Carbon offsetting: Providers


Which carbon offset provider should you use? With so many to choose from here are some ideas.

BRITISH “GOLD STANDARD”

The British government introduced a carbon offsetting “quality mark” to try to clean up the growing and unregulated market for carbon offsetting. This was part of its wider aim to persuade everyone to reduce their CO2 emissions.

Launched in early 2009 the idea was to help businesses and consumers check before they choose an offsetting product. Offset providers were not badged, only the offsets they sell. That means a company can’t claim to be approved by the government, but it can claim to sell approved products. Where an offset provider sells offsets both with and without the quality mark, a clear distinction must be made between those offsets.

Yet there has been criticism from carbon offset providers who say the quality mark’s criteria exclude many projects that deliver real emission reductions and aid development in poorer countries.

Under the government's rules, the Carbon Offsetting Quality Mark could only be carried by so-called Certified Emission Reduction (CER) credits issued by projects approved under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism.

A number of offset providers did declare support for the standard when plans were originally announced and may well be worth considering:

PURE - the Clean Planet Trust
PURE is a UK based registered charity which proclaims its work is monitored by independent trustees. It offsets CO2 emissions by buying up "licenses to pollute" - the high quality regulated carbon credits allocated to industry. The trustees then cancel them and put them beyond use. Cancelling these quotas helps fund projects around the world that reduce emissions and helps limit the amount of carbon dioxide that polluting companies are allowed to release into the atmosphere. Plus it drives up the cost of the remaining carbon credits, automatically penalising polluters and encouraging others to reduce emissions. The website has calculators for car usage and flights.

Global Cool
Sounds trendy and its website looks trendy. Global Cool is both a foundation and a production company. Among its aims is getting a billion people to reduce their CO2 emissions by an average of one tonne by 2017. It boasts celebrity supporters and plans spectacular events to promote its message. We couldn’t find a carbon calculator on its website. Money donated buys so-called “Tonnes Of Cool”. It says each tonne costs £20 of which half goes to alternative energy and energy reduction projects; £4 is invested in alternative energy technology companies; £3 goes to Global Cool Productions Ltd to put on carbon-neutral promotional events; £2 goes to other climate change charities and campaigns; and £1 is for administration.

Equiclimate
Equiclimate is run by EBICo, a not-for-profit Company which aims to harness consumer purchasing power to promote ethical goals. Its website features a calculator which includes car journeys and flights and works out your ‘Kyoto Target’, telling you how much you need to reduce your emissions. Having done this, it then enters the European Union Emissions Trading scheme and buys CO2 allowances on your behalf and then “retires” them. This removes them from the carbon trading market so the UK’s overall limit on emissions is effectively reduced.

Carbon Offsets Ltd
Carbon Offests Ltd was set up in 2006 and aims to help businesses and consumers reduce their emissions and offset those they can’t avoid through investment in projects such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and forest restoration and conservation. The website includes examples of worldwide projects they are currently supporting and there are calculators for flights and journeys by car, ship, train and bus.

Other travel firms, such as First Choice Holidays and www.lastminute.com also said they planned to meet the standard.

THE CONSUMERS' GUIDE TO RETAIL CARBON OFFSET PROVIDERS

One helpful place to start is the non profit American environmental group Clean Air-Cool Planet. In December 2006 it brought out a report called “The Consumers’ Guide to Retail Carbon Offset Providers” which claimed to be the first independent review of its kind. You can read the entire report online here.

The report assessed thirty providers and lists eight of them as “top performing”. Of these, half are UK based. All of them offer travel related services, either directly to the individual consumer or through tourism organisations. The report created a quite a stir with some of the providers that didn’t make it to the top questioning the methods used to reach the conclusions.

So with that in mind here are the “top eight” in alphabetical order:

AgCert/Driving Green (Ireland)
AgCert produces and sells greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions offsets from agricultural sources. At the time it also published a consumer website called Driving Green. This featured calculators to offset your travel by car and air. The money supports projects managed by AgCert International on livestock farms. Since then, it appears this ceased operating.

