Carbon Credit Market: Companies Offsetting Your Carbon Footprint Could Be Frauds

Reader Contribution by Brenna Long

A while back, we posted a blog about calculating your carbon footprint. If you want to calculate your footprint, you can follow that how-to and see what kind of effect you are having on the earth.

When I calculated mine, like the author of that blog, I was quite embarrassed. It didn’t help that I made two international flights in the last year.

So, now that I am ashamed of my number, which is sadly much higher than the average American’s, what do I do to rectify my carbon emissions?

Could I burn less fuel that sends CO2 up into the atmosphere? I suppose that is a start. But what if I want to neutralize my footprint, or at least cancel it out somehow?

The industry of carbon offsets provides an option that can give me balance.

This is how it works: I fly across the ocean. A company calculates my carbon emissions. I buy carbon offsets to balance my carbon emissions out. Therefore, it is like I have no carbon footprint, right?

Maybe not. What if those offsets are bogus? How do I know that the money I send to companies to have trees planted or new windmills put up ends up being used for those carbon-reducing actions?

In an article titled Buyer Beware: Got Ecoguilt?, the Christian Science Monitor investigated that matter and found out a lot of the offset programs were bogus. And for a $705 million industry in 2008, according to Ecosystem Marketplace, a lot of green attempts might be wasted.

The lack of regulation in carbon offset programs creates the problem. All the accreditation is voluntary. In 2008 the US Government Accountability Office reported that “limited assurance” was found in offset programs.

Groups such as The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club say good programs exist. It might take some research to find those programs first, though. A lot of companies try to persuade you with their green names and promises.

The Nature Conservancy has an offset program geared toward the Mississippi Basin called the Tensas River Basin Project. While they encourage their own offset program, they offer helpful hints on spotting bogus investments, noting that permanence, additional business, displacement and standards all need to be investigated.

The matter of standards, like I said before, is voluntary. These standards are put in place by a third party and offer companies and organizations a way to verify their work. Groups such as Voluntary Carbon Standards , the American Carbon Registry  and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance have verification processes and standards that carbon offset companies and organizations can seek approval through.

As you can now see, no universal standard is out there. That leaves a lot of open room for bogus companies or just companies that offset in a non-environmentally friendly way to swoop in and take your green.

How do you feel about the carbon offset industry? Do you offset your carbon emissions? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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