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The voluntary carbon offset market is rocketing, with the Ecosystem Marketplace reporting an annual market value of ~$1 billion in 2021, which was an all-time high. As the market grows, the number of offset projects, plus project diversity, has expanded. This can make things difficult for business leaders like you, looking to reduce their carbon footprint through purchasing offsets.

When thinking about carbon offsets, organizations must choose certified and vetted options, as certification bodies enforce the rules of carbon offsetting, to maximize the effectiveness of offset schemes.

Thinking about this, this Green Business Bureau article details how you should go about purchasing carbon offsets while listing 6 certified and vetted carbon offset options for you to choose from.

The rules of carbon offsetting

In our previous Green Business Bureau article, titled Carbon Offsets Vs Carbon Credits: Addressing The Issues (The 5 Rules of Carbon Offsetting), we discuss the rules that ensure offsets deliver the GHG emission reductions promised, and do so ethically.

To recap, our 5 carbon offsetting rules are:

  • Rule #1:Best practice states that any offset approach should be linked to reductions in GHG emissions internally.
  • Rule #2:Timing for when the promised offsets are captured should be considered and stated. Forward selling of offset credits should be avoided unless the offsets are certain.
  • Rule #3:Offsets made should be unique to the project in question and not funding schemes that will happen anyway .
  • Rule #4:A clear strategy to ensure project permanence should be successfully established.
  • Rule #5:Local communities and ecosystems must not be negatively affected.

These rules work to address the issues of carbon offset schemes highlighted, and are embedded in offsetting certification frameworks, of which there are a few as we’ll discuss below.

Enforcing the rules for carbon offsetting with standardization

Before investing in a given carbon offset program, you need to ensure the scheme is robust and verified to the highest international standards.

The first carbon offsetting standards were initiated by the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Since these standards were developed, the demand for carbon offsets has increased over the years. To facilitate this rise, other certification programs have come into effect. These include the Puro Standards, Verified Carbon Standard, Gold Standard, and the Climate Action Reserve.

Seek out schemes in the carbon market that are verified by one or more of these standards, as such certification enforces the rules of offsetting.

6 best carbon offsetting programs (with carbon offset examples)

According to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), carbon offset programs can be grouped into the following broad categories: Renewable energy, energy efficiency, methane abatement, reforestation and conservation, fuel switching, and community projects. Let’s take a closer look at these 6 carbon offset categories by identifying certified and vetted options for each. Choosing projects under each category will create a diverse and robust offset portfolio with built-in redundancy.

Carbon offset program #1: Renewable energy

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that there will be a sharp increase in the amount of renewable energy generated between 2010 and 2050. Figures show that the current average will increase from 15% of the global energy mix to 28% by 2050. This increase will push out alternative, fossil-fuel-powered energy sources, supporting a much-needed energy evolution as fossil-fuel reserves begin to deplete.

It’s estimated that it will be ~51 years for oil, ~114 years for coal, and ~53 years for gas reserves to diminish, based on current demand estimates and reserves. In this sense, renewable energy is vital for powering future generations, as well as securing net-zero.

Yet despite a clear need, the renewable energy sector still faces financial obstacles, which is why continued investment in this sector is necessary.

Carbon offset schemes provide this much-needed investment to expand and improve renewable technology, removing non-renewable energy demand from the grid.

Carbon offset example: Native Energy’s Crow Lake Wind Project

Native Energy is a third-party verified carbon offset provider. Native Energy offers a wide range of projects for organizations wanting to reduce their carbon footprint. Projects are certified by Gold Standard, Verified Carbon Standard, Climate Action Reserve, American Carbon Registry, Plan Vivo, and The Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance.

Native Energy has a range of renewable energy schemes including their Crow Lake Wind Project located on the east of Chamberlain, South Dakota. This project runs 108 wind turbines, generating renewable energy and displacing electricity from the grid.

These wind turbines power 129,000 homes, meaning 430,000 tonnes of CO2e is kept from the atmosphere each year. Once more, the project is certified by the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS).

