Offset your construction carbon.
Offsetting the embodied carbon is the third step in reducing your project's environmental impact. Once the potential footprint has been reduced to the maximum extent possible, landscape has been selected to maximize its potential to sequester carbon on site and sustainable sources of power have been obtained to build your project, there may still be a quantity of project carbon to offset.
Once you have a value for the embodied carbon of your project it is possible to purchase carbon credits to offset the contributions that your carbon release makes to global warming. There are a growing number of companies that address the global market for carbon offsets. We have no affiliation with any offset retailer, and the choice of a retailer is a decision that will be made based on your ranking of the various providers based on the criteria you feel is most important.
How do you decide?
There are a number of reports that have been undertaken to help define the issues for purchasers. These reports and ranking systems bring with them the opinions and prejudices of their authors. There has been a tremendous amount written about each of the reports that have come out. Here are links to the reports. We have also included some information about the criteria commonly used to rank offsets.
Frequently referenced guides:
- A Consumer's Guide to Retail Carbon Offset Providers, Clean Air Cool Planet. (PDF)
- Voluntary Offsets For Air Travel Carbon Emissions, Tufts Climate Initiative. (PDF) - This report covers many of the topics and jargon related to greenhouse gas.
Articles with information related to the ratings reports:
- Shifting Into Neutral., National Geographic: The Green Guide.
- Do Carbon Offsets live up to their promise?, Christian Science Monitor.
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing among offset retailers. None of these factors should be considered individually. This is a choice, and the value of that choice lies in the thought that informed it.
- Additionality. Additionality is widely viewed as being the most important element when deciding on offset retailers, and it may be the most difficult to prove for an offset provider.
Additionality is the assurance that your money made an offset happen that would not have happened otherwise. It is related to other criteria, among them double counting and verification. A consistently applied test of Additionality has not yet been agreed on, but work in this area is advancing.
- Verification. Who is checking the claims of an offset retailer or an offset provider? Is it important to you to have an outside source reviewing the offset? Are the providers able to self-report?
Verification may supply you with the peace of mind to commit to a certain retailer. Verification can be by a third party for the most transparent and trustworthy reporting. It can also be performed by an offset provider. Some method of accounting needs to be performed so the retailer can assign the correct values to the offset being provided.
- Double Counting. Double counting describes the desire to ensure that each offset is only sold once, and only factors once into the benefits afforded the provider. As an example in the Tufts' report they count a particular offset credit 6 times. This is an extreme case, but one that is theoretically possible.
Concerns about double counting are tied to the verification process. For projects that have a quality verification process in place, double counting should not be an issue. The concept of double counting, coupled with concerns about Additionality, are among the issues some climate consultants consider in their rejection of Renewable Energy Credits as viable offsets. Many offset providers do a good job of monitoring and accounting for these credits, and will issue legal certificates representing the finite nature of the offset credit and their intent to manage the environmental benefits.
- Transparency. Can you follow the carbon? Is the offset retailer open to scrutiny? Can you find out who the offset provider really is?
If you find an offset retailer who has directly addressed Additionality, verification and double counting, their ability to present a transparent process to you, the purchaser is greatly enhanced. Ideally, they can tell you about many projects that they have underway, and they should be able to provide you with detailed information related to the specific offsets that you purchased.
- Quality and Durability. What is the nature of the offset you are purchasing? Are you mainly interested in supporting reforestation projects? Would you like to enable wind farms or solar harvesting projects? Are you concerned about the containment of bovine methane?
There are many factors that impact offsets and your perception of their relative quality. To offset a metric tonne of carbon through reforestation in the current market can be much less expensive than the offset of a metric tonne of carbon through wind power energy credits. If you are uncomfortable using Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) as an offset option you might question the value of the wind power offset. Reforestation also has issues - maintaining a healthy ecosystem to guarantee the sequestration capacity of the forest is a cost that should be borne by the offset purchase but is not typically accounted for. The risk of forest fire or the death of trees could jeopardize the value of the offset, although if the soil remains undisturbed, the sequestration capacity of the soil will stay intact.
Offsets are a mix of market forces and altruism - you need to find the balance you are comfortable with, knowing how difficult it is to quantify quality.
- For Profit or Non Profit. Where would you like to spend your money? Do you feel that the future of the planet should be managed through the actions of non-profits? Do you feel that we will be best served by those who realize some profit for their efforts?
This is a decision that will have to be made at some level in your organization. In the more transparent offset retailers non-profit status is very clear - sometimes it is more difficult to ascertain. Ultimately this choice may be as simple as committing some percentage of your offsets to one type of retailer, and the remainder to another.
- Local Aspects. Do you think globally and act locally? Would you like to help move money to support programs in third world countries and more equitably distribute wealth? Would you feel better seeing results first hand? Do you feel that global warming needs to be addressed globally?
Some offset retailers are regionally based, and focus on providers that are also in a general geographic area. Other offset retailers can work with you to direct your purchase. Offset providers and offset projects can be found in almost every region of the world. The volume of carbon associated with the offset of a construction project is significant enough to merit attention from the retailers and from your organization. You can direct your contributions, but it can require spending some time researching the options available.