Friday, December 29, 2006

Where Should I Go to Become Carbon Neutral?

Source: Dr. Mark C. Trexler

I tackled a similar question back in October of last year. I've been receiving this kind of question more and more frequently this year, so I thought it was worth revisiting this issue in light of recent developments.

It's still not an easy question to answer. There are lots of places you can buy carbon offsets these days; in fact, there are many more options for consumers than there were last year. Unfortunately, it's still difficult — if not impossible - for casual buyers of carbon offsets to figure out what they're really buying. Are you really purchasing a commodity that neutralizes part of or your entire personal carbon footprint? Or are you making a philanthropic contribution to a good-sounding cause, but not really causing your personal GHG footprint to be neutralized?

What's really changed since last October is the amount of attention these questions are receiving, from many sources. The Ecosystem Marketplace is closely tracking voluntary offset markets; it's a good place to keep up to date on the field. A few specific initiatives that are worth mentioning:

* The Climate Group and the International Emissions Trading Association released a draft Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) earlier this year in an effort to standardize the treatment of voluntary carbon offsets (I reported on the VCS in a recent column, and nothing fundamental has changed).

* The Leonardo Academy recently announced it would develop an ANSI standard for carbon offsets, although I haven't been able to figure out what such a standard would really look like.

* The Center for Resource Solutions has announced its intent to develop a certification process for carbon offsets that is intended to help ensure that the same offset is not sold multiple times.

* The Rocky Mountain Institute is launching an initiative to promote offset quality.

* The Climate Trust and the International Emissions Trading Association are cooperating on their own project to promote offset quality.

Whether any or all of these efforts will make it easier for individual consumers to reliably become carbon neutral through the many websites offering carbon neutrality services remains to be seen. Several initiatives are taking the approach of trying to develop "quality standards" for voluntary carbon offsets. As we've seen in the past, this kind of effort is almost doomed from the start; while it’s possible for someone with experience to reliably differentiate between clearly high-quality and clearly low-quality offsets, it is much more difficult to develop a written quality standard that covers all the possible types of GHG emissions reductions. So we’ll have to see how these initiatives evolve.

Two other efforts are also worth mentioning:

* Environmental Defense steers consumers to offset projects and providers that ED puts through an internal screening process (see Some consumers may find this useful in deciding where to go.

* On behalf of Clean Air Cool Planet, a nonprofit headquartered in Portsmouth, NH, my firm, Trexler Climate + Energy Services, Inc., is compiling a consumer guide to retail offset providers. Using several evaluative criteria, the guide will be intended to help point consumers to retail offset providers that credibly promote carbon neutrality on behalf of consumers and other buyers. We hope to complete the project by the end of the summer.

So if you’re concerned about how to best go carbon neutral as one means of doing your part for climate change, stay tuned. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.

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