Offsetting your carbon emissions
Carbon offsetting is talked about a lot these days, and for good reason. But what’s it all about? In this article we’ll be looking at how you can offset your personal carbon emissions and why it matters.
Carbon offsetting definition
Carbon offsetting means balancing the amount of carbon you are responsible for releasing into the atmosphere. Individuals can do this by donating to carbon reduction schemes which remove carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon offsetting allows companies and individuals to reduce their carbon footprint by investing in carbon reduction projects.
This is based on the principle that some activities such as flying and eating meat produce carbon emissions. Whereas activities like planting trees reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Successful carbon offsetting means you balance carbon produced with carbon reduced to become carbon neutral. You can even be carbon negative if you offset more carbon than you are responsible for producing.
Carbon offsetting explained
In general, carbon reduction projects are based in developing countries with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When people think of carbon offsetting, they tend to think of planting trees. When trees grow they take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.This is known as sequestration and is a valuable form of carbon reduction.
However there are lots of other types of carbon reduction projects that indirectly reduce net carbon emissions. For example, investing in clean energy, renewable energy sources, and energy efficiency. Take a look at the projects Treepoints supports.
Carbon offsetting projects
Carbon offsetting projects take a variety of forms. Because carbon emissions are global, we can support carbon offset schemes anywhere in the world to reduce our net emissions. Different projects reduce carbon emissions in different ways.
Carbon offsetting schemes broadly fall into two categories: emissions reduction and emissions prevention.
Reducing emissions in the atmosphere is one way of fighting climate change. This can take the form of tree planting, protecting existing areas of forest, and restoring degraded pastureland. This is because trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow.
Emissions reduction also includes carbon capture and sequestration projects, removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and locking them away permanently.
The other kind of carbon offsetting involves preventing future emissions from entering the atmosphere. Renewable energy projects reduce carbon emissions by switching energy supply to renewable energy sources. These include solar power, wind power, and biomass amongst others. This mitigates the need to burn fossil fuels for energy, preventing pollution.
Energy efficiency schemes also prevent carbon emissions by improving fuel efficiency. Examples of this include switching to greener fuels and making buildings more energy efficient. This means less energy is required overall.
Treepoints supports a variety of projects all over the world that contribute to sustainable development as well as reducing carbon emissions.
Benefits of carbon offsetting
The UN advocates for the importance of carbon offsetting in fighting climate change as a way for businesses and individuals to take responsibility for their carbon emissions.
Carbon offsetting allows people to compensate for their unavoidable emissions by reducing emissions or preventing future emissions elsewhere. But the benefits of carbon offsetting go beyond just carbon reduction:
- It also rewards the development of green technologies in developing countries and encourages the development of new ones.
- Offsetting projects bring sustainable development benefits to communities around the world, including improved air and water quality, and consequently improved health, employment and training opportunities, and reduced energy consumption.
- This contributes to the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals, protecting fragile ecosystems and vulnerable communities around the world.
Additionally, carbon offsetting opens a vital funding channel for green technology and projects around the world, accelerating the transition to clean energy and the green economy.
How can I offset my carbon emissions?
Individuals can offset their carbon emissions by supporting carbon reduction schemes. This involves buying carbon credits. One carbon credit is equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide (or equivalent greenhouse gas) removed from the atmosphere.
To offset your carbon emissions, first you need to calculate your carbon footprint. The Treepoints calculator will give you a quick overview of your annual emissions. If you want a more detailed breakdown, we recommend the WWF calculator.
Your personal carbon emissions will depend on lifestyle factors such as how often you travel by plane, buy new clothes, and eat meat. The average carbon footprint in the UK was 5.6 tonnes in 2018. This is based not only on individual lifestyles, but also how much a country relies on international imports, which produce lots of greenhouse gases.
Once you have worked out your carbon footprint, you know how much you need to offset.
Remember that before you think about carbon offsetting, you should do everything you can to reduce your carbon footprint through positive lifestyle changes. These include eating less meat, flying less, and making your home more energy efficient.
However even the most eco-friendly lifestyles still produce carbon emissions. This is where carbon offsetting comes in.
How much does it cost to offset your carbon emissions?
People interested in offsetting their carbon emissions can choose to reduce their overall footprint by regularly donating to carbon reduction projects. This can be done through subscription or one off payment. One off payments are useful if you want to offset a big carbon expense, such as a flight or new appliance.
Projects are more expensive when they deliver additional benefits such as combating poverty, empowering women, or educating children. Make sure to do your research thoroughly and don’t simply opt for a less expensive one.
Carbon offset subscription
If you don’t want the hassle of working out your carbon emissions manually, you can opt for a carbon offset subscription. Once you know your rough carbon footprint, you can select an amount that is appropriate for your emissions and then pay in monthly installments to offset it. You can change this at any time if your lifestyle changes. You can also offset on behalf of other people simply by paying more.
Find out more about the different subscription options available with Treepoints.