Carbon offset program #2: Energy efficiency

Carbon offsets funding renewable energy projects help lower the carbon intensity of a given energy supply. Yet, having energy efficiency projects running in parallel will reduce the overall energy demand in the first place. There are three different types of projects that come under the energy efficiency category:

  1. Cogeneration power plants: Most electricity generators waste heat. If we were to put this heat energy into use, we’ll boost generator efficiency. This is exactly what cogeneration power plants do. They generate and use electricity plus additional heat energy.
  2. Fuel efficiency: Newer combustion devices use less fuel per unit of energy provided. Assuming energy demand does not change, this reduces the amount of carbon dioxide emitted.
  3. Energy-efficiency buildings: The amount of energy wasted from buildings is reduced by using efficient heating, insulating, cooling, or lighting systems. New buildings can also be built using less carbon-intensive materials.

Carbon offset example: MyClimate’s efficient cookstoves in Burundi

MyClimate offers an extensive and diverse portfolio of carbon offset schemes, many of which focus on community education, working to improve the livelihoods of local communities while simultaneously tackling our climate crisis. MyClimate has conducted 125 projects in 37 countries around the world, creating thousands of jobs and improving the living conditions for many.

One such project is their efficient cookstoves in Burundi. The stoves have improved combustion, reducing household air pollution and the adverse health effects of this. The stoves also require less fuelwood, conserving forests and reducing GHG emissions further.

MyClimate projects are certified by Gold Standard, Plan Vivo, and the Clean Development Mechanism.

Carbon offset program #3: Methane abatement

Some carbon offset projects focus on the combustion and containment of methane. Methane (CH4) has a higher global warming potential than CO2, such that 1 tonne of CH4 is equivalent to 21 tonnes of CO2 over a 100-year time period. For this reason, it’s in our best interest to lower CH4 emissions to tackle climate change.

Carbon offset example: The Climate Trust’s Anaerobic Digester

An anaerobic digester breaks down organic matter to produce biogas and biofertilizer. As such, methane from animal waste is captured and converted for other uses.

The Climate Trust is working to combat climate change by funding and managing carbon offset programs, and this includes their California-based FarmPower Northwest’s Lynden anaerobic digester project. This project is the first project in The Climate Trust’s portfolio that will generate California Carbon Offsets under the California Air Resources Board (ARB) protocol.

The methane captured by this scheme is used to power a 750kW generator, converting methane into electricity. The project has so far stopped 30,000 metric tons of verified CO2e emissions from entering our atmosphere. The sale of carbon offset credits has helped organizations and individuals lower their carbon footprint.

The Climate Trust has projects verified under the American Carbon Registry, the Climate Action Reserve, and the Verified Carbon Standard.

Carbon offset program #4: Reforestation and conservation

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, tropical deforestation accounts for ~20% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing and reversing this excessive deforestation is essential for avoiding the consequential effects of climate change. With this in mind, successful, long-term reforestation projects have the potential of storing 25% of the current atmospheric pool, while also housing Earth’s precious diversity.

Land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) projects focus on maintaining natural diversity and ecosystems which act as carbon sinks. Examples include forest sinks and soil carbon sequestration. There are a number of different types of projects that come under LULUCF, these include:

  1. Avoided deforestation: This is the protection of existing forest ecosystems.
  2. Reforestation: This is the process of restoring ecosystems to their natural wooded state.
  3. Afforestation: This is the process of creating forests in new areas, and to maintain these new forest ecosystems indefinitely.
  4. Soil management: Projects attempt to preserve or increase the amount of carbon sequestration in the soil.

Reducing deforestation, and investing in reforestation and afforestation schemes grant carbon credits due to the GHGs sequestered by forest ecosystems.

Carbon offset example: Aclymate’s Kariba REDD+ Project

Aclymate is a unique carbon offset provider in that brands are supported through the entire offsetting process. Brands can use Aclymate’s carbon footprint calculator to estimate their GHG emissions, and then choose projects to offset these emissions.

One such project is Aclymate’s Kariba REDD+ Project. REDD+ is a framework created by the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) to guide offset projects focused on reforestation, forest management, conservation, and deforestation prevention.

The Kariba REDD+ project is projected to generate ~195,500,000 carbon credits from avoided emissions associated with deforestation over 30 years. This is achieved through community support via improved agriculture, beekeeping, fuelwood plantations, and fire management. A significant proportion of the project’s shares are invested in general activities to promote and guarantee the project’s sustainability.

The majority of Aclymate’s projects are certified by well-regarded public registries, such as Gold Standard, American Carbon Registry, and Climate Action Reserve. Those projects that aren’t yet certified are focused on new, more tech-enabled offset creation methods, and are going through the process of certification.

