Carbon offsets or offsetting your carbon footprint is a globally recognised way for an individual, company, or organisation to take responsibility for the unavoidable carbon emissions (carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases) they are producing. When climate change is increasingly on the agenda and a topic of conversation, customers, staff and stakeholders are all looking at UK businesses to act now to reduce their carbon footprint and reach net zero emissions.
We at Auditel (UK) Ltd would like to explain what offsetting carbon emissions actually means, how it works, and how you or your business can become carbon neutral or verified carbon neutral.
What is Carbon Offsetting?
Utilising carbon offsets means essentially funding and investing in carbon offsetting projects and schemes around the world that remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere and reduce burning fossil fuels. For your business to be carbon neutral you must purchase carbon offsets (sometimes called carbon credits) that match the same volume removed as you or your business is producing. In simple terms, offsetting one tonne of carbon means there will be one tonne less of carbon in the atmosphere than there would have been previously. Offsetting projects help to combat carbon reduction and climate change, as well as care for local communities. Examples of such projects include the creation of clean renewable energy technologies, the developing of carbon capture technology or planting trees to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
Some organisations offset their entire carbon footprint, while others often aim to neutralise the impact of a specific carbon-creating activity, such as taking a flight. This is done by calculating the emissions of the specific trip and investing in carbon offset schemes and projects that reduce those emissions, making the flight ‘carbon neutral’.
Which Carbon Offset Projects Are There?
Carbon offset projects can be carbon avoidance/reduction or carbon removal. Carbon avoidance/reduction carbon offset projects prevent the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while carbon removal carbon offset projects remove carbon dioxide that has already been released. Some common carbon offset projects include planting trees, investing in renewable energy, and improving energy efficiency.
When choosing a carbon offset project, it is important to consider the impact of the project on both the environment and your business. For example, a tree-planting project may help to reduce carbon emissions, but it may also require a significant amount of land and resources. Alternatively, a renewable energy project may have a smaller environmental footprint but require a larger up-front investment.
The Criticism Around Being Carbon Neutral
There are four main criticisms about being Carbon Neutral.
- The most common criticism is that just buying offsets elsewhere, without actual carbon reduction action in your own business, is just trying to buy your way out of a problem. Rather than actually addressing the real issue of the emissions you are producing.
- Often, how the original carbon footprint you are seeking to offset was measured is open to criticism. Without the correct Carbon Auditing procedures in place, many businesses simply measure energy consumption and maybe business travel, then seek to call that their entire carbon footprint. When in fact, they may still have many times that volume of emissions in other of emission sources such as supply chain or distribution.
- Very often the quality and/or validity of the offsets you purchase may come into question. Many offset projects do not have the same level of accounting standards and verification credentials. So you need to be selective of the projects you purchase offset from.
- The final area of the debate centers on the type of offsets used with lots of varying opinions on the merits or otherwise of nature-based solutions versus technology solutions. The main argument is around the length of time carbon emissions that have been captured are held for. Are they just in a temporary “reservoir” that will release again in the future (for example if the forest burns down) or have they been captured for the long term in a “sink”.
Verified Carbon Neutral
We at Auditel provide a service to our customers to become ‘Verified Carbon Neutral’. For us, that means ensuring our clients gain BSI PAS 2060:2014. A verified specification for the demonstration of Carbon Neutrality. You can browse our carbon solutions here on our dedicated carbon services page.
In order to gain PAS 2060 verification by a UKAS-certified body such as BSI, NQA, SGS, or Bureau Veritas, your business needs to meet the stringent criteria of the PAS 2060 specification. Much of which was designed by BSI to avoid the criticism traditional carbon neutral claims attracted. In particular, under PAS 2060 you must:
- Make year-on-year emission reductions in your actual carbon emissions in order to retain your carbon neutral status. This focuses efforts on decarbonisation within your business.
- Clearly define the boundaries of the footprint you are seeking to claim as neutral, consider all material emission sources and use a recognised methodology for the calculations such as WRI GHG protocols, Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard or ISO 14064-1.
- Only source your offsets from Kyoto-compliant schemes or alternatively from what would be best described as High-Quality voluntary schemes. These High-Quality voluntary schemes must themselves meet strict principles of reporting and accountability.
As mentioned above, becoming ‘verified carbon neutral’ to PAS 2060 with us avoids the criticism and scrutiny around basic carbon neutrality. Reaching carbon neutral and it being verified builds trust, due to avoiding websites and businesses that are using self-certification and having your carbon reduction and carbon offsetting plans verified by BSI PAS 2060. This standard is internationally recognised.
How to Offset Carbon Emissions and Become Carbon Neutral
Carbon offsetting is just one way in which companies like us can tackle climate change and reduce their carbon footprint. Offsetting carbon emissions is a continuous process and we have outlined here our 4 step process below. Our 4 step process is to define and measure your current and future carbon footprint, reduce by carrying out a carbon reduction plan, offset carbon emissions, and document and validate (verification).
We can help your business provide clarity towards achieving net zero and provide guidance to achieve the BSI recognised specification for carbon neutrality – BSI PAS 2060.
Is Carbon Offsetting the Solution to Climate Change?
Offsetting your carbon provides a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an efficient and cost-effective manner, but if this is done alone this is not the solution to climate change.
We at Auditel believe that climate change will only be addressed when everyone takes the steps needed to reduce CO2 emissions (and move towards net zero emissions) as much as possible. This is why we offer many services as well as carbon offsetting, which can be found on our carbon solutions page.