Is Carbon Offsetting just another Greenwashing exercise?

by | 26 May 2023

Is Carbon Offsetting just another Greenwashing exercise?

Greenwashing, it has become pretty familiar terminology over the last few years as we all start to understand it a bit more, but Carbon Offsetting is still relatively new to many of us despite it becoming more prevalent as businesses look for ways to try to reduce their carbon footprint.

So what is Carbon Offsetting?

A dictionary definition of carbon offsetting is “the action or process of compensating for carbon dioxide emissions arising from industrial or other human activity, by participating in schemes designed to make equivalent reductions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Or as Greenpeace puts it “Offsetting is a way of paying others to reduce emissions or absorb CO2 to compensate for your own emissions”

Examples of carbon offsetting could be planting trees to suck carbon out of the atmosphere as they grow, or protecting rainforests from being destroyed, or delivering energy efficient cooking stoves to developing countries.

Is Carbon Offsetting any good?

The idea of offsetting and some of the offsetting offerings aren’t ‘bad’, however, often they don’t do what they say they do on the tin, meaning they don’t ‘cancel out’ or ‘offset’ the emissions to which they are being linked.

We need to reduce our carbon emissions entering the atmosphere before we start thinking about sucking the excess carbon out of the atmosphere.

The overflowing bath analogy often used for plastic can also be applied to carbon emissions – you don’t reach for a mop to clear up an overflowing bath before turning off the tap…

Offsetting companies can vary hugely

Some are really doing amazing valuable work and helping to protect rainforests, plant new forests, restore mangrove forests, invest in green technology and carbon capture initiatives to name a few, but a large number of offsetting companies are worthless.

The Guardian recently reported on their 9 month investigation into Verra, a Washington based non profit, which they claim has approved tens of millions of worthless carbon offsets. Verra is used by major companies for their climate and biodiversity commitments including Shell, Gucci, and Disney. This investigation found Verra’s carbon credits to be worthless because they were largely stopping the destruction of rainforests that were not threatened… So what were these major companies actually paying for? 

So is Carbon Offsetting Greenwashing?

This really depends on how the offsetting is being used by companies and the type of offsetting used.

If offsetting is used by companies as a way to ‘appear carbon neutral’ without taking any action to actually reduce emissions, and the carbon credits are purchased without fully researching their validity, then YES, it is greenwashing…

But, if a company actually measures its carbon footprint and emissions, takes real action to reduce its footprint and emissions, then turns to genuine offsetting carbon credits to address the small amount of carbon and emissions it hasn’t been able to remove, and it has been transparent about every step of this journey, then NO, it wouldn’t be considered greenwashing…

Carbon offsetting can be used as a positive step if used in the correct way by companies, and if the capturing or absorbing the excess carbon in the atmosphere is credible.

We should all be aiming to measure and understand our carbon footprint and emissions, taking real steps to reduce this before even considering looking into carbon credits and offsetting. Using offsetting to ‘write off’ carbon emissions is a waste of time and money, is the wrong approach, and is greenwashing.

The implementation of an Environmental Strategy which includes the reduction of carbon is essential for all businesses to reduce and improve their environmental impact. If you are a business looking for help to take action and implement green strategies and frameworks, then get in touch, we offer bespoke Green packages for all your requirements.

For more green, sustainable tips and articles take a look at our other blog posts, or pop over to Instagram and LinkedIn and check out @achievinggreenness where we provide you with the motivation, evidence, and tools you may need to become greener.

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