Before we jump into dissecting carbon credit validation and verification and how to find a reliable carbon offset programs we want to get a few things straight. Greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon, are the main culprit of climate change. Although CO2 is a natural part of the earth’s output, human intervention has caused carbon levels to increase exponentially. This blanket in our atmosphere is raising global average temperatures to dangerous levels, and if we fail to combat it, the consequences will be devastating.
Since human involvement put us in this predicament, humans have a responsibility to rectify it. Reducing our carbon emissions is the main and obvious way to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, our reliance on fossil fuels means that it will take some time before countries and businesses can reduce their carbon emissions to zero.
The Corporate Net Zero Standard says that at least 90% of a company’s carbon emissions must be cut completely to claim carbon neutrality. The remaining 10% can be offset through carbon capture technology or verified carbon offset projects.
Businesses should always be striving to shrink their carbon footprint. In the meantime, carbon offsetting allows them to take responsibility for difficult-to-abate supply chain emissions. Companies will invest in projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere, and they receive carbon credits for the amount of carbon that was removed with their investment.
To gain value from your carbon offsetting program, you need to ensure that it actually removes the carbon that it claims it does. Unfortunately, there are loads of illegitimate carbon offsetting projects out there, and it’s your responsibility to verify that the program you choose is credible. Here’s our guide to carbon offsetting projects, carbon credit validations and verification, and the key indicators of their legitimacy.
The need for carbon offsetting
Firstly, what exactly are carbon offsets?
Carbon offsets allow companies to take responsibility for their carbon footprint through carbon removal projects. Ideally, businesses would reach net zero carbon by cutting their emissions entirely. However, in a world in which we depend on fossil fuels, this isn’t often feasible. Therefore, carbon offsetting exists to allow companies to compensate for the emissions they can’t cut.
As more and more companies pledge net zero targets, the global demand for carbon credits is rising—according to McKinsey, the market for carbon credits could be between $5 billion and $50 billion by 2030.
But, is carbon offsetting a valuable strategy, or does it allow for a “business as usual” approach as its critics claim?
The truth is that carbon offsetting is only valuable if its projects are legitimate. Companies must ensure that the carbon offsetting projects that they invest in actually result in the permanent removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Furthermore, in order for carbon offsetting to result in a positive global impact, legislators need to incentivize carbon emission reduction so that companies don’t rely upon carbon offsetting to take care of their carbon output. This is one reason why the price of compliance carbon credits is growing; it ensures that the cost of reducing carbon emissions is lower than purchasing carbon credits. Carbon offsetting should only be pursued to take care of CO2 output that cannot yet be eliminated or to voluntarily take responsibility for emissions above what you release.
Decoding carbon offsetting projects
There are tons of carbon offsetting projects out there, and unfortunately, many of them do not actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. Companies must do their due diligence to ensure carbon credit validation and verification. This begins with understanding the different types of carbon credits and offsetting projects.
Types of carbon credits
Carbon credits are what your company will receive after it has invested in a carbon offsetting project. One credit usually stands for one ton of carbon removed from the atmosphere thanks to your investment. They are available for purchase in two different markets: voluntary and compliance.
The voluntary carbon market is open to everyone—individuals, businesses, charities, etc.—to minimize their carbon footprint.
The global compliance market is open to industries and exists as a way to cap emissions. Because businesses must keep their emissions below a certain amount, they must purchase carbon credits if their carbon output goes above the allotted amount.
Different types of carbon offsetting projects
Offsetting projects are carbon removal programs that are funded by the purchase of carbon credits. There are three types of carbon offsetting projects that EcoCart partners with:
- Forestry and conservation projects protect wetland ecosystems and contribute to reforestation efforts to lean on nature as a carbon remover.
- Sustainable infrastructure projects develop renewable energy sources, invest in wind, solar, and hydropower, and support methane collection projects.
- Improved Livelihood support efforts to increase building efficiency and improve the living conditions of community members.
If your company needs guidance in finding the offsetting projects and carbon credit programs that are best for your industry, then a carbon offset broker can help you out.
