Carbon Offset Programs and What They Do


Being eco-conscious isn’t something that’s just for “tree huggers” anymore – more and more people are choosing to make eco-friendly choices each day. There is plenty we can do on an individual basis, but we also need businesses to make better decisions if we’re going to see a dramatic change in the world. A phrase we’re hearing a lot of now is, “Carbon Offset.”

Carbon Offset Definition

The definition of “carbon offset” is a project or product a business or individual can pay for to benefit the environment when they do something that contributes to carbon emissions. For example, a business may pay for a new forest to be planted to offset the emissions from their delivery trucks and employee transport.

What is carbon offsetting and how does it work?

Carbon offsetting is when you (as an individual or business) do or pay for something that will produce more good for the environment than something that produced harmful emissions. We looked at a business example above, so let’s look at the example you or I could do.

Say you bought new clothes – what we don’t often realize is that there were emissions that were produced to create them and get them to you. To ensure the world is “rebalanced” from the harm your new clothes did to the environment, you can buy a carbon offset (or do carbon offsetting behavior) which will ensure environmentally friendly projects can move ahead or grow.

What does “carbon offsets” mean?

Carbon offsets is a term often used to describe something you buy that will go on to make positive changes for the environment. For example, if you live in an apartment in New York, you can’t head outside to plant a new tree every time an Amazon delivery turns up on your doorstep. You can, however, invest in a “carbon offset” which will ensure your money goes toward eco-friendly projects.

What is an example of a carbon offset?

Imagine you own a moving company – your trucks drive across the country every week helping people move from coast to coast. You know that your trucks are emitting harmful gases as they burn fuel to transport weighty furniture and possessions across thousands of miles. Instead of shrugging your shoulders and saying nothing can be done to change this, you can invest in a “carbon offset.”

The money you put toward your carbon offset then went on to ensure a new wind turbine could be built which would then produce emissions-free electricity for the grid.

Does carbon offsetting really work?

Yes and no. The issue here is that you can’t necessarily cancel one thing out with the other, as you’re still producing harmful emissions. In a best-case scenario, you wouldn’t have to do carbon offsetting. However, our infrastructure simply isn’t at a stage where we can all adopt the most eco-friendly practices. While Tesla has had success in building fully electric semis, they aren’t on our roads, nor will they be affordable for all when they are (at least at first). We’ve got to build the infrastructure first, and that takes an investment of cash.

Carbon offsetting is the next best thing to already having the most eco-friendly option. Instead of doing nothing, you can invest in something that will “cancel out” the emissions you produced.

How much CO2 does a tree offset?

A “typical” tree can offset around 46 pounds of CO2 each year1, provided the tree is fully grown. Trees absorb CO2 and put out oxygen, so they are the perfect way to offset CO2 emissions.

One thing to note here is that a typical 5-seater vehicle emits around 4.6 metric tons of CO2 a year2 – that means we need around 48 full-grown trees for every standard car on the road, and more for trucks, semis, and a lot more for planes.

Which tree absorbs the most CO2?

Oak trees are the best tree for absorbing CO2, though horse-chestnut trees and black walnut trees follow closely. An oak tree takes 20 years to reach maturity. For this reason, we need to look to fast-growing plants to support the exchange of CO2.

How many trees does it take to offset carbon?

This varies depending on how much carbon is produced. As we saw in our example above, the average car requires 48 mature trees to offset a year’s worth of carbon. Your refrigerator, if powered by fossil fuels, produces around 256 pounds of carbon a year. That means you need around 5.5 mature trees to offset the average refrigerator.

One of the best ways to help offset your home’s carbon production is to make the switch to renewable energy. We can likely help you dramatically reduce your carbon footprint by fueling your home with 100% renewable energy, and some states have green options you can switch to. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you, click here.

How many trees offset a person?

The average U.S. citizen has a carbon footprint of 16 tons per year3 – one of the highest in the world (the average being around 4 tons, and as a comparison to the U.S., the UK produces 12.7 tons on average). That means you may need a whopping 695 mature trees to offset your carbon emissions for a year. Multiply that by our current population which is around 330 million… and well, we don’t need to do the math to see that emissions in this country (and around the world) is a major problem.

Can I buy carbon offsets?

Yes, you can buy carbon offsets, whether you’re an individual or a business. There are non-profits and companies that offer “products” you can buy which will go toward worthwhile eco-friendly projects. You just need to ensure that any company or non-profit you choose to work with has the right certifications, otherwise, your money may not go to the right place.

Should I buy carbon offsets?

There’s definitely a time and a place where buying a carbon offset makes sense. For example, if you plan to fly for a vacation or have a gas-guzzling vehicle (or collection) you keep for the joy of it, then purchasing carbon offsets is a great idea, since there is no better option without making your quality of life worse.

However, if it’s a case of living mindfully versus throwing money at offsets so you can do as you please, then it’s likely not worth it. Making eco-conscious choices such as choosing a car with a high MPG (or even going electric), purchasing eco-friendly versions of products, and recycling, are all things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

Buying a carbon offset is never a bad idea, the best thing you can do for the planet is to use them in tandem with simply living with the environment in mind.

How much is a carbon offset?

It’s generally far more affordable than you might think. On one carbon offset site called Cool Effect, purchasing a carbon offset for a one-way 6-hour flight will only cost you around $3.30 - $13.184, depending on your choices.

Where does carbon offset money go?

When you purchase a carbon offset, the site you buy from will tell you about the projects they’re funding. For example, the aforementioned Cool Effect currently has projects within the U.S. and abroad that range from protecting grassland, wildlife, and forests to actively tree planting in countries like Kenya and restoring oceans. Each project has its own “cost per tonne,” so your offset costs will depend on the project you choose to fund.

How can I offset my carbon footprint?

Simply go to one of the certified carbon offsets and fund a project that is meaningful for you. You can find a list of Green-e certified carbon offsets5, which will give you plenty of great options.

What are the best carbon offset programs?

Some of the best current (2021) offset programs are:

  • Cool Effect
  • Native Energy
  • TerraPass
  • Myclimate
  • Sustainable Travel International
  • 3Degrees (best for corporate)

How much does it cost to offset 1 ton of carbon?

One U.S. ton of carbon (2000lbs) would cost you around $8.79 to offset if you were to offset with Cool Effects Alto Mayo Protected Forest project. Projects are generally between $5 - $20 per tonne (2200lbs).

How does Inspire work to offset carbon?

We purchase 100% clean, renewable energy on behalf of our customers, essentially offsetting the emissions that would have been produced to power their home. That means that every time you pay your electricity bill through Inspire, you’re going a long way to drastically help reduce the amount of emissions produced to power U.S. homes. And, unlike when you carbon offset, those emissions won’t be produced on your behalf.

Inspire’s 100% clean energy plans are fully personalized based on your past energy usage and have a fixed monthly cost, so you won’t have any nasty surprises from month to month. If you’re interested in making the switch to 100% clean, renewable energy, click here.

Carbon offsetting isn’t the answer to all our emissions problems, but it does start to tackle the huge problem. Rather than causing more harm than good, you can offset your carbon-heavy activities by investing in projects that work to make the world a more eco-friendly and green place.

Sources:


  1. viessmann.co.uk/heating-advice/how-much-co2-does-tree-absorb 

  2. epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle 

  3. nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/ 

  4. nytimes.com/2019/07/24/climate/nyt-climate-newsletter-carbon-offsets.html 

  5. green-e.org/certified-resources/carbon-offsets