For individuals or larger entities interested in reducing and mitigating their impact on the environment, there are two important strategies. One is reducing energy use. This can include switching to alternative or fuel efficient modes of transportation, utilizing energy efficient appliances and fixtures, setting back the thermostat at night, and making purchases from “green” companies. A second strategy for reducing one’s emission footprint is acquiring emission offsets. Offsets are reductions in emissions in one place that can be used to compensate for emissions elsewhere, and are usually denominated in metric tons of a reduced emission or megawatt hours of renewable energy produced. By purchasing an offset, one is in essence paying someone else to reduce their emissions, and the purchaser then owns that environmental benefit. If the purchaser uses the offset to reduce their own inventory of emissions, they must permanently retire it so that it can never again be bought or sold. A good way to look at these two paths for reducing emissions is through a comparison to how we acquire food. We may grow some (if we garden), and we pay someone else to grow the rest (as when we buy food at the store or market).
Emission offsets come from a number of different types of projects:
In the US, greenhouse gas emissions are not currently federally regulated (though this is likely to change under the Obama administration), and accordingly, the market for carbon and other emissions offsets is at present a “voluntary market.” This is not unusual since most competitive markets are not subject to major federal regulation. As in all voluntary markets, it is up to the buyer to make sure that what is purchased is of high quality. Standards (e.g. Green-e Climate, Gold Standard, Voluntary Climate Standard, LEO-001) are available to assure this quality for emission offsets.
See the Leonardo Academy Emissions Consulting Services web page.