Offsetting your carbon footprint
What are carbon offsets?
A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere. One carbon offset represents the reduction of one metric ton of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases.
However, for unavoidable flights and car trips, purchasing carbon offsets is a good way to financially support projects that reduce emissions and hence offset the emissions you are responsible for.
The 5 main categories of offsets available are:
- Energy efficiency projects
- Renewable energy, eg solar or wind projects
- Forestry, usually tree planning projects
- Methane capture (for example from livestock or landfill to generate electricity)
- Other waste diversion activities
When should carbon offsets be purchased?
Carbon offsets can be purchased when you cannot avoid emissions through improved efficiency. Purchasing carbon offsets does not necessarily mean that you reduce your actual greenhouse gas emissions, but rather you compensate for it. A simple example of a carbon offset is tree planting, as at the most basic level trees store carbon and produce oxygen.
The first thing you should do when reducing emissions is to make your life more sustainable. For instance, making your home energy efficient will result in a direct and immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions because you are using less electricity, and therefore producing less emissions. Carbon offsets mitigate the emissions that are already produced.
You can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by:
- energy efficiency
- renewable energy
- reducing consumption such as from flights, car travel and minimising waste
Why purchase carbon offsets?
You can purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the emissions you produce that you cannot avoid. For example, an individual can opt to buy carbon offsets when purchasing flights. This is called the 'voluntary market' and applies to individuals, businesses and some levels of government.
An individual may be motivated to purchase carbon offsets because they endeavour to do their 'part' for the environment (and future generations). Organisation's on the other hand may be motivated for this same reason (and often refer to it as 'social-corporate responsibility), or wider political reasons (such as when an organisation claims to be 'carbon neutral').
Large organisations (such as mining companies) may be required to purchase carbon offsets to comply with the limits on the total amount of green house gases they are allowed to produce as a result of their activities.
Carbon offset standard and guides
Currently, offset projects do not have to be accredited by an independent party. It is very important to choose a quality offset provider who is voluntarily accredited by a rigorous accreditation body. These provide guidance on what is a genuine voluntary offset and sets minimum requirements for calculating, auditing and offsetting the carbon emissions.
The federal government has developed the National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS) to help consumers purchase quality offsets.
The NCOS provides a means of ensuring the environmental integrity of the carbon offsets and carbon neutral products available in the Australian voluntary market for consumers and businesses alike. It assists consumers to make informed choices and interpret carbon neutral claims.
The Carbon Offset Guide Australia gives a list of carbon offset providers in Australia. Click here (or on the image on the right) for a list of these providers and the level of accreditation each provider has obtained.
Additional benefits of carbon offsets
Many products also have additional benefits, such as habitat creation, helping low income households reduce their energy bills or creating employment in regional communities, so have a look at the additional benefits of the offset products.
Another important sign of a quality offset provider is one that is supported by a reputable environmental organisation such as Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace and/or WWF Australia.
And remember... !