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Offsetting 101

Carbon & Emissions Offsetting - TheGreenOffice.com

Carbon offsetting is a relatively new concept for most people and, as such, has generated a good amount of debate. While simple at first glance, the market mechanisms supporting the generation and sale of offsets, as well as the way in which this activity results in actual emission reductions, is somewhat complicated. For this reason, initial skepticism is justified. Yet those committed to understanding the underlying principles will find that carbon offsetting is an effective, concrete way to combat global climate change.

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Penance or Practical Action?

Carbon offsetting alone will not solve the climate crisis and its practice does not excuse anyone from taking direct, onsite action to reduce emissions. This, however, is hardly a reason to disparage an approach to climate change mitigation that has a proven track record of success. Those who label offsetting as a pay-to-pollute scheme or as a cheap penance fail to acknowledge the larger strategic context in which these actions take place. Climate change requires an “all hands on deck” approach to problem solving that will involve a broad array of solutions implemented at nearly every level of society. Carbon offsetting is a strategy that harnesses the power of the market to develop new emission reduction and renewable energy projects. By following well documented industry best practices, the informed practitioner employs carbon offsetting as one of many efforts designed to reduce carbon emissions.

Offsetting as a Concept

With the debate on climate science effectively over in the US, the focus is shifting towards solutions. Most agree that putting a price on carbon will be at the heart of any successful strategy to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, the US Congress has yet to establish laws such as a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system that would make carbon pollution expensive and thereby limit its occurrence. In the absence of government regulation, public demand for action has put a value on efforts that go beyond business as usual to reduce emissions. When a third-party validates that a project – either through the production of clean, renewable energy or increased energy efficiency – has limited emissions, an emission reduction credit is generated that can be bought and sold on the open market. When an end user buys and permanently “retires” one of these credits (usually representing one metric ton of carbon dioxide reductions), an equivalent amount of that user’s carbon emissions are effectively neutralized. This, in a nutshell, is the practice of carbon offsetting.

The Importance of Additionality

Legitimate emission reduction credits are only generated by projects that depend on revenue from the sale of those credits for financial viability. Put another way, carbon emissions cannot, in the technical sense, be offset by emission reduction projects that would otherwise have occurred in the course of business as usual. This is the concept of additionality, a mandatory quality of emission reduction credits if they are to uphold the promise of effective, concrete action on the climate crisis.

Calculating Carbon Emissions

Making a legitimate claim of carbon neutrality begins with an accurate calculation of the carbon emissions associated with your workplace. TheGreenOffice.com’s Office Footprint Calculator™, developed in partnership with the pioneering nonprofit Redefining Progress, is designed to measure those areas of your daily operations that have the greatest impact on our climate: transportation, facility, energy, waste, products, and services. The calculator’s three sections steps require no specialized information or expertise. The use of exact figures is encouraged, but the option to input averages is provided. TheGreenOffice.com provides assistance in calculation to those organizations serious about going carbon neutral. To find out more, email us or call 800.909.9750. To learn more about what’s behind the calculator, click here.

Sources of Emission Reduction Credits

A wide range of emission reduction projects have been submitted for consideration as sources of emission reduction credits. While many of these projects make reasonable claims for the reduction of emissions, some carry risks that others do not. Carbon sequestration, through such measures as tree planting, is a laudable activity with clear climate benefits. However the credits from this measure carry no guarantee because the reductions are not necessarily permanent (fire deforestation, and disease cannot always be prevented) and cannot very accurately be measure or verified.  Buyers and sellers of these types of credits risk making claims they must later recant.

For these reasons, TheGreenOffice.com focuses exclusively on emission reduction credits generated by the following projects:

  • Renewable Energy Projects:  These projects include the production of clean, renewable power through the construction of wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and small, low-impact hydroelectric plants. Credits are generated when a given amount of clean, renewable energy enters the grid, effectively displacing the need for an equal amount of climate polluting, non-renewable energy.
  • Energy Efficiency Projects:  These projects reduce the daily energy consumption and related carbon emissions of a target site through a variety of methods, ranging from the construction of greenhouses to ensure food supply in remote areas where food would otherwise need to be flown in, to the installation of compact fluorescent light bulbs in buildings. Credits are created when post-implementation consumption and emissions are measured against the baseline or business as usual levels that would otherwise have taken place.