Why are some people critical of carbon offsetting?
Doubts about planting trees
In the past, people were sceptical about tree planting as a means of reducing carbon emissions. There was no guarantee that these new trees would not be chopped down again or even survive long enough to suck up significant quantities of CO2. However nowadays most carbon reduction projects are focused on clean energy initiatives and supporting vulnerable communities, rather than just planting trees.
A licence to pollute…?
Another criticism of offsetting carbon emissions is that it allows people to feel good about themselves without doing anything to change their lifestyles. However, in reality people who invest in reducing their carbon footprint are likely doing this in conjunction with other actions to reduce their impact on the environment. This can be small things like switching to energy efficient light bulbs, or bigger changes such as going vegan.
The power of an individual
There is also an argument that without the intervention of governments and international organisations, wide-scale change will never be achieved. This is true, but shouldn’t stop individuals from working to do their bit to reduce their own carbon emissions. Remember that even the largest organisations are made up of individuals.
Carbon offsetting additionality
So how can you guarantee the money you donate is being used properly by the projects? In order to qualify as a carbon reduction project, managers have to be able to prove something called “additionality”. This means that the carbon reduction wouldn’t have happened anyway without their intervention. There are several companies that work to uphold these, such as the Gold Standard and the Voluntary Carbon Standard. It is always worth looking up which certifications a carbon reduction project has, in order to guarantee their effectiveness.
Which carbon offset projects can I support from the UK?
When offsetting your carbon emissions it doesn’t matter where you do it. It will still result in a net carbon neutral result for the planet. Services such as Treepoints allow individuals to support projects all around the world by purchasing carbon credits on behalf of their members.
A carbon credit is a unit used to quantify the price of removing one tonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for a given project. One month it might be a reforestation project in Panama, the next solar cooking in Chad.
This works on the basis that an individual’s impact is more significant when combined with others. The result is a more effective protection of fragile ecosystems, endangered species and vulnerable communities, at the same time as reducing your carbon footprint.
How to carbon offset your travel
The CO2 emissions of different modes of transport vary considerably. A domestic flight is the most polluting, with around 133g of emissions per passenger per km travelled.
If you are able to predict your regular travel, for example you know that you commute to work every day by train, then you can factor this in to offsetting your overall carbon footprint. However, if you are making a one off journey such as a long car journey or flight, you may want to consider a one off carbon offset.
How to carbon offset your flights
Flying is mile for mile by far the most polluting form of transport. We should all be avoiding it as much as possible. However sometimes there is no option but to fly. If this happens, individuals can offset the emissions of their flight.
The emissions from your flight will vary depending on the size of the aircraft, the length of your journey, and what class you fly. The most energy efficient class is always economy class.
Use this calculator to find out the CO2 emissions from your flight.
Top tip: Before you fly, check out Atmosfair’s helpful comparison of airlines. This allows you to check which is the most efficient airline for your journey.
For more details, check out our guide to carbon offsetting your flights.
How to carbon offset your business
In the same way that all individuals have a carbon footprint, all businesses have one too. This is made up of the energy used in the office, employees’ travel, and any activities that result in the emission of greenhouse gases.
If you run your own business, you should think about carbon offsetting to become a green employer. Not only is this good for the environment, but statistics show that more than 70% of millennial employees are more likely to choose to work at a company with a strong environmental agenda. Carbon offsetting will make you a better employer, and help fight climate change.
How to carbon offset at work
Technically, your carbon footprint at work is the responsibility of your employer. This includes all the carbon emissions as a result of work travel, and the energy used in the office. If you are concerned about offsetting your carbon emissions at work, why not suggest to your employer that they could carbon offset for the business.
If you want to carbon offset your work as an individual, simply make sure to take into account of emissions from your place of work as well as those from your home life.
How to carbon offset your car
On average, driving an average diesel car with one passenger will result in 171g of CO2 per kilometre per passenger. However this will depend on the type of vehicle, how much fuel it uses, and how old it is.
If you live in the UK, you can check the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of your car on the government website. This will help you work out how much you need to offset to account for the emissions of your car.
As well as offsetting, think about switching to an electric or hybrid car, which uses considerably less energy.
Making carbon offsetting easy
Working out your carbon emissions and which carbon reduction schemes to support might seem overwhelming. Most people feel they don’t have time to do the necessary research. Treepoints makes it simple for individuals to offset their carbon emissions and do good for the environment.
Simply select the plan best fits your lifestyle, and donate monthly to brilliant Gold Standard carbon reduction projects around the world. If you offset the same amount as you emit, you will become net carbon neutral.
Why stop at being carbon neutral? Offsetting your carbon emissions allows you to reach net zero, but you can donate as much as you like to a carbon reduction project. Especially given carbon calculators often underestimate the amount of carbon used by everyday activities, there is no disadvantage in being generous in your offsetting. If you offset more than your carbon footprint, you will be carbon negative.