Environmental accountability – A process

Climate change is an issue that looms in the back of my mind every day. Most eyes are on our world leaders to activate change on a global scale. But policy takes time to create and implement, so the question really is – what can I be doing right now?

Click on image to expand. Graphic is courtesy of Terrapass.

One option gaining traction is buying carbon offsets. Natalie Compton from the Washington Post writes, “Carbon offsets offer a way to balance out your pollution by investing in projects that reduce emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” There is a wide variety of organizations which provide options for individuals and businesses to buy carbon offsets. 

At Koné Consulting, our carbon footprint is impacted most by our air travel. Most days we telecommute to work via a host of online platforms. From an environmental standpoint, telecommuting is great. However, we work with clients from all over the country, so when we need to be onsite, we commute via air travel.

As a team, we are exploring which carbon offset program to support. Compton points out that, “While buying carbon offsets to make up for your travel pollution is a noble effort, it can be pointless if you’re supporting the wrong program. And there are bad ones out there. It’s smart to be skeptical of an industry that has very little regulation and a major lack of transparency." Some of our considerations include:

1.     Whether the offset is permanent or sustainable. Many articles mention the importance of this especially around forestry projects and ensuring that there are safeguards to protect the project forever.

2.     Third-party verification of the project. This helps in answering the first question, whether the offset is sustainable.

3.     The offset must be additional. Brian Palmer with National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) gives this example: “What if the Amazonian landowner never had any intention of clear-cutting his land in the first place? Then your purchase would be a gift rather than an offset. The landowner would be taking advantage of the offset system to collect a windfall for doing exactly what he would have done anyway. Your transaction would have no effect on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.”

4.     And there must be no carbon leakage. This means that the program is not going to inadvertently lead to displacement or other problems which create more greenhouse gas emissions. 

It is worth mentioning that carbon offsets should not be the first strategy at reducing one’s carbon footprint, as Palmer points out, “Critics say they [carbon offsets] are merely a license to pollute. When you buy an offset, you are paying someone to cut her emissions so you don’t have to.” That said, if one has taken the steps or are in the process of transitioning to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, buying carbon offsets is still a viable way to reduce or eliminate one’s carbon footprint.

We’re interested in learning your experience around carbon offsets – please share in comments below!

Meanwhile, we are currently deciding between programs to support so stay tuned!

-       Katharina