From radical suggestions like having fewer children to more practical solutions like eliminating meat from your diet, you’ve probably come across dozens of lists touting the “ten ways to reduce your carbon footprint”. While ambitious, it’s not always feasible to consistently implement some of the recommended tactics. For example, individuals could opt to fly less than usual, but between business travel and family visits (and traveling to the March for Science!), it can be difficult to completely eliminate flying from your lifestyle. And even if you did manage to ditch your travel habits, stop eating meat, switch to efficient energy sources and so on, you would still never be able to truly eliminate your carbon footprint.
None of this is meant to discourage you, in fact, you should take as many steps as you can to reduce your carbon footprint. Fortunately, there’s also a way to negate your footprint: carbon offsets. You’ve likely heard of carbon offsets (aka removal of carbon pollution via carbon credits), but perhaps you’re unfamiliar with them or believe they are sold only to large corporations to “save face” in the environmental crisis. Despite existing misconceptions on carbon offsetting, individuals, like you, can purchase carbon offsets from trusted providers that are doing legitimate, verified, science-backed work to remove carbon pollution from the atmosphere.
I’ve worked with the non-profit Cool Effect, an online platform that allows individuals to support the world-class carbon reduction projects, since its inception in 2015. And in fact, this is the second year in a row that Cool Effect is the official offset partner for the national March for Science. Our model and baseline mission is ‘Carbon Done Correctly.’ As CEO of Cool Effect, I’ve learned a great deal about the value of carbon offsets and the importance of supporting verified, truly impactful carbon reduction projects. Here are four pillars to help you make an educated choice when it comes to donating to reduce carbon emissions.
Raising the Standards
The carbon offset market exists under both compliance schemes and voluntary programs. My insights here will focus on the voluntary market as this is where individuals can shop for credits. When voluntary carbon offsets rose to prominence, many critics emerged pointing out issues ranging from a lack of transparency to a lack of quality assurance. In reaction to the criticism, it was determined that projects should meet certain criteria to receive a more legitimate stamp of approval from official standard groups like VCS (Verified Carbon Standard), the Gold Standard, Climate Action Reserve, American Carbon Registry, and the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism.
While these standards are all extremely important, they have varying levels of criteria which is why as an organization, Cool Effect goes above and beyond to ensure that all of our projects undergo additional review, including full financial and management due diligence. Essentially, we evaluate where the funds are going and who will actually benefit from the sale of the carbon credits. This ensures that the project is solid and has room to continue well into the future. Another key criteria that is a standard for Cool Effect is ensuring the project’s “additionality” and permanence, meaning that the project would not happen without support. Since the official standards do not all ensure additionality, we make sure that’s a sure thing in our internal review.
All About Additionality
As mentioned above, additionality is key. But what exactly is additionality? In order to qualify as a genuine carbon offset, the reductions achieved by a project need to be ‘additional’ to what would have happened if the project had not existed. Additionality is important to ensure that a people aren’t paying for emissions reductions that would have occurred anyway. For example, if a government says you must implement a certain carbon-reducing technology, you have to do it regardless of carbon credits or not, so if you’re issuing credits, those would not be additional.
Similarly, if you are running a profitable business and want to add on carbon credits, those credits would also not be additional because you — or someone else — would probably run your profitable business anyway. All projects on Cool Effect have to meet the tightest standard of additionality in the carbon market — our own!
Tried & Tested
Another key differentiator is a project’s verification. The verification process is intended to assess the degree to which the project’s reductions are correctly quantified and scientifically proven. While almost every standard requires third-party verification, it is important to take a second look into all the details of a project. Equally important, is to make the data and documents for any project available for anyone to review. After all, a well-informed decision means you can feel certain and proud of the contribution you’ve made. At Cool Effect, we share all verification and due diligence documentation for each project featured. That way, if we’ve got any carbon reduction experts or scientists on our hands (which many of you reading this may be), we’ve made it easily accessible for your review. You can delve as far as you’d like into the paperwork to see how reductions are calculated and how much CO2 is being reduced.
It’s OK to Be Picky
When you start researching carbon offset providers, I recommend looking for providers that allow you to support individual types of projects. While there are some credible vendors out there who simply sell tonnes at a set price, in most cases they are not specifying which project (or projects) the funds are going to. I don’t think I’m alone in the desire for transparency as to where exactly my money is going.
Knowing which project you’re supporting allows you to check that the project has been certified to meet the correct standards and to confirm that it is both additional and verifiable. Furthermore, when featured accurately, carbon reduction projects are priced differently due to a variety of factors. Everything from where they’re located to how much the retirement fee for the registry is, will play a role in determining how much one tonne will cost per project. The ability to choose among a range of projects allows individuals to find a project within their budget or one that may spark a personal interest.
Next time you’re on the search for ways to reduce your carbon footprint, I encourage you to consider carbon offsetting as an impactful, verifiable option to do more. At Cool Effect, we will always be committed to ‘Carbon Done Correctly’ and we support other scientists and organizations with the same goal of transparency and tangible efforts!