Carbon Footprints, Emissions and Offsets

So you want to add a carbon offset program to your company? Maybe you’re thinking it’s time to go green and become carbon neutral? Great idea. Whether you’re an airline, hotel chain, car rental company, or ski area, (there are dozens of brands doing) adding a carbon offset program to your company’s offerings is a great way to quickly and inexpensively build a green halo around your brand. You can create your own carbon offset program or partner with a carbon offset retailer and be up and running in no time.

But how can you do it so when you launch the public respects you and the press doesn’t eat you alive? Here are the 4 most dangerous ways your carbon offset program will be judged and what you can do to protect your brand:

1. It isn’t a genuine effort, it’s PR greenwashing!

The most damaging criticism of carbon offsets is that it companies use it as a license to pollute. No matter how incorrect this perception may be, in order to protect your brand you need a carbon neutral strategy that includes carbon offsets as one ingredient of a larger plan. Your focus should be on reaching sustainability or becoming carbon neutral through long-term carbon emission reduction strategies first and then using carbon offsets to address immediate goals that are not attainable through other means. Messaging should illustrate this multi-prong approach so customers and brand advocates view your company as taking real steps (which you will be) towards mitigating your environmental impact.

2. Your carbon offsets are fake

The carbon market is under constant attack to prove the legitimacy of carbon offsets and carbon credit projects. There are now many standards that exist in the market place and developing a methodology for the selection of carbon offsets your company invests in is critical. From projects certified to the Kyoto Protocol to voluntary standards, each standard has its merits, but even the supposed highest international standards are criticized. Thus, the most infallible approach is to have a diverse portfolio with a range of projects that adhere to international standards in the compliance markets. However, many of these projects only exist outside the United States so if your company serves customers living in the U.S. it is also wise to include some domestic projects (because some customers will want to keep the money onshore, regardless of the project’s perceived legitimacy by the global market). Once you have a diverse portfolio, let the customers choose what projects to fund based on how they want to address climate change, thus dispersing the ability for attacks on specific projects that you choose.,, Sustainable Travel International, ShipGreen already offer customization based on project type and this is surely soon to become a standard across the industry.

3. You use junk science

If there is no attempt made at an accurate carbon emissions calculation the media can have a field day exploiting your program. Using a flat rate (like a percentage) or an average is not only lazy but it is also risky. The message you are communicating is that your company does not believe it is worth the time to find and use the (often free) tools to give your customers the most accurate and correct data. Since you are either charging them money or using it as a PR vehicle (while also cleaning up your impact on climate change) it really should be done right.

There is a wealth of carbon emission calculations put out by the private companies, non-profit organizations, government and other pubic services. Typically, your company will partner up with a carbon offset retailer that will have already done the heavy lifting, has their own carbon calculator, and has figured out the best numbers on the street for calculating carbon emissions. Make sure that you can site a reputable party that has developed the science behind the carbon emissions calculations – such as the EPA or a leading university. There are also businesses that specialize in carbon footprint analysis and carbon emissions calculations.

4. Lack of transparency seems like fraud

Carbon offsets have come under fire for double counting and this is a discussion you don’t want your company part of. Technology has made it easy enough to provide real-time reporting so get those statistics out in front of your customers so they can confirm that you are playing by the rules but also see how much the impact they have through your program. It is motivating to give customers a clear picture of the emission reductions they are responsible for and how they are helping to reduce your company’s carbon footprint. If you can’t get real-time information out, at least be sure that your carbon offset partner has a dedication to a level of reporting that can be scrutinized by 3rd party auditors and come away shining. There are also registries that help companies document serialized carbon offsets to reduce the chance of double counting. The more open you can be the better.


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