The idea of carbon offsetting is to cancel out or ‘offset’ a certain level of the pollution we create by paying someone else to reduce the amount of pollution they produce, or even prevent them from creating it in the first place.
In the UK, voluntary carbon offsetting has received a lot of publicity and there is no shortage of companies offering offsetting services, where you can pay a fee to offset the cost of a holiday flight or your hire car travel. UK businesses are feeling the pressure to be seen to do the same. Good carbon offsetting programmes can:
- raise awareness and understanding of an organisation’s carbon impact;
- pay for energy efficiency measures which might not otherwise have happened;
- lead to overall reductions in emissions; and
- promote the idea that “the polluter pays”.
There has been criticism that some offsetting is ineffective or not well-regulated, or just pays for schemes that would have happened anyway. And, perhaps more fundamentally, we can’t cancel out all the effects of pollution through offsetting. It’s vital to look at reducing emissions through cutting energy use and using more climate-friendly energy sources before considering offsetting. If your employer already has all these in hand, The Carbon Trust has guidance on working out your organisation’s ‘carbon footprint’, i.e. how much carbon you need to offset, and on choosing a good offsetting scheme.