Carbon Offsetting

Carbon offsetting is a relatively recent way of reducing your contribution to climate change. It is
one of several ways to make your lifestyle closer to 'carbon neutral', meaning that your efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere equal the amount of carbon emissions your lifestyle produces. Carbon offsetting works by reducing or removing
emissions elsewhere.

Carbon offsetting practices include:

  • investment in projects or technology
    that saves energy,
  • increasing the generation of renewable energy
    (displacing energy from fossil fuels), and
  • tree planting to absorb carbon dioxide, storing carbon in plant tissues.

Used appropriately as part of a broader plan for carbon neutrality, carbon offsetting can lessen our greenhouse impact. The problem with carbon offsetting is that it can be misused by some companies, who see offsetting as a way to buy the right to pollute.

Carbon offsetting is not intended to allow polluting industries to plant a few trees and call themselves green without making any efforts to improve their environmental performance elsewhere. On a more personal level, carbon offsetting does not negate the need to change environmentally irresponsible practices and lifestyles.

Energy use has other environmental impacts, other than greenhouse emissions, such
as other localised pollution or the destruction of natural habitat areas to extract fossil fuels. Carbon offsetting is best used once other measures to reduce environmental impacts have been undertaken. Carbon offsetting has its place in the following 4 steps to carbon neutrality:

  • 4 steps to carbon neutrality

  • 1. Measure - It's hard to manage what you don't measure so the first step is to calculate your 'carbon footprint' - an estimate of the emissions resulting from your lifestyle and/or business. This is the benchmark against which you'll compare your future efforts.
  • 2. Reduce - Take measures to reduce your energy consumption and improve your efficiency, so that you can do more with less greenhouse impact. For example, change
    to a water efficient showerhead to reduce your hot water use and consequently the greenhouse impact of heating that water.
  • 3. Alternatives - For the energy that you do need to use, see if you can use less
    polluting sources. For example, switch to GreenPower for your electricity needs or replace an electric hot water system with a solar hot water system (preferably gas-boosted over electric-boosted). See the Home energy page for ideas.
  • 4. Offset - Once you've done steps 1 to 3 you'll have significantly reduced your net emissions. Offset the remainder of your carbon impact, which will be far less than if
    you had skipped straight to step 4, and better all-round for the environment.