating climate change, I do think carbon offset projects have a place in healing the planet. There is no single solution to this massive emissions problem. The key is continuing to invest in reputable carbon offset projects while also investing time and effort in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions through our consumption patterns, new technologies and regulations.
So to answer the question, should you purchase a carbon offset? Ultimately, it comes down to how you want to contribute to creating a healthier planet. The purpose of my blog is to provide simple, attainable, planet-friendly tips and I do think purchasing reputable carbon offsets is a simple eco-friendly practice that can positively impact the planet (as opposed to say, boycotting air travel or no longer driving a car, which are planet-friendly, but not simple adjustments for most people).
However, it’s important to note that some offset projects are simply a facade. Some (particularly those that support reforestation) even conflict with local communities and can displace Indigenous people. This is why you must do your research to ensure your selected offset is doing good by both the planet and its people. Luckily, I’ve done a lot of that research for you! The end result being this list of reputable offset projects.
6 Verified and Trusted Carbon Offsets
Each project has been verified by either The Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard each of which hold carbon offset projects to high standards and require them to undergo rigorous testing to verify their pro-planet claims. These projects also empower the local communities in which they take place, as opposed to displacing them or precluding them from flourishing.
The Utsil Naj program delivers more sustainable and efficient cookstoves to people in rural Mexico. The project was developed by Microsol, a social business which facilitates projects that improve the life quality of thousands of people affected by poverty and climate change in rural areas of Latin America. To date, the program has installed more than 22,000 improved cookstoves, benefitting over 100,000 people living in poverty. The initiative has saved 98,842 tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere and has helped slow deforestation by saving 16,608 tons of wood per year.
The Alto Mayo Forest, located in Peru, stretches over an area twice the size of New York City. This project focuses on educating local people on eco-friendly ways to use the forest, which right now is falling victim to illegal logging. The project aims to educate those participating in this logging to instead transition to organic coffee farming as a form of income. This allows the local community economic security while protecting the forest, resulting in an average reduction of 500,000 tons of carbon pollution annually. While many carbon offset projects focus simply on planting trees, it’s important to note the significance of preserving old forests, which may contain centuries worth of carbon and will continue to capture carbon for as long as they stand. When a tree dies or decays it releases the trapped carbon which can take hundreds of years to be recaptured by new trees.
This project provides refugee families from Darfur with the necessary materials and training to build solar cookers. These cookers eliminate the need for women & children to forage for firewood, (which normally puts them at risk of being attacked or raped). The smoke-free cookers have helped eliminate health hazards due to smoke and fire and have also saved ~20,000 tons of CO2 annually. Most importantly though, it has created safer living conditions for refugee families.
The program plants teak and other valuable species in Nicaragua with the aim of contributing to the creation of a sustainable value-chain. The program has planted approximately 360.000 trees, created more than 200 jobs during the planting periods and approximately 30 permanent jobs, which come with salary contracts, social security and equal pay for men and women. The project also developed a system for landless people to grow food crops between the rows of trees, thus improving food security for the local community.
Historically, swine farms have disposed of swine waste via low-tech waste treatment systems that often risked contaminating the local water supply. On top of that it would generate significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than CO2 in the first 20 years after its release. This project introduces automated mechanized composting units to 13 swine farms. These systems combine liquid waste with sawdust to create the compost. The result is free, high-quality, nutrient-rich, organic manure that can be used by local farmers.
This is a forest project located in Southeast Alaska. Given the high demand for pulpwood, this forest could easily be susceptible to severe degradation. However, this project ensures long-term sustainable management of the forests, provides climate benefits and preserves habitats for local species. Additionally, the project provides an alternative source of income for locals by creating jobs needed to monitor and maintain the forest. Keeping the forest in tact also helps preserve water quality and reduce the risk of soil erosion.