Carbon offset program #5: Fuel switching (carbon-neutral fuels)

A carbon-neutral fuel produces no net-GHG emissions, this includes fuel produced by microalgae plants, biofuels made from natural processes like photosynthesis, or chemically derived fuels such as methanol and ethanol.

If we focus on the biofuel sector, there has been intense controversy over the potential of these fuels to mitigate climate change, with the real benefits constrained by geographical factors, background assumptions, methodological parameters, and the land-use change occurring. Yet, with thorough and appropriate Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), research has shown such biofuels effectively yield GHG savings.

Carbon offset example: ClimateCare’s rural biogas in Vietnam

ClimateCare‘s rural biogas project in Vietnam is designed to improve the lives of smallholder farmers. Animal manure is converted into biogas, an alternative fuel that powers cooking, lighting, and hot water facilities in the local community.

These biogas facilities are typically located in remote and rural areas. They help avoid the need for farmers to collect wood fuel from local forests and offer a clean, reliable, and cost-effective source of power. The project supports ~180,000 biogas plants throughout Vietnam, reaching >840,000 people. The plants are designed to last at least 20 years, with strategies in place for their maintenance and building work, creating jobs for the local communities.

All of ClimateCare’s projects are validated and verified by standards such as the Gold Standard, the Verified Carbon Standard, and the Clean Development Mechanism.

Carbon offset program #6: Community projects

Establishing an effective project means considering repercussions beyond the GHG emission reductions achieved. Some offset programs have been known to negatively impact local communities, and doing so invalidates the benefits of the given carbon offset scheme.

Offset projects that play by the rules will strategize and have systems in place to alleviate this risk. As such, many offset projects, like the ones already discussed, bring co-benefits to communities and ecosystems.

A community-based offset project introduces energy-efficient methods and GHG emission reduction technology to undeveloped communities around the world. Thus, these projects can make entire regions more sustainable, while empowering and educating people out of poverty.

Carbon offset example: Carbonfund’s Envira Amazonia Project

The Carbonfund has removed or prevented the release of 40 billion pounds of CO2e emissions with their library of 240 offset projects. The main types of offset projects supported by the Carbonfund are renewable energy, energy efficiency, and forestry schemes which also serve to benefit the communities within which they operate. Schemes are verified by third-party certification standards, including the Verified Carbon Standard, UNFCCC Carbon Credits, and Gold Standard.

One of the projects managed by the Carbonfund is The Envira Amazonia Project: A Tropical Forest Conservation Project. This scheme protects ~500,000 acres (200,000 hectares) of tropical rainforest. The project is estimated to mitigate the release of 12.5 million tons of CO2e. Yet, despite these environmental benefits, the project also supports local communities by establishing alternative sources of income and employment opportunities. For instance, projects include extensive agricultural training and the commercialization, collection, transport, and sale of açaí, rubber, and medicinal plants.

Offset business emissions while reducing GHG emissions internally

Investing in a range of carbon offset schemes will safeguard emission reductions made by building redundancy. Look to support carbon offset schemes that fall under the following categories: Renewable energy, energy efficiency, methane abatement, reforestation and conservation, fuel switching, and community projects.

Before concluding this article, we must stress that you should no only be investing in carbon offset schemes to reduce your carbon footprint, but you should also be working to reduce GHG emissions internally. Not doing so will invalidate your offsetting efforts.

You can use the Green Business Bureau to help you here. GBB’s EcoAssessment and EcoScorecard list a plethora of initiatives to guide your business towards sustainability.

As we’re talking about reducing business emissions, these initiatives could include improving building insulation or switching to a renewable energy provider. As you work through the GBB EcoAssessment, you’ll progressively reduce your carbon footprint, supporting your carbon offsetting program.

Communicate your efforts made using GBB’s online EcoProfile, which will detail what green initiatives your business has instituted.

GBB provides an affordable means of green certification, with plans starting at $29 per month.

Sign up to the Green Business Bureau today and start reducing your GHG emissions internally. Use our 6 best carbon offsetting programs to offset the remaining GHG emissions caused by your business’s operations.

Do you offset your business emissions? If you do, what offsetting schemes do you use? What successes and challenges have you faced? We’d love to hear from you, please comment below.

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