What Are Carbon Offsets?

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There are many daily and routine activities that generate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions. While air travel is a major culprit, other activities like driving and using electricity also cause CO2 emissions to spike.

The more CO2 you generate, the larger your carbon footprint. In other words, you’ll be using up more of the planet’s resources and spurring further climate change.

But what’s the solution if you can’t completely erase the carbon footprint of your daily activities? That’s where carbon offsets or carbon credits come in.

When you purchase a carbon offset, you’re essentially paying a third-party to reduce emissions to “cancel out” emissions you can’t reduce yourself. Carbon offsets are typically measured in tons of CO2. So if your activities generate 5 tons of CO2, just as an example, you then purchase enough carbon offsets to counter this.

Project developers use the money you pay to finance projects that reduce carbon emissions elsewhere, which compensates for the carbon pollution you create by driving to work, flying among other things.

Benefits of carbon offsets to the environment

There are various carbon offset projects on the market. The wholesome news is that carbon offset sales are climbing as more and more people take responsibility for the carbon pollution they create.

By purchasing carbon offsets, you’re financially supporting sustainable projects that may be associated with the following:

  • Avoiding greenhouse emissions, for instance, hydropower projects, solar power, and wind projects.
  • Reducing greenhouse emissions, for instance, reforestation, land restoration, and farm and landfill methane projects.
  • Community projects such as those that provide improved cooking technology and clean water sources.

What to look for when buying carbon offsets

With many offset providers floating around, it’s essential to do your research to ensure you’re truly making a difference in the war to reduce emissions. Remember that carbon offsets are an invisible product, and it may be difficult to tell the questionable ones from the authentic ones.

But considering the following factors can set you on the right path:

  • Clarity – The offset provider must be clear about the project you’re financing. The details they provide should be specific enough in terms of carbon-reducing measures that are being taken and the timeframe in which they will occur.
  • Reduction in emission that wouldn’t have happened otherwise – Your carbon offset purchase can only make an actual difference if the reduction in emissions wouldn’t have happened without your contribution. Make sure you’re not taking credit for a positive that would have happened regardless of your purchase.
  • Reputable offset providers. Look for offset providers that go the extra mile to demonstrate that their projects are genuine. For example, offset providers should only sell each offset once, and they may seek independent verification to further reassure customers.

Once you find a sustainable carbon offset provider and before you purchase offsets, it’s generally a good idea to estimate the offsets you need to buy using an accurate online carbon calculator. This ensures that you’re at least balancing out your carbon footprint.

What can you do to offset carbon emissions?

While the concept of carbon offsets is applaudable and commendable, it doesn’t mean you start generating emissions as you please. In fact, you should only think of purchasing offsets when you’ve reduced your emissions as much as possible. Personal actions you can take to shrink your carbon footprint include:


  • Changing lightbulbs – for instance, replace incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent ones.
  • Switching to green power – Get a quotation from your local residential home energy provider so you can get part or all of your electricity from renewable resources like solar.
  • Driving less – Consider alternatives like walking, carpooling, public transport, and riding a bike.
  • Changing your food habits – Eat and buy local produce as well as minimally processed foods.

The bottom line

Carbon offsets are a great way to balance out greenhouse emissions that aren’t entirely avoidable in our everyday lives. If you take the time to find a reliable and reputable offset provider, you can contribute significantly to various sustainable projects that impact the planet positively.

But at the end of the day, you’ll always have to be responsible for your emissions. Therefore, you should only turn to carbon offsets after you’ve done your best to reduce your carbon footprint.


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