There are many things one can do to be more environmentally friendly, like recycle, buy energy efficient light bulbs, and drive fuel efficient cars. Another way to be more environmentally friendly is to carbon offset. Carbon offsetting is something that companies, organizations, or individuals can do to balance out their carbon footprint. For example, if someone took a flight from Montreal, Quebec, to Vancouver, British Columbia and calculated the amount of carbon that flight would produce, they could then pay an organization to offset that carbon. Organizations offset carbon by planting trees or investing in renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, etc.). Because it is difficult to regulate carbon offsetting, these organizations give the company or individual some creditability, and they are able to provide a certified carbon offsetting program. Carbon offsetting is a big part of cap and trade laws.
To comply with cap and trade laws, companies employ carbon offsetting. Cap and trade means that some businesses have a cap on the amount of carbon they can emit into the atmosphere, if they exceed this cap they have to pay a tax to the government. The trade part of cap and trade refers to companies being able to trade carbon allowances. If a company emits more carbon than allowed by the cap, they can buy carbon credits to meet the cap. Cap and trade incentivizes companies to meet caps because otherwise, they will lose revenue. Carbon offsetting is closely linked to cap and trade because companies can use offsetting to meet the cap, and the revenue collected by the government from the carbon tax, is invested into carbon offsetting programs.
There are many economic benefits to carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting and the renewable energy industry have created thousands of jobs in Canada alone. Many companies are now realizing their environmental impact and are becoming more conscious of the emissions they create. Global warming not only has a negative impact on the environment, but it has a negative impact on the economy as well. Warming oceans are affecting fisheries, and a high number of droughts are causing wildfires, damaging the agricultural and tourism industry. By spending only 2% of GDP a year on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, 20% of GDP loss is avoided per year from the impacts of climate change (davidsuzuki.org). By balancing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, carbon offsetting contributes to these economic savings.
While there may be some benefits to carbon offsetting, there are also many controversies surrounding it. Critics say that carbon offsetting allows companies to assuage their guilt while still practicing environmentally irresponsible ways. Others say the companies most likely to use carbon offsetting, are companies that care about the environment, and are already trying to lower their carbon footprint in other ways (The Guardian). Many opponents to carbon offsetting say there is no way to ensure that it becomes an extra measure and not something that was inevitable. For example, if a company offsets their carbon by installing solar panels on a city skyscraper, then the city starts to establish solar panels on city buildings, the company’s solar panel is no longer an extra carbon offset, but part of the standard for the city. However, there are many organizations that offer credibility and verification of carbon offsetting, ensuring that the carbon offsetting measures are additional to and not part of a larger carbon emission reduction. This not only helps to make sure the carbon offsetting projects are additional but it brings trustworthiness and accountability to companies that use it.
There are many organizations that provide carbon offsetting programs like Tree Canada. Tree Canada offers companies the chance to become carbon neutral by planting trees to offset carbon produced in everyday operations. Tree Canada’s Grow Clean Air Program ensures that planting sites are suitable and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Along with their full certification of carbon neutrality, Tree Canada gives the participating company environmental credibility. The company FedEx is working to become carbon neutral by using programs similar to Tree Canada’s. FedEx customers can pay extra to offset the carbon emissions of their parcel delivery, and this carbon offsetting is monitored by a third party. Canada Post also has a carbon offsetting program, their envelopes are offset by purchasing carbon credits, and some of their vehicles are fuel efficient or electric. Along with companies, some provinces in Canada are implementing carbon offsetting for their governmental activities. The provincial government of British Columbia has a Climate Leadership Plan, which among other projects, includes a plan for governmental duties becoming carbon neutral.
Carbon offsetting has its advantages and disadvantages. Even if it is not the most efficient way, companies that are taking steps to becoming more environmentally friendly should be applauded. Hopefully, the future will hold easier ways for companies and individuals to be carbon neutral, until that time, awareness and education will help in lowering greenhouse gas emissions.