Lantana’s business travel is a major source of our corporate greenhouse gas emissions, which we can mitigate by buying carbon offsets. How do we choose where to put our money?
To reduce the stock of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, we must both reduce the inflows (emissions) and increase the outflows (uptake and sequestration).
Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of carbon offset project:
- Stopping current greenhouse gas emissions from going into the atmosphere (reducing the current inflows). An example of this is reducing fossil fuel-burning energy use through energy conservation.
- Producing a future benefit without producing future greenhouse gas emissions (reduce future inflows). An example of this is building new renewable energy facilities.
- Removing greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere (increasing the outflows). An example of this is planting trees.
Where does money for carbon offsets go?
Half of donations (“voluntary investments”) worldwide go into forestry and land use projects, funding activities such as forest preservation (avoided deforestation), agro-forestry, tree planting (afforestation), and rangeland management. New renewable energy facilities are the second most popular category, with wind leading hydro and others. Third and fourth place are held by gas capture and management (think methane from landfills) and improved household devices such as efficient cookstoves and water purification systems in developing countries. In last place, in terms of current donations, is energy efficiency and fuel switching. Does this mean that most of us with the capacity to invest in cutting carbon emissions prefer to put that money into preserving rainforest rather than in changing our own efficiency? Maybe so, but there are other ways to look at these donations.
Where do we get the most bang for our buck?
The 2015 report from Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace suggests that the cheapest way to offset carbon emission is through developing new wind-powered electricity generation, followed by capturing landfill methane, avoided deforestation, fuel switching, improved household devices, and energy efficiency.
Where does an offset do the most good for others?
Recent work on reducing climate change has focused on the power of “multi-solving”—searching for systemic solutions that reduce our impact on the atmosphere while improving ecosystem health as well as human equity and well-being. Investing in clean-burning cookstoves, which improves household health while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, aligns with our company’s mission to improve well-being and public health.
Options for Lantana – Finding a Marketplace
A company has many options for where to buy carbon offsets. Criteria we may consider for selecting a carbon broker or reseller include:
- Cost per metric ton carbon dioxide equivalent
- Standards used
- Project Types, including acknowledged co-benefits
- Whether we select the kinds of projects we want to support
This last criterion may be important for building employee engagement. Imagine a company-wide discussion on consequences of discussing our priorities. Should be go for the biggest bang for our buck? Should staff vote and then we fund the top five projects? Some staff may prioritize new renewable electricity to shut down dirty power plants as soon as possible, others may vote for projects that reduce household or urban air pollution and boost health of people along with health of the planet. All parts of the emissions reduction puzzle are important.
In our next installment, we’ll explore which standards, brokers, and projects to include in the list of options for the 2015 offsets.
 Forest Trends, Ahead of the Curve: State of the Voluntary Carbon Market 2015, Figure 5. http://forest-trends.org/releases/uploads/SOVCM2015_FullReport.pdf
 The list, in order of cheapest to most expensive per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is: (1) wind, (2) landfill methane, (3) avoided deforestation, (4) fuel switching, (5) clean cookstoves, (6) energy efficiency, (7) agroforesty, (8) tree planting, (9) forest management, (10) water purification, (11) grassland management. (See Ahead of the Curve, Figure 6.)
 For more about the idea of “multi-solving”, see https://www.climateinteractive.org/programs/multisolving/