You are no doubt aware that it is now easier than ever to carbon offset every aspect of your life. You can now choose to carbon offset your travel – right there on the booking page – you can buy green electricity, greener cars, carbon neutral furniture, web hosting – you name it, it’s probably available in a carbon-neutral edition.
But of course, all this can also get a bit complicated. So it is nice to know that there is now a way to offset any element of your life you like – or indeed, your entire life – in the one place.
The General Stuff – How Do I Carbon Offset My Life?
How much carbon do I create with my lifestyle?
This is seemingly very difficult question, but with a surprisingly simple process to calculate, thanks so some very handy online tools.
The first tool I found, and the one which seems to be the most intricate, is that made by the Carbon Fund. The Carbon Fund is a not-for-profit corporation that exists to help mitigate climate change through empowering companies and individuals to take action. We like their mission a lot, and we especially like that they aren’t doing it for the money (not that there’s anything wrong with that per se, but when you are purchasing carbon offsets, you want to make sure as much as your money is going into those mitigation activities as possible).
The Carbon Fund is certified by a number of leading bodies including the CFC, the American Carbon Registry, EarthShare, IFCA and US Green Building Council.
Their calculator lets you figure our your carbon footprint either as an average person (24 tonnes per year), an average couple or an average family.
But while that’s simple, it’s not a lot of fun, so click over to the custom calculator! There, you can play with all kinds of variables including your home (choose the size, zip code [presumably to figure out heating and cooling costs?] and energy usage estimates, if you have them, and voila – your house’s usage!), car (seemingly every imaginable model) and a range of other items, including public transport, flights and events.
So be as intricate as you wish in telling your story. As you go, you can even add the individual items to the cart, which is pretty cool. At the end, you will be able to see exactly how much of a footprint you generate each year. And you’ll probably be surprised at just how affordable it is to take your life back to carbon neutral.
A little less detailed than the Carbon Fund Calculator, this one simply lets you select the number of homes and different sized vehicles you have, basing its costings on a standard amount for the average American.
One gets the feeling that, while this is certainly far and away better than nothing, they are focused more on the corporate market – so haven’t put a lot of actuarial effort into customizing their consumer facing platform.
That’s ok, but the cost to offset of $14 per tonne, as well as the lack of any visible certifications are, from where we stand, a bit less impressive.
The Environmental Protection Agency has created a very scientific calculator, which takes a few minutes to complete but will give you a very specific picture of how much carbon you create with your lifestyle.
This calculator looks at the three main sources of carbon emissions in the domestic context; home, transportation and waste.
It’s a great calculator if you have the patience to stick with it all the way through. The great thing about this calculator, over the other options, is that it uses the EPA’s existing data to compare you to other people living in your same zip code.
So you’ll either end the process with a warm, fuzzy feeling or a tremendous sense of shame and self-loathing.
The other benefit is that, unlike the others, the EPA’s calculator is focused at helping you with practical ways to reduce your emissions, rather than simply paying to offset them. After all, we’re better off using less than simply changing the energy mix.
But you will need to buy your offsets elsewhere, once you know exactly how much you need to purchase!
What are my options for counteracting the impact that I have?
There are actually quite a lot and I won’t profile them all here (thank god, I hear you say; just give me the good stuff!), except to say if you’re really into this you should check out David Suzuki’s foundation. I’ve been the biggest fan of his ever since I was single digits and gained a lot of my interest in the sciences from his unique, engaging approach. He’s put a lot of effort into climate awareness and carbon offsetting is clearly something his foundation is now focusing on. So I’ll summarize here some of what he, and other leaders in the field, have to say about the benefits of the various approaches to carbon offsetting.
The first thing to note is that the carbon offsetting market is largely unregulated. And if there’s one thing we know about unregulated markets, it’s that they are a haven for dodgier operators. So make sure that whoever you choose has a good reputation (which can be ascertained through certifications or testimonials by other reputable partners).
What Certifications Matter?
Just as there are numerous companies, for profit and non-profit, who will sell you a carbon offset package, so are there a number of relevant bodies that will certify those companies.
Rather then regurgitate Dr Suzuki’s words on this, I’ll just insert his wisdom here:
A number of standards exist for carbon offsets, including the VCS, Green-e, and The Gold Standard. More standards are being announced regularly, and WWF has published a comparison of the most common offset standards. Each of these standards differs in key ways, with some being more rigorous than others.
In short, however, it is still the case that the ‘Gold Standard’ is the top of the tree as far as certifications go in this area. Crucially, the Gold Standard only applies to projects that help mitigate our reliance on fossil fuels and involve low levels of environmental risk. Further, it can only apply to new projects, which are ensured to have an additional impact, rather than simply the continuation of existing projects.
Why is the specific method of offsetting important? The important thing is, does the method of offsetting reduce our overall reliance on fossil fuels?
Playing trees is nice, and useful – more trees does mean that there will, overall, be less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, a tree doesn’t generate electricity and it doesn’t last for ever.
Putting the same amount of money as, say, 100,000 trees into a new wind turbine will permanently generate renewable energy that will ultimately replace electricity generation from a fossil fuel source (like coal). This is the reason why it’s important to invest your credits in projects that not only help reduce carbon but invest in our mutual carbon-free future.
The Gold Standard recognizes the importance of this additional factor, which is why they have such stringent requirements for the projects it certifies.
Which Options are the Best, Then?
Surprisingly, when we started looking into the main players in the carbon credits market, a large number of them use tree planting and reforestation as their main mechanism for mitigating emissions.
David Suzuki isn’t a fan of that – and neither are we.
Their main focus seems to be tree planting, but they are a big player and have a range of projects that warrant support all over the world. These include wind farms in China, the Philippines, Mongolia and India, a Geothermal plant in Vietnam and landfill management in Indonesia.
The cost to offset a tonne of carbon dioxide with Carbon Footprint depends on the project you select, but ranges from 6.60 UK pounds to 12 UK pounds per tonne (so it does get a little pricey).
Carbon Fund place all their projects into three categories, allowing you to select where you want your money to go under their policy of “Your Carbon, Your Choice”.
The categories are:
– Renewable Energy and Methane
– Energy Efficiency and Carbon Credits
– Reforestation and Avoided Deforestation.
So you are able to target your contribution to projects that will have a lasting impact. Their levels of certification are also high, and as we said earlier, they are a non-profit – so we are impressed by the overall package. The cost of buying a tonne of carbon from Carbon Fund is USD 10.
Native Energy may not have the best carbon footprint calculator or the cheapest offsets (at USD 14 a tonne), but one big thing they have going for them is that their main projects, ‘The Ghana Clean Water Project’ and ‘Oka Trees of Hope’, do meet The Gold Standard.
So you can be assured that, even though there’s a profit margin built in for the company, their projects are certified to the highest possible level.