Carbon offsets

The What, Why and How of Carbon Offsets

OK, this post isn’t about herbs, but I wrote it and this is just one way to get it out there. And, this ties in our love of herbs with love of the planet in general.

In this new geopolitical era that we’re in, we’re back to wondering who’s going to save the world from climate change if the US federal government is recoiling and retrenching in all the ways that it is. I have been reading hopeful articles about how investment in renewables is here to stay, however, the feeling that we need to do more to oppose, resist, or to simply acknowledge that more is needed won’t subside. For me, personally, that means branching out into other causes, not just the environment. For others, it may be the opposite: perhaps get deeper into what it means to protect the environment on a personal level and take a look at how the non-governmental sector (as well as the state and local government sectors) is deepening its efforts.

So, after we’ve changed our light bulbs to LEDs, upgraded our energy-intensive appliances, insulated our homes, installed renewable energy on our own homes, made decisions about how to green up our transportation, there’s still the fact that our carbon footprint still remains. We fly to distant places, we consume goods that are energy-intensive, and simply put, we live an American lifestyle. For those of us who want to get to zero, but still can’t figure it out due to whatever, there’s carbon offsetting.

Carbon offsets are products that are packaged to offset a person’s (or business’s) carbon footprint. Some have websites where you can calculate your offset by putting in numbers for travel, utility bills, others provide packages where you can purchase offsets for a typical person or family of four, others just say “donate here”. This article will discuss some of the carbon offset products and projects that are now available and highlight interesting features about some of them.

The Climate Trust: Founded in 1997, this group was formed to administer the Oregon Carbon Dioxide Standard, the nation’s first legislation to curb emissions of carbon dioxide. Since then, it has grown to help finance a portfolio of projects that include methane recovery, energy efficiency, forest conservation, improved agricultural management and other projects. On its donation page, it does not have $/ton of CO2 reduced, so that’s something to think about when donating.

CoolEffect: Recently founded, Cool Effect has a user-friendly website with specific projects, each at a different cost per tonne of carbon, that you can fund. It has a FAQ page that explains CO2 offset purchasing very well. Like the Climate Trust, is also has an option to donate to the whole portfolio without earmarking the money for one project. And like the Climate Trust, it does not discuss your carbon footprint, but just offers you a way to go beyond your personal measures already taken. My favorite project on this site was small-scale biodigesters that produce methane for household cooking in Vietnam.

Carbon Fund: Carbon Fund also has a pretty user-friendly website that also aims to let you know what your personal carbon footprint looks like. You can punch in your numbers and get a number back, or you can purchase a “typical footprint” package, depending on what you want – individual, family, event, etc. There’s also the option of supporting the projects that you want to support. My favorite project on this site was a truckstop electrification project. Donations to this group are tax-deductible and they highlight this.

The Nature Conservancy: Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy has been purchasing land for conservation for a long time. The carbon offset program funds forest conservation, reforestation and improved forest management projects. The website offers a per tonne of carbon donation (monthly or otherwise) and general donations. To find the carbon donation, go to their climate page. What I like about this organization is that when you find the “visit a preserve” map on the website, it’s full of places in New England that you can visit! Lovely if you want to connect with nature and your donation efforts.

Mass Energy Consumers Alliance: Mass Energy has a “green electricity” product that allows you to purchase green electricity to “match” your electricity consumption. So, in essence, you’re covering part of your carbon footprint – the home electricity part. It is the only one in this article that is focused on building New England based renewable energy projects. As New England has a market for these credits, the price is a little higher per tonne of carbon offset if you crunch the numbers. If you want projects built in your bioregion, this is one option for you. Right now, it looks like their projects are small wind and hydro. In the past, Mass Energy has hosted tours of some of the sites they have helped fund.

Native Energy: Founded in 2000 and based in Vermont, Native Energy helps finance projects in the US and other countries. Some of my favorites are methane recovered from landfills and wastewater treatment plants, and wind farms.

There are other carbon offset products and websites out there, but these are the ones that either I’ve dealt with in the past or I was able to see clearly how to calculate my footprint and purchase some offsets. In years past, when purchasing offsets for my family, I have gotten on the phone and asked questions. For this article, I didn’t do that. However, I strongly encourage you to ask questions if you have certain priorities that you want to support. Questions that you might want to ask are: Is the donation tax-deductible? Do I get to choose which projects I support? Where are the projects? What is the cost per tonne of carbon offset? How are your products verified? How is the project sustainable? What are the total emissions reductions for the portfolio/project? Can I go visit the project some day?(that’s a fun one!)

As tax day and Earth day are one week apart, I aim annually to purchase my family’s offsets in April. This way, I feel like I’m compensating for the misallocation of our tax dollars. So, as the federal government reprioritizes once again, those of us who can help contribute to support the shift toward sustainability that has already started, must continue to do so in as many ways as possible. Carbon offsets offer us one more way.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *