This is the fourth article in a series.
In a recent survey I conducted for this series on carbon offsets, I learned that 10.3% of respondents felt that buying carbon credits for a home or small business would be a form of cheating, that they should instead directly reduce their carbon footprint. Some experts help explain why this thinking is wrongheaded.
All the experts I reached out to agreed that everyone should do all they can to reduce their carbon footprint directly.
Jennifer Weiss, vice president of communications at Climate Action Reserve, which certifies carbon offset projects, says, “By all means, everyone should first try to reduce his and her carbon footprint to the maximum extent possible. Reduction is the top priority.”
Credit: Climate Action Reserve
“The purpose of carbon offsets is not to allow individuals or businesses to emit more carbon,” says Marisa de Belloy, CEO of Cool Effect, a crowdfunding site for carbon offset projects. “Once you’ve done everything to reduce your impact–burn less fossil fuel, use less plastic, limit air travel, turn off lights–offset the rest through a trusted and verified platform, like Cool Effect, and you can rest assured that your support makes an actual impact on our climate crisis.”
“I would encourage you to pursue any and all reduction steps you can,” says Ben Block, CEO of GozAround Green, a site that provides consumers with incentives from corporate sponsors to buy carbon offsets.
Still, the experts agree, carbon offsets are a practical way to effectively eliminate the carbon you can’t avoid emitting directly.
“It is generally not economically feasible for a company or individual to eliminate his or her carbon footprint completely,” Weiss explains. “For what you can’t reduce, look to balance that with high-quality offsets. Your purchase of carbon offsets finances emissions reductions that otherwise wouldn’t exist and that are necessary in the fight against climate change. Depending on the offset project, your purchase could also support additional co-benefits, such as habitat protection and improved air quality.”
“Offsets can just be one of the many ways you reduce your impact,” notes Block. “Many people struggle to find meaningful ways to get involved, and offsets are about as easy as it gets. We all need to work to reduce our footprint. Offsets are just a place to start and means of compensating for unavoidable emissions.”
For instance, I’ve written a great deal about carbon offsets and have purchased far more offsets over the past 13 months than I would need to offset my carbon footprint for a decade—not because I’m cheating nor because I’m a great humanitarian. They’re just cheap and the impact does go beyond carbon reduction. Virtually all the projects on Cool Effect have other social benefits.
Before choosing to buy carbon offsets, I first chose to live in a high-rise condo (which is much more efficient to heat and cool because three sides of my home are common walls), to buy and drive an electric car and to eat a vegan diet. We recycle and avoid single-use plastic when reasonable. While tough to measure, I estimate that the combined result of my direct efforts have reduced my carbon footprint about 50%—before I get on an airplane. Only a tiny fraction of jet fuel comes from renewable sources (biofuel), so air travel remains one of the biggest contributors to climate change that most small business owners and entrepreneurs make.
Bottom line: if you can’t reasonably reduce your direct carbon footprint further, paying someone else to emit less or sequester more makes perfect sense for the planet, not just your budget.
For most small businesses, offsetting carbon emissions is an affordable expense representing less than 1% of revenue. Now is a great time to learn more. Start by reading the other articles in this series.