Regardless of how environmentally responsible any of us attempt to be, pretty much all of us are net contributors to the climate change problem. Whether it’s the tropical fruit we buy, the cars we drive or the energy we use to heat and power our homes – we all consume products and resources that are responsible for producing greenhouse gases in their extraction, manufacture or their transportation.
It’s extremely hard…actually its damn near impossible, to participate in the modern economy without being a net creator of greenhouse gases. That said, we shouldn’t use this as an excuse to deflect personal responsibility for climate change. The fact is, we can actually make choices to dramatically reduce our impact if we want to.
A few months ago measured our home energy use, that is to say, the energy we used to heat, cool and power our home. As it turns out – it was pretty easy. One quick email to Manitoba Hydro (our local energy utility) and in a few hours, I knew exactly how much electricity we used in 2013. I did this both to understand how our energy use compared to others, but more importantly I wanted to know what GHG impact our home energy use had. Knowing what impact you have is the first step to reducing it.
While we have, and will continue, to take steps to reduce our GHG impact, there comes a point where it is not longer possible or simply cost prohibitive to reduce our impact any further. This is where purchasing carbon offset credits come into play.
What are Carbon Offset Credits?
Carbon offset credits are basically certified reductions of GHGs (usually measured in metric tonnes of CO2 equivalents) achieved by a business or some project. A credit represents the difference between the amount of CO2e the business or project would have produced if they used normal methods to achieve the same end. For example – a business that replaced their natural gas heating system with a geothermal heating system may reduce the GHG impact of heating their facility by 20 CO2e tonnes per year. That 20 tonne reduction could be sold as carbon offset credits to another business to compensate (offset) their own emissions.
There is a growing industry around certifying GHG reductions into credits and a lot of debate around what should be and shouldn’t be considered a credit. Generally speaking, to be considered for credits, GHG reductions must be reviewed and monitored by an independent body and meet a number of criteria. The David Suzuki Foundation provides a pretty good basic primer on carbon offsets.
Carbon offset systems work to counter-act the problem in economics know as “externalities”. Externalities are a side effect or consequence of a commercial activity that affects other parties without this being reflected in the cost of the goods or services produced. By placing a price on GHG emissions, we recognize the cost of climate change on the rest of the world in the cost of the product or service being produced. Ideally, the costs of GHG emissions for everything we buy would be included in the price we pay. Unfortunately these costs are usually not included for a whole lot of reasons; lack of government regulation, lack of simple methods for quantifying costs, etc. Purchasing carbon offsets is one way for a business or individual to add the cost of their GHG emissions to the costs of their operation which in turn they build into the prices they charge for their products and services.
Why would anyone purchase carbon offset credits?
As I said before carbon offsetting is a growing industry, despite the challenges with putting a price on carbon. This is due in large part, to progressive companies and individuals choosing to voluntarily offset their GHG impact. These businesses and individuals recognize that they are contributing to the problem and choose to take some action. Some businesses set GHG reduction targets and use carbon offset credits as a way to reduce their net impact. For example, if a company is responsible for the creation of 200 Tonnes of CO2e emissions per year, they can buy 20 tonnes of carbon offset credits and their net impact is said to have been reduce to 180 tonnes.
Purchasing carbon offsets allow businesses to compensate for their own emissions. With the raising public awareness of climate change and is effects, businesses are under more and more pressure to show leadership and reduce their impact.
Some see offset’s as a tool for business to avoid actually taking responsibility for their GHGs. It is after all, much easier to buy credits then to rethink processes or invest in new, more efficient assets. While there is an element of truth to that, I believe that offset credits play (or will play) an important role in mobilizing society to drastically reduce their impact. Long story – short, I believe carbon offsets are a useful tool in the effort to mitigate global climate change.
How can individuals use carbon offset credits to reduce their personal GHG impact?
Carbon offset credits have been available for both businesses and individuals to purchase online for a number of years now. Purchasing carbon offset credits is almost as easy as buying a book on Amazon. But with any new and lightly regulated industry – there is a wide range of vendors and not all of them have the same quality of product. Not all carbon credits are created equal. Picking the right credits is important. It’s the difference between just feeling good and feeling good while actually making a difference.
To pick the carbon offsets we will use to reduce our climate impact, I turned to the David Suzuki Foundation and took their advice on carbon offset selection. After reviewing their material, I picked Planetair to be our source for carbon offset credits. In a future post, I will document our first carbon offsetting experience with Planetair.
Would you purchase carbon offset credits to reduce the climate impact you can’t avoid?