The voluntary carbon offset market offers climate-conscious companies a multitude of ways to compensate for their unavoidable carbon footprint. But with so many options available, how do you know which carbon offset projects are right for your business? We've put together a carbon project guide to make the choice easier.
Alongside direct carbon emission reductions, carbon offsetting is an important short-term measure in the transition to a low-carbon society. It allows organisations to account for the carbon emissions they can’t avoid producing until transformational technology and infrastructure is developed.
Carbon offsetting is now recommended to companies as a complementary short-term activity by the Science-Based Targets initiative (STBi), and the voluntary carbon offset market has mushroomed to meet demand from companies looking to implement robust carbon management strategies through net-zero emission roadmaps.
Through trusted platforms like WeCHOOOSE, companies can now support a diverse number of high-quality carbon offset projects from around the world. Yet greater choice can come with greater complexity, and there’s a lot for companies to consider. Here are a few best practices to help your company make an informed choice and select carbon offset projects that resonate most with your objectives.
Carbon offset projects are environmental initiatives that work to either reduce, remove or avoid additional CO2 emissions from the atmosphere. Companies can indirectly reduce their unavoidable carbon emissions by supporting these projects, paying to receive a credit for a certified unit of CO2 reduction or removal.
Not all CO2-reducing projects are able to generate carbon credits. To qualify as a carbon offset project, initiatives need to prove they align with the concept of ‘additionality’—creating CO2 emissions reductions that wouldn’t have been possible without the sale of carbon credits.
Companies often choose to offset the equivalent CO2 generated by specific activities where it is hard to abate emissions. Yet many companies are increasingly choosing to offset double or even triple of these emissions—moving beyond being carbon neutral to become carbon negative. Some go even further to offset historical emissions from past business activities.
When people mention carbon offset projects, most people immediately think of planting trees. Yet today, more carbon emissions are actually offset through renewable energy projects. The voluntary carbon market has diversified significantly in recent years, connecting companies with a broad range of project types, which include:
- Nature-based solutions projects—including afforestation, reforestation, and ecosystem restoration such as coastal mangroves (also called blue carbon)
- Community-based projects—such as programmes offering access to cleaner cooking stoves, “energy-free” water purification and off-grid solar lighting and electricity
- Renewable energy projects—onshore wind power plants, solar photovoltaic farms and electricity from landfill gas
While alternative fuel production (including sustainable aviation fuel) and engineered carbon removal initiatives (including carbon capture and storage, and mineralisation) provide for interesting climate mitigation alternatives, these are still early-stage and not available in the format of carbon credits - but you can still offset through Sustainable Aviation Fuel using WeCHOOOSE or FlyonSaf.
If you’re using a trusted carbon offsetting partner like CHOOOSE, we will source and manage a high-quality, third-party portfolio of certified carbon offset projects that you can plug into your carbon compensation program. We also handle all recurring climate compensation, execution, ongoing offset volume forecasting and project portfolio management.
There are quite a lot of variables to consider when choosing carbon offset projects to ensure they align with your company’s values and strategies. We’ve boiled these down to the following checklist, which we’ll work through point by point:
1. Project location
2. Cause and Sustainable Development Goals
3. Emissions avoidance vs. carbon removal
4. Project length and permanence
5. Portfolio diversity and freshness
While reducing a tonne of carbon in place has the same impact as reducing a tonne of carbon somewhere else, projects also have local impacts. Consider where you want your company to make a difference through offsetting. There are a lot of projects to choose from, with projects available on almost every continent. A huge proportion of carbon offset projects are small-scale initiatives located in developing countries. Generally speaking, the less developed the project’s host country, the greater the developmental, social and economic benefits to marginal and rural communities. Companies based in North America, however, have a lot of options closer to home, since 23% of all active carbon offset projects are currently located in the US.
Ideally, the carbon offset projects you support should deliver value beyond compensating for your carbon emissions. These can be environmental, such as enabling the restoration and protection of ecosystems and biodiversity, social, as in improving health and expanding education for impoverished communities, as well as economic, for example by generating new, sustainable sources of income for rural populations.
Many clean-energy projects—such as those that provide communities in developing countries with solar cookstoves—improve indoor air quality, reduce household expenditure on fuel, and relieve people from the time-consuming and often dangerous search for firewood. You’ll likely want to choose carbon offset projects that reflect a cause or set of values shared by your company. Since many climate-conscious corporations today use the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a compass when creating their CSR strategies, selecting projects according to the SDGs they contribute to can be a useful option.
It’s useful to consider the nature of the climate change mitigation measure you support when choosing carbon offset projects, as illustrated in the graphic below. The majority of global projects currently available to companies enable the avoidance of emissions that would have taken place without the sale of carbon offsets, instead of outright removing carbon emissions already in the atmosphere. This is largely because carbon removal technologies—such as injecting CO2 into basaltic rock to permanently store it—are at an early stage of their development and require substantial infrastructural investment to become feasible.
Nature has, of course, made its own supreme carbon-removal machines in the form of trees and soils, making nature-based solutions projects a good option for supporting carbon removal. Supporting projects avoiding further emissions will remain crucial for decades, and your company should consider gradually increasing support for high-quality stable carbon removal projects.
Look for carbon offset projects with long-term agreements to sell their carbon offsets to investors and intermediaries, since these will give project developers a greater certainty to maximize the full emissions reduction or carbon removal impact of their project. Ultimately, you also want to privilege projects where the carbon is removed as permanently as possible with a low risk of leakage. This is referred to as the measure of ‘permanence’—the length of time CO2 is removed from the atmosphere. If your emissions are coming from the combustion of fossil fuels that had been stored for millions of years, it’s only fair to consider offsetting your emissions equally.
Rather than supporting a single carbon offset project, you can support a range of projects through a portfolio approach. This approach enables you to support different project types, communities, and SDGs, as well as ensure a fixed and predictable offset price. A quality offset provider will be able to continuously update and refresh the portfolio as new projects become available to support.
Whatever projects you choose, remember to only support high-quality carbon offset projects that have been verified by an accredited third party and certified by rigorous certification standards, minimise leakage, and have maximal permanence and additionality.
At CHOOOSE, we’ve built an all-in-one climate toolkit to take the guesswork out of carbon offsetting. Our international carbon advisory team has curated a set of high-impact climate project portfolios certified by the United Nations, the Gold Standard and Verra for you to choose from. Most projects are aligned with at least three SDGs and are subject to ongoing and regular monitoring, reporting and auditing to guarantee compliance with the most comprehensive international standards and operational best practices.
Sign up for your free WeCHOOOSE account to address unavoidable carbon emissions across your operations—from employees, travel and products, to your historic footprint. You only pay for the actual impact your company creates.
Looking for seamless climate integrations to connect your customers with high-impact climate projects? Book a demo here.