Carbon offsetting

Written by nana@lovehatechange 
Published 19 Jan 2020. Updated 23 Feb 2020.

The worry about the climate change has resulted in many individuals and organisations to carbon-offset. To change ones (Western) lifestyle to meet the sustainable level as defined by scientists, a carbon offset is a way to compensate for your emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere1.

Carbon offsetting is far from a simple approach to reducing the carbon footprint. For one, there isn’t a global agreement for how to do the offsetting calculations. Also, since carbon offsetting doesn’t scale and it can only play a partial role in resolving the issue, it may encourage the wrong mindset – that we buy ourselves a good conscious without taking action to reduce our carbon pollution. But, there are some excellent schemes and using them buys us time to implement long-term solutions.

There are some excellent schemes and supporting them will make a difference – and it’s not difficult!

How much do I pay?

Using the average UK consumption statistics for a family with two adults, two kids, one medium car and one trip to Spain in a year, the total pollution estimates the online calculators give is roughly 12 tonnes CO2 a year. This assumes “no high secondary consumption” e.g. what comes to your hobbies, travel or buying habits.

However, the World Bank average estimate gives this amount for a person. I think this is because the secondary costs are significant, but I’m not sure – this is something I’m still looking into.

I’ve been browsing different certified schemes and a typical prices I’ve seen are around £6-£9 per tonne. But, of course you can choose any amount, and only partially offset – or pay extra.

To give an idea: to offset the whole footprint of an average 4-person family would cost about £100-£200 a year.

Not surprisingly, the World Bank data shows a strong link to the level of income. The more you consume, the bigger your impact:

The average footprint of high income person is six time bigger than that of a low or middle income.

How do I do it?

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Option 1 If you are super busy and don’t have time to spend on any investigation

Use national carbon pollution averages and a certified offsetting scheme – see a quick guide here. In this option, like with any others, don’t think this as a free pass to consume. Remember, that every item we buy, every activity we participate in has an impact. Only buy what you really need. Only buy new when there are no other good options. Buy quality. Buy local when you can.

Option 2 Calculate your carbon footprint & use certified credits

In this approach, to get a more accurate estimate for your footprint, you first calculate your emissions using a carbon calculator, then buy credits to match your pollution from a certified project. There are several organisations who offer them, for example American Carbon RegistryClimate Action ReserveGold StandardPlan Vivo and Verra. European standards are said to be more strictly verified than those in the U.S, and I’ve chosen to use Gold Standard (Gold Standard for the Global Goals), which is a non-profit foundation operating under Swiss law.

With Gold Standard, you can either use the average carbon emissions for your geographical area, or you can calculate how much you pollute more accurately with an online calculator. Gold Standard offers the WWF calculator on their website, but there are more accurate calculators – see below.

Once you have established how many tons of emissions you want to offset, you can choose an individual project or Climate+ Portfolio, which spreads your support on a variety of certified projects. At the time of writing this, The Gold Standard lists over 720 certified projects!

(As far as I know, you can currently only make one-off payments, but not e.g. a recurring monthly payment.)

Option 3 Support other environmental projects or charitable groups

Not all good initiatives are certified. Some of my favourites that appear to be managed effectively, and are working on very important projects include World Land Trust, Tree Aid and the Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation. Of these, only the first enables you to match the donation to the amount of emissions.

What data do I need for the calculation? How long does it take?

It varies depending on which calculator you use. For most of them, you need your yearly electricity and gas consumption (in kWh). Most of the questions give you easy options to choose from. If you have a decent idea of your spending, it shouldn’t take more than 15-30minutes.

Online calculators

Carbon calculators vary in terms of what they take into account, what assumptions they make, and what they require (and allow) you to define.

According to research in April 2019, “the most thorough and engaging calculators reviewed are those by Carbon Footprint Ltd., Carbon Independent, and Cool Climate Network“. I would also like to mention the WWF calculator, because it is easy to use and based on comparisons I’ve made so far, it gives similar results.

1 CO2 is the most important Greenhouse Gas (GHG), but not the only one. For example, agriculture is a large source of methane and nitrous oxide. To capture all GHG emissions researchers express them in kilograms of ‘carbon dioxide equivalents’, CO2e. This metric takes account all greenhouse gases.