Uses & Limitations of Renewable Energy Credits

Clean, renewable energy plants generate not only electricity, but also what are called Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). A REC represents the environmental benefits of producing 1,000 kWh of non-polluting energy from sources easily replenished by earth’s natural systems, such as wind and solar. RECs may be sold in conjunction with the electricity by which they are generated, or decoupled from that energy and sold separately. Because the generation of clean, renewable energy does not result in carbon emissions, the purchase and permanent retirement of a REC confers upon the user the right to claim carbon neutrality for electricity consumption. However, RECs cannot be used for claims of carbon neutrality extending beyond electricity usage because the vast majority of them are generated by plants that never relied on their sale for financial viability. In other words, unless a particular renewable energy project can provide hard evidence of additionality, those RECs should not be used as emission reduction credits to offset non-electricity related emissions. Because at this point it is very difficult to prove additionality for most RECs, TheGreenOffice.com only uses RECs to neutralize emissions associated with electricity usage and relies exclusively on certified emission reduction credits to offset non-electricity related emissions.

Product Certification

Because emission reduction and renewable energy credits represent intangible actions, they require third-party certification to ensure consumer protection. Generally, product certification ensures that credits are generated by legitimate projects – not artifacts of unscrupulous accounting – and can only be used once to make a claim of carbon neutrality. TheGreenOffice.com has chosen to source credits exclusively from non-profit suppliers that insure their credits meet the highest standards of product integrity through rigorous third-party certification. Below are detailed descriptions of our suppliers and how their credits are certified.

Emission Reduction Credits

TheGreenOffice.com sources emission reduction credits from ClimateCare, an international leader dedicated to voluntary and innovative solutions for climate protection. ClimateCare carbon offset projects are based on internationally recognized criteria stemming from the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol. Projects are developed in accordance with procedures, criteria, and methodologies from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), ensuring additionality. ClimateCare offers CDM Gold Standard Verified Emission Reductions (VERs) in its portfolio.

CDM projects are official projects pertaining to the CDM and are controlled by the Kyoto Protocol. The projects are established in developing countries and registered with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. They generate CERs, a unit referring to one reduced metric ton of CO2. These emission reduction certificates can be purchases within the European emission trading system in order to achieve reduction aims under the Kyoto Protocol, or internationally in order to back voluntary claims of carbon neutrality.

VER projects are smaller then CDM projects, implemented in accordance with the guidelines of the CDM procedures, but tend not to be registered with the United Nations for financial reasons. A carbon offset project must reduce at least 5,000 metric tons of CO2 per year in order to be eligible for CDM transaction costs. Projects which fall below this limit are carried out as VER projects by ClimateCare, with the exception of projects in countries which have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol and are therefore not authorized for CDM projects. VER projects allow climatecare to finance projects in rural and economically disadvantaged regions which are too small for CDM registration. VER defines the type of certificates generated during such projects. A VER always corresponds to one reduced metric ton of CO2 and can be used exclusively for voluntary greenhouse gas compensations. The most important features of a ClimateCare VER are the following:

  • The emission reductions are calculated in accordance with CDM regulations using the same methods and documentation templates.
  • An independent institution controls the emission reductions. Depending on the size of the project, the validation occurs through an expert committee from Swiss universities (for significantly lower transaction costs than those of a CDM) or through CDM accredited certification institutions such as SGS, TÜV, and DNV.
  • All VER projects are developed in accordance with CDM Gold Standards criteria.

The Gold Standard is an independently managed label, provided to honor superior carbon offset project standards, and the emission reduction certificates generated from them. The integrity of these projects in regard to environmental balance and sustainable development are of foremost importance. The Gold Standard may be applied to Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI) and VER Projects. The Gold Standard criteria were developed to supplement existing CDM/JI procedures, under the general management of the WWF. The concept came into being not only to further contribute to the effective reduction of greenhouse gases, but to offer increased transparency and bring sustainable development in developing countries to the forefront. Today, the Gold Standard is an independent organization with its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.

