Carbon Offsetting Explained

Claire Keeling, Community Partnerships Coordinator for Ekos – a social enterprise that specialises in carbon footprint measurement, certification and offsetting services for SME businesses and corporates, summarises the key things you need to know about carbon offsetting.

WHAT IS CARBON OFFSETTING?

Carbon offsetting is when a business volunteers to take responsibility for the carbon pollution it has released into the atmosphere. Companies work with an external organisation that is specialised in offering measurement and offsetting services (e.g. Ekos & Toitū)

SO WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A “ZERO CARBON” BUSINESS – I AM PRETTY SURE I JUST SAW AN OPERATOR DRIVING A FUEL-POWERED BOAT!

Being “zero carbon” does not mean a business produces “zero” emissions. The “Zero” refers to the net balance of emissions that is left over once an organisation has accounted for both its emissions and removals.

Zero Carbon/ Carbon Zero or Carbon Neutral all mean the same thing – offsetting 100% of emissions.

N.B. Climate positive/ carbon positive/ carbon negative – all mean a company that is offsetting MORE than the emissions is creates.

IS THIS CHEATING/GREEN WASHING?

A good mantra to go by is measure emissions, reduce what you can, offset what you can’t –then repeat.

Every year, a business is working to reduce its emissions, but acknowledging that some emissions may be temporarily impossible to reduce. That is where offsetting kicks in – to help businesses reduce the climate impact they are having, while also investing in forests that produce a range of other environmental benefits that we need and value. It’s not a perfect system, but doing something is definitely better than doing nothing!

HOW DO OFFSETS WORK?

When a business offsets on the voluntary market, it is choosing to finance the removal of an equal volume of carbon emissions from the atmosphere. The principal of ‘additionality’ means the carbon sequestration would not have happened if you didn’t pay for it to happen.

Ekos links businesses to restorative carbon forest projects. In this case carbon is sequestered in the biomass of tree trunks where it can be measured and issued as a one tonne credit.

I HAVE PLANTED SOME TREES IN MY GARDEN – DOES THAT MEAN MY BUSINESS IS ZERO CARBON THEN?

No, only certified carbon credits can be used to make Zero Carbon claims. There is strict standardisation associated with carbon footprint measurement and how we measure carbon benefits to the atmosphere. These standards are designed to ensure the integrity of any claim that is made by a business, and to protect the carbon market system from false accounting.

OKAY OKAY, BUT TREES DIE. WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CARBON THEN!?

Yes they do. But that’s why Ekos (and the emissions trading scheme) create carbon forest projects out of forests (not trees). Forests are complex living systems, that naturally regenerate themselves – if a granddaddy tree falls down, a young tree will naturally grow up in its place. Healthy, thriving forests can go on living and providing carbon reservoir services for 1000’s of years – that is why it is essential that we do everything in our power to protect the ones we have, and to plant new restorative forests where we can.

Want to measure, reduce and offset your carbon emissions? Get in touch with Ekos to discuss your carbon management.

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