Key indicators of reliable carbon offsetting programs
Not all carbon offsetting programs are equal. Before investing in a carbon offsetting project, you must do some research to ensure that its impact is comprehensive and meaningful. There are a few things to look for when finding a credible carbon offset program.
Accreditation and certifications
Carbon offset verification can be achieved through proper accreditations and certifications. This is the very first thing that you should look for. Reputable certifications will ensure that a third party has audited the project’s approaches to both validate the planned methods before the project is deployed and verify that it accomplishes the goals that it claims. Some reputable verification entities include (but aren’t limited to):
- American Carbon Registry
- Verified Carbon Standard
- The Gold Standard
- Climate Action Reserve
- SCS Global Services
Transparency in reporting
Transparency is key in all aspects of sustainability, and this includes carbon credits and offsetting. Unambiguous carbon offset monitoring allows you to see exactly how much carbon is removed as a result of these projects. This also means that the projects need to be pragmatic about their removal. It will never be infinite, so they need to have a realistic number of credits available for purchase.
A solid offsetting program needs to offer something additional, meaning that it would not exist except for the funding from carbon credits. For example, a good carbon offsetting project might fund the installation of solar panels on houses in vulnerable communities that could not afford the renewable energy source otherwise. A bad carbon offsetting project could claim reforestation in an area that is not in danger of clear-cutting or destruction.
Perhaps obviously, carbon removal approaches must be permanent; the carbon that is captured cannot go back into the atmosphere. Otherwise, the carbon emissions haven’t been offset at all, simply paused or placed somewhere else. For example, a carbon offsetting project should not fund the planting of trees that will be cut down in ten years’ time.
Reliable carbon offset programs will do more than remove carbon from the atmosphere. It will also take social considerations into account. For example, reforestation efforts might employ local workers at competitive wages to help build job opportunities while investing in the climate.
Viable business model
A major aspect of carbon credit validation and verification is in its business model. A sound program will be completely transparent about its practices, which you can then analyze to ensure that it makes sense. Ask yourself who they employ to make these projects happen, whether their carbon reduction numbers seem viable, and if their model is validated and verified by a third party.
Assessing the legitimacy of a carbon offsetting project step-by-step
Carbon offset validation and verification are incredibly important if your company is serious about offsetting its carbon emissions. But, we understand how overwhelming it can feel. To make it a bit easier, here is a step-by-step process to assess reliable carbon offset programs:
- Check their certification to ensure that they are validated by a trusted third party.
- Take a look at their targets to verify that they are reasonable, transparent, and measurable.
- Confirm that their approaches are additional and permanent. Reforestation and conservation efforts, for example, should include plans for protection and should do more than business-as-usual scenarios.
- Ensure that the company’s sustainability strategies are consistently verified by a trusted third party to confirm that carbon uptake is actually happening at the pace that the project claimed it would.
- Analyze their business model, and check for social responsibility. If a program is located in a vulnerable community, it should employ local community members rather than overseas volunteers, and there should be a level of community engagement preventing the imposition of local needs or capacities.
The legitimacy concern: bogus carbon-offsetting projects
It’s incredibly important that you invest in a verified carbon offsetting project. The entire point of carbon credits is to take responsibility for your carbon emissions by removing an equal amount from the atmosphere. Investing in a bogus carbon offsetting project is not just a waste of money, but detrimental to the planet.
Key features of bogus projects include numbers that are too good to be true, a lack of transparency, no reputable third-party certification, or seemingly infinite carbon credit availability. If a project cannot prove its numbers or support its claims, there’s a good chance that it’s illegitimate.
When it comes down to it, carbon credit validation and verification by a third party is the most important piece to consider. Don’t get bogged down in the details; certificates are there to check those for you.
Integrate verified carbon offset programs in your business
EcoCart partners with reliable carbon offset programs all over the world. Every project we support offers the highest standards of carbon offsetting, promising a positive impact. Through our projects, e-commerce companies can help their customers achieve carbon-neutral shipping and offset their carbon footprint in a meaningful way. All of our projects are shown on our website and verified by a third party so that you can feel secure in your carbon offset goals.
If you are looking to integrate carbon offset projects directly into your business with a passionate team that can guide you, EcoCart can help! Request a demo today.