Renewable Energy Credits

TheGreenOffice.com sources renewable energy credits from the portfolio of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF), a supplier of Green-e Climate Certified credits. BEF is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping stabilize our rapidly changing climate by providing high-quality, Green-e Climate Certified renewable energy credits. Generators of Green-e Climate Certified renewable energy credits are required to disclose the quantity, type, and geographic source of each credit. The Green-e Climate Program also verifies that credits are not claimed by more than one party. For information on the Green-e Climate Program please visit their website, or call them toll-free, 1-888-63-GREEN.

Product Retirement

Before emission reduction and renewable energy credits can be used to make a claim of carbon neutrality, they must be formally taken off the market through a process known as “retirement.” It is important to note the difference between purchasing and retirement. If their purchase alone were enough to neutralize carbon emissions, double- and triple-counting would quickly spiral out of control as a given credit was passed from generator to broker to end user, and so on. When you neutralize carbon emissions through TheGreenOffice.com, the emission reduction and renewable energy credits represented by our Green Office Offsets™ are formally retired on your behalf by ClimateCare and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation respectively. This action prevents them from ever being sold again and confers 100% of their environmental benefit to you, in the form of a Certificate of Carbon Neutralization issued by TheGreenOffice.com.

Going Carbon Neutral

The best way to neutralize carbon emissions is a three step process beginning with a program of resource conservation and sustainable purchasing and ending with investment in third-party certified emission reduction and renewable energy credits. TheGreenOffice.com offers support for each of these key strategies.

Step 1: Conserve Resources

The best way to begin neutralizing carbon emissions is through resource conservation. There are many strategies to reduce energy use, including the purchase of efficient electronics and appliances, installation of motion sensors for lighting, and minimizing commuting impacts and air travel through measures such as public transportation and telecommuting. Additional reductions in the use of products and services can be made through green purchasing and by distinguishing needs from wants when considering the purchase of goods and services. TheGreenOffice.com Sustainability Consulting service can connect you with experts in the art and science of implementing a resource conservation strategy.

Step 2: Buy Green

The availability of clean, renewable energy and sustainable office products and services has grown dramatically in just the past few years. In addition, green energy is increasingly offered by local utilities (find providers in your area) and many are beginning to generate their own sources of power through small-scale solar, wind, hydro-electric, and biofuel installations. Though clean technology does not yet exist for commercial air travel, automobiles can be powered by electricity, biodiesel, and electric-gas hybridization. Office products and services that have earned third-party certification, contain recycled content, are recyclable and/or biodegradable, and embody fewer toxins are now easy to find at www.TheGreenOffice.com.

Step 3: Offset Carbon Emissions

TheGreenOffice.com’s state-of-the-art, user-friendly Office Footprint Calculator™ takes just minutes to complete and provides a comprehensive measure of the carbon emissions associated with your organization. Once you have calculated your emissions you can offset all or part of your liability by purchasing high-quality, low-cost Green Office Offsets™ with the click of a button.

Benefits To Your Organization

In addition to benefiting the common good, going carbon neutral provides distinct advantages to your organization. Studies now show a majority of Americans understand that climate change is driven by human activity and that corporations do not do enough to care for the environment. Increasingly, organizations that fail to minimize their carbon footprint put themselves at a competitive disadvantage by alienating customers, employees, and the communities in which they operate. The benefits of becoming a carbon neutral organization include:

  • Differentiating your organization, products, and/or services in a crowded marketplace, leading to increased sales and market share
  • Attracting customers from the $200 billion and growing Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability market
  • Improved public relations as an industry leader in the practice of sustainability
  • Earn points towards LEED Certification for your new or existing facility
  • Getting ahead of the curve on pending carbon reduction regulations
  • Increased customer loyalty and employee satisfaction – recent MBA candidates overwhelmingly say they would forfeit financial benefits to work in socially responsible organizations

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