AtmosFair (Germany)
atmosfair was set up by forum anders reisen (an association of over 140 small and mid-sized German tour operators), the environment and development organization Germanwatch and the German Federal Environment Ministry and is set to become an independent non-profit organisation. The website features a carbon emissions calculator for flights.

Carbon Neutral Company (UK)
The Carbon Neutral Company is aimed at organisations and individual consumers. Among its clients are Crystal Holidays, go ahead and Sundeal. Its two leading shareholders are Zouk Ventures (entrepreneurs that say they ”create recurring revenue streams by developing technology-based service businesses”) and Triodos Bank (which describes itself as a leading ethical bank working for positive social, environmental and cultural change). The website features carbon calculators for flights and cars and a choice of projects to support through online donations.

Climate Care (UK)
Climate Care offsets CO2 by funding projects around the world in renewable energy, energy efficiency and forest restoration. Climate Care is the trading name of Climate Care Trust Limited and pays a royalty of 10% of turnover to Climate Care Ltd (the company that provided its initial support and finance). The remainder of the money, 90% of turnover, is spent either as capital costs for its projects or on staff and office running costs. In 2004, about 60% of the cost per tonne of CO2 offset was spent directly on projects and their management. Prominent corporate clients include British Airways, The Guardian and Responsible Travel. Its website has an emissions calculator for individual consumers’ flights and another for car travel.

Climate Trust (US)
The Climate Trust is an American non-profit organization which works with large corporations and also with individual consumers through its “Carbon Counter” website http://www.carboncounter.org/
This allows individuals to calculate CO2 emissions from their daily activities whether at home, traveling by car or by air.

co2balance (UK)
co2balance provides a carbon offset service for businesses and individuals. It calculates your Carbon Footprint, advises you how to reduce it to the minimum and then offsets the residue. This is a limited company owning the trees and the land on which they are planted. It claims to be unlike other providers of Voluntary Carbon Offsets as all its projects are fully additional, transparent and verified by Bournemouth University. Its website has an impressive range of carbon calculators for air, car, ferry and rail travel.

NativeEnergy (US)
NativeEnergy is a privately owned Native American energy company. It aims to help build projects that create sustainable economic benefits for Native Americans and Alaska Native Villages, and that help family farmers compete with agribusiness. It offers traditional renewable energy credits (RECs) and offsets from operating new projects.

Sustainable Travel/My Climate (US)
Sustainable Travel International is a not-for-profit organisation promoting responsible tourism, supporting sustainable development, and helping travellers and travel providers protect the environments and cultures they visit. Its rather slow website has carbon calculators for air and car travel as well as for hotel stays and allows you to donate online via its “My Climate” carbon offsets supporting a number of projects around the world.

MORE CARBON OFFSET PROVIDERS

Apart from the organisations short listed in the report here are some others worth considering.

TICOS (UK)
TICOS is the Tourism Industry Carbon Offset Service. Announced in late 2006 this was set up by the tourism industry itself to tackle climate change because its backers didn’t believe existing projects were suitable. It is a collaboration between the Association of Independent Tour Operators (Aito), The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) and the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO). All customers buying holidays from any operator or agent using the TICOS service will be invited to contribute a small voluntary donation to offset a part of the carbon cost of their holiday. This will usually be through an opt out item added to invoices.

World Land Trust (UK)
The World Land Trust is a UK based conservation charity supported by Sir David Attenborough and Bill Oddie. Since its foundation in 1989, originally as the World Wide Land Conservation Trust, it has helped preserve the world's most biologically important and threatened lands and to purchase over 300,000 acres of habitats rich in wildlife, in Belize, Costa Rica, the Philippines, South America and the UK. It prides itself on working with local organizations, its track record and expertise. It says overheads are low (“under 15%”). You can donate online and “buy” rainforest by the acre.