What Are Carbon Offsets? | How Do Carbon Offsets Work?

What Are Carbon Offsets?

by | Sustainable Energy

Practically everything we do, buy, and eat consumes energy and produces carbon emissions in some form or another. There are the obvious culprits: fossil fuels used driving to go shopping, flights near and far, and switching on the lights. The products we purchase also come with their own individual carbon footprints that grow the farther you trace their production back to their origins and raw materials. So while we can buy an electric car, take the train, and warm up at home with a sweater, you’re still contributing to CO2 emissions with the production of that car, the energy to run the train, and even laundering that cozy cardigan.

Thankfully there is a way for those carbon-conscious consumers to mitigate the CO2 released by their lifestyle—carbon offsets.

What Is a Carbon Offset?

A carbon offset is a product or project that anyone—whether a business or individual—can pay for in order to compensate for the carbon or greenhouse gas emissions for which they are responsible. The easiest way to think about it is that you can buy a sort of negative carbon credit that counterbalances the carbon you emit from one action or another. This effectively reduces the total CO2 (tCO2) released globally when you consider the net carbon released into the atmosphere. The CO2 from your carbon offset is then subtracted from your individual carbon footprint.

A little confused? Don’t worry, we explain in greater detail below.

Recognized internationally, carbon offsetting has become a key focal point in the agenda to reduce global carbon emissions, and is the only way that one can actually achieve ‘carbon neutrality’. In fact, many businesses have now adopted a carbon offsetting program to demonstrate that their company is taking a responsible, conscious approach to climate change.

Who Offers Carbon Offsets?

There are plenty of companies offering carbon offsets out there, but unfortunately, there are some that are trying to take advantage of the scheme. For this reason, we only recommend companies that are verified by one of the following standards:

  • Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS)
  • Green-e Climate
  • Climate Action Reserve
  • Conservation International
  • The Gold Standard

These standards are widely accepted as accounting for valid carbon offsets, so you get quality assurance and you can be sure that your certified offsets are actually affecting total global emissions.

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How Do Carbon Offsets Work?

You can think of a carbon offset as a form of trade. In a situation where you cannot curb your carbon emissions any further, you can fund a project that is working to reduce carbon elsewhere, thereby trading against your own footprint and reducing the total amount of CO2 released.

This concept may seem a little flimsy, but it’s scientifically backed. Unlike other pollutants, greenhouse gases quickly mix into the atmosphere and spread around the entire planet. As such, it doesn’t really matter whether the actual reduction comes specifically from your home or business, just that there are less overall carbon emissions going into the atmosphere as a whole. And with companies that are accredited by the standards we mentioned above, you can be sure that you’re getting an accurate figure for offset.

Types of Carbon Offsets Programs

Before you choose a carbon offset program you will first want to know your carbon footprint. For individuals, you can calculate your carbon footprint with our carbon calculator. Once you have discovered the greenhouse gases emissions that you’re responsible for each year, you can find a project an offset project that suits your taste and budget.

Many carbon offset programs take place in developing nations where the impact at a grassroots level is easier to implement and the initiatives have an even greater socio-economic impact. Many of these projects also positively affect the region’s employment statistics, quality of life, education, and healthcare.

Carbon Offset Program Examples

Need offset an upcoming transcontinental flight or a new home purchase? You can directly support some carbon offsetting programs. Find a few of our favorites below.

Zanbal Agroforestry

Certified Gold Standard, this reforestation project currently runs in conjunction with 31 Malian farmers, with more than 400 set to join in the coming years. Each farmer receives €100 [about $125 USD] a year in order to plant and cultivate trees which will capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.[1]

Solar Power project in Rajasthan

The purpose of this project is to generate electricity by utilizing clean solar energy. You can buy carbon credits generated from clean, renewable energy. Located in Rajasthan, the focus is on reducing the reliance on fossil fuels burned at power plants connected to the NWENE grid. Current estimates suggest that this project will reduce consumption of fuels that lead to the emission of 34,261 tons of CO2 each year.[2]

Katingan Peatland Restoration and Conservation Project

Verified by the VCS, the purpose of this project is to restore 149,800 hectares of peatland ecosystems in the Katingan region of Indonesia. The project also provides a source of income to local people, covering one of the largest remaining intact swamp forests in Indonesia.[3]

Do Your Research

Carbon offsets are amazing. They not only reduce emissions but can help those in disadvantaged regions. BUT (!) Not all carbon offsets are alike, and not all businesses offering them are credible! You need to do your own research before you start putting money towards a program.

As we already stated above, we would only choose a scheme that has been verified by internationally recognized institutions. These bodies vet each scheme to ensure it meets the rigorous standards.

How Do Carbon Offsets Help the Climate?

Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases released by transport and commercial processes. When sunlight enters the atmosphere it passes through the clouds and is either absorbed or radiated back out into space as infrared heat. Greenhouse gases prevent this heat from escaping, causing it to radiate back towards the planet and contribute to the global warming effect.

As the name suggests, greenhouse gasses act like a greenhouse, trapping heat and increasing the overall temperature inside. Over time these gasses do decay, however, we are currently replenishing their stock at a far greater rate, meaning that any decay is outweighed by the excessive amounts we continue to produce. By reducing the total amount of carbon we produce as a planet, we will be able to bring greenhouse gases down to lower levels, thereby reducing their effect on the planet’s temperature.

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Reduce Your Carbon Emissions

Carbon offsets are available to everyone in many different forms. So whether you’re running a small business or simply powering your home, you can do your bit to reduce carbon emissions, too. If you’re a Just Energy customer, be sure to add JustGreen to your electricity or natural plan. For a small additional fee monthly, you can offset up to 100% of your energy usage with renewable energy carbon credits.

  1. ZANBAL Agroforestry. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goldstandard.org/projects/zanbal-agroforestry
  2. Solar Power project in Rajasthan. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goldstandard.org/projects/solar-power-project-rajasthan
  3. VCS Project Database. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.vcsprojectdatabase.org/#/project_details/1477
  4. Chandler, D. L., & MIT News Office. (2017, January 30). Explained: Greenhouse gases. Retrieved from http://news.mit.edu/2017/explained-greenhouse-gases-0130