Can You Trust Carbon Offsets?
So, you’re a small business owner and you’ve got your hands full with credit card readers, vender accounts, customer complaints, and advertising cold-callers…and do we even have to mention the recession? Still, you want to do your part to help reduce the impacts of climate change, and you’ve heard that one of the ways your company can reduce your carbon footprint is by offsetting your emissions with what are called “carbon offsets”.
There’s a lot of information out there about carbon offsets. For small businesses, what is the most important? How can you know that purchasing carbon offsets is actually reducing overall carbon emissions globally? Where does the money go? You certainly don’t have the time to research all companies offering to offset your carbon footprint (In the SF bay area alone – 3Degrees, Terrapass, LiveNeutral, The Carbon Neutral Company, Greatest Planet…), but you still want to make an informed choice.
The key is to find an independent third party certifying body, such as Green-e, that endorses the offsets you’re buying. Green-e certifies that a carbon offsetting company is actually doing what they claim that they are doing with your money.
If you’re the kind of entrepreneur who likes to understand everything that’s happening, there are a couple of key terms you might want to familiarize yourself with. Additionality means that the the carbon offsets you purchase actually support a REAL project (examples include wind and solar power, forestry, and methane capture and combustion ) that would otherwise not have happened without your extra money. Permanence means that the project you’re supporting isn’t just temporary – the forest won’t be burned to the ground next year, the wind farm won’t be dismantled after Christmas, etc. Additionality and permanence are also independently certified by organizations like Green-e.
There’s more to consider, of course. For example, 3Degrees screens their Verified Emission Reduction (VER) projects before selling offsets to businesses by, among other criteria, analyzing risk and exploring potential sustainable development co-benefits of the project.
Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on Google Plus
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