We all know that carbon offsetting can’t be the ultimate answer to the climate crisis. But right here, right now, it’s the Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department our environment needs.
COP26 wasn’t a resounding success, let’s be honest. When the global climate is heading for a calamitous rise in temperature we really needed our world leaders to act. They didn’t. So we as businesses leaders need to do something instead.
But businesses are here to make profit for their owners, not improve the global environment. We need to work with this fact and not try to vainly argue against it. So is offsetting really a practical answer that can work for profit-driven businesses? I believe it is.
Isn’t it just a Sticking Plaster?
Carbon offsetting is sometimes dismissed as a sticking plaster, and it’s accused of doing nothing to address the actual emissions to which it is linked.
No. This is wilfully missing the point!
Every offsetting pound invested in a clean-energy project means more energy produced without emissions, and less produced using fossil fuels. Every clean-energy project that receives income from offsetting is (by definition) more profitable than it would otherwise have been, and this drives the supply of further clean energy projects.
The results are immediate. What’s more, it’s achievable and it’s affordable.
The Environment’s A&E
That’s why I call it the environment’s A&E. Because of course we need long-term government action. We need to transition our business and personal lives away from fossil-fuel use. But we also need action NOW to save us from catastrophe.
Think of a car accident – a car hits a pedestrian at a dangerous junction. Yes, we need regulations to make future accidents less likely, and for manufacturers to keep on making vehicles safer. But the pedestrian also needs an ambulance RIGHT NOW to take them to A&E.
Making a Positive Return-on-Investment
Carbon offsetting is immediate action that can reduce emissions RIGHT NOW. For businesses, the ROI on offsetting projects can be highly worthwhile and calculated using customer-benefits. Customers want a cleaner supplier (of whatever it is) and the business will gain new customers, good-will, repeat-business and excellent PR.
The costs of offsetting can vary wildly. Clean energy can be very cost-effective, but what about planting trees? New trees are the poster-child of the offsetting industry but the problem is that trees absorb CO2 very slowly. In fact, from the time of planting a sapling it could take 20 years before it’s absorbed as much as you wanted to offset. It’s too slow to make an impact quickly, and way too expensive to make it work any quicker.
Imagine a Mature Woodland the size of Greater London
There are 40m petrol and diesel cars on UK roads. New cars will be fully electric in the UK by 2035 but these used cars will still be around for decades longer.
So yes, there’s an end in sight. And there’s a policy decision that will improve our environment. But there are also tens of millions of existing cars and vans that will continue to pollute our air for decades to come.
And when an average car emits around 2-tonnes of CO2 per year – what can we do?
Imagine Greater London covered in mature woodland – the whole of it. Greater London is 1,569 sq km in size. A mature woodland of this size could absorb the CO2 from 750,000 vehicles. So you’d need a fully-matured woodland 1.25 times the size of Greater London just to absorb the CO2 from one million cars (never mind the other 39m that are currently on our roads).
Trees are part of the long-term solution, of course they are, but they’re just not quick enough!
Offset into Clean Energy
That’s why I talk about clean energy production. This is something we can solve quickly because we have the technology and infrastructure to do so. The more we offset into clean energy, the more projects will get the go ahead and the less conventional fuel will be burned. In tandem with long-term structural changes we could still make a meaningful difference.
Carbon Offsetting isn’t the long-term solution, but it IS the emergency treatment we need right now. Your business can push the agenda forward whilst also generating income from customer acquisition and retention – based around your customers’ desire to use responsible suppliers.
I’m not asking you to make business decisions with your heart – because it’s your head that will tell you it makes sense.
Although you’ll still feel good about it!