By Shannon Mora
“I want to be apart of the solution, but I am afraid of supporting illegitimate initiatives.”
If this dilemma sounds a lot like your own thought bubble, you are not alone! Buzzer words like sustainability, eco-friendly, and carbon neutral are fluttering around marketing campaigns for a variety of brands in an attempt to increase consumer rapport. Between planting a tree with every purchase or paying for an item that offsets its emission output, how does one decide which to contribute to? The answer is, it depends on your commitment.
Commitments to reduce plastic waste, convert to renewable energy sources, preserve wildlife habitats, and/or mitigate emission outputs are all honorable and necessary! The key to their success is to ensure that they are also quantifiable. What amount of plastic has been rescued from landfills, how much energy has been saved by switching to renewables, what are the impacts of habitat restoration, exactly how many tonnes of CO2 emissions have been removed from the atmosphere? These answers are critical for determining the value and progress of green strategies.
Metrics and Carbon Credits
In some cases, exact quantifications are difficult to calculate and therefore, difficult to communicate. For this reason, individuals often support initiatives that are familiar to them and seem tangible, rather than seeking out the initiatives that accurately achieve their intended commitments. Tree planting, for example, offers the satisfying resolution that a living thing has just been cultivated and the result is cleaner air, restored habitats, and an enriched nature scene. All amazing outcomes! However, what are the quantifications of those outcomes and do they meet the intended commitment? If the intended commitment was to simply take some sort of positive action, then this example is successful. However, if the commitment is to reduce carbon emissions, it is worth noting that on average it takes a tree 40 years to sequester 1 tonne of CO2.
Carbon credits utilize a clear and straightforward metric equating to one tonne of CO2 equivalent. This means that each credit serves as a commodity that represents the sequestration or removal of 1 tonne of carbon dioxide or one tonne of its greenhouse gas equivalent from the atmosphere, thus offering full confidence in the outcome of your stewardship. Credits can be generated from projects such as tree planting, solar panel installation, biogas capture, organized carpooling, and much more. Credits offer a quantifiable approach for achieving sustainable commitments of all varieties.
“Numbers don’t lie, but calculations might. How can I be sure the claims are accurate?”
Carbon credits are only issuable for retail once they have been appropriately certified. Some certification bodies to look out for include the Gold Standard, VCS, and Un’s CDM. Each of these organizations are purposed to ensure that all credit issuance is legitimate, valid in its reduction claims, and impactful to the project’s surrounding community. All certifications must undergo rigorous validation processes and be approved by third-party verifiers. These standards additionally host publicly accessible registries in which all individuals are free to view each of the credits the organization has ever issued, sold, and retired. Once a credit is retired it is no longer circulated through the market. This essentially equates to a no-return policy. Once a credit is purchased, it is yours and yours alone to claim!
“From an administrative standpoint, it checks out. But what kind of environmental and social impact do they really have?”
Carbon Neutrality and the Benefits
Carbon credits are developed from a wide variety of projects based all around the world. Part of the certification process includes diligence on social impacts to their surrounding communities. Specifically, the project should contribute to the local economy as opposed to initiatives that recruit volunteers. Locals are equipped with the education and skills to run the projects independently, preservation projects can lead to diplomatic solutions to long-standing political tension, and overall livelihood is improved by providing a diverse means of income in small villages. These extended outcomes are referred to as co-benefits and more recently have been categorized by their ability to meet the commitments of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a collaborative tactic for countries to mitigate their contribution to climate change.
By purchasing carbon credits on your own behalf or through purchasing products that have offset their emissions, you can live a carbon-neutral lifestyle! While adopting cleaner habits such as using our purchasing power to support recycled products is a big step in the right direction, it is impossible to avoid certain emissions involved in the transportation of the said product, the manufacturing or processing of the product, and its inevitable disposal. Carbon credits allow individuals and businesses to address the impact of these unavoidable emissions associated with every-day activity. With the help of a life-cycle assessment, carbon credits offer a 1:1 ratio allowing a company to offset everything they cannot avoid and their consumers’ peace of mind when purchasing their items or services. Individuals can also perform a carbon footprint assessment for their own lifestyles to determine the carbon footprint contribution they make on an individual level. In order to be carbon neutral, one must purchase as many credits (or as many tonnes) of CO2 as their activities produce.
Many businesses and individuals are committed to giving back to their cherished philanthropies. Carbon neutrality is a unique commitment that is capable of reaching goals in environmental impact, social welfare, hunger and poverty relief, water sanitation, sustainable urban development, and much more.