Published 29 January 2019 ● Last Updated on 20 August 2020

In the rule book of success, there aren’t too many shortcuts in life. If we were to apply the same ethos to leading an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle, one has to be determined to make all those little changes that truly count in the long run. But despite best efforts, sometimes, our carbon footprint can seem higher than what we’d hoped for. And that is when Carbon Offsetting is a good option to turn to!

Decoding Carbon Offsetting – Pro and Cons

What does it mean to Carbon Offset? It’s when the ‘carbon damage’ done by us in one place is countered by the ‘carbon repair’ in another by a third-party company, whom we pay for this service.

Carbon Offsetting companies have multiple sustainability projects worldwide and we can choose to undo our ‘carbon damage’ by financially supporting their projects. Be it biogas cooking stove distribution in remote areas or forest regeneration by planting trees and even large renewable energy farms being developed – we can choose the project we want to associate with.

As good as it sounds, Carbon Offsetting is a tad controversial because it could lead people to believe that the repair to the environment is happening at the same speed as the damage. For example, while it’s great to help grow a forest by planting trees, it will take them a LOT of time to grow and actually absorb the amount of greenhouse gases released in the first place.

The cardinal rule is to be responsible and conscious of leading an eco-friendly lifestyle in the first place itself and, thereby, reduce your carbon footprint.

Calculating your Carbon Footprint

As dedicated as we may be to our eco-friendly causes, there are some daily activities that we can’t really forgo, say, using transport to get to work or using air conditioners when the temperature is soaring. Then there are some lifestyle choices that we aren’tready to let go of – say, international travel to explore the world.

So for starters, it makes sense to simply calculate our carbon footprint. It is a necessary first step before we figure out – WHAT NEXT?

So if you had to attend a meeting in Hong Kong, and hence took a flight from Singapore to Hong Kong and then back again; then as per the ICAO calculator, this round trip on an economy class ticket would have released 366 kg of carbon dioxide. Now, if you wanted to offset that release by planting trees, you would need about 17 (fully grown) trees to absorb that amount in a year, or 6100 trees to do so in a day! (1 fully grown average tree absorbs around 21.77kg of carbon dioxide)

tree planting carbon offset
Carbon offsets at can support tree planting campaigns in United Kingdom schools.
  • Go ahead and calculate your carbon footprint using this simple calculator by the UN Carbon Offset Platform.
  • UK-based company Carbon Footprint Ltd also has a great calculator that helps get a good idea of the carbon we release through our daily activities.
  • And if you’d like to help with research while you’re calculating your carbon footprint, this calculator from Henkkel and Wuppertal Institute (Germany) does both!

Once you have a basic idea of our carbon footprint, you can plan how much can be solved with lifestyle changes, and for what buying offsets seems like the best option. (Take a look at this SecondsGuru article that helps you figure how you can reduce your carbon footprint when it comes to air travel.)

Carbon offsetting companies – Bringing in the professionals

Buying offsets these days, like most other things, is only a click away. There are many companies that offer carbon offsets and, as consumers, you can reduce your carbon footprint by investing in projects that literally suck out carbon from our atmosphere. You can make a choice on where you would want your contribution to go – it could be based on location or even the kind of project undertaken.

For instance, the 366 kgs of carbon dioxide you added thanks to your Singapore-Hong Kong return flight could be offset by as little as US$3.5 of investments in a range of projects in the Americas, or US$13 via reforestation in Northern Ireland!

Projects such as wind farms often figure in carbon offset company investments. Photo credit: Karsten Würth (@inf1783) on Unsplash

Still confused if it is too good to be true, or the real deal? You can depend on some quality standards to make your money work better. To monitor this voluntary market, there are some standards that have been set and there is even certification like the Voluntary Gold Standard (VGS) which follows the rules laid down in the Kyoto Protocol. Then there is the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), which is more reasonable and covers a range of innovative small-scale projects.

International companies like Terrapass, Carbon Footprint and Climate Care allow you to buy offsets online easily, for individuals as well as small businesses.

Increasingly, there are even consumer services that offer to sign you up for carbon offsets along with your purchase –member airlines under IATA, DHL courier services and even I-switch electricity provider. Yes, that can sometimes mean something as simple as ticking a box saying “I’d like carbon offset” when you are buying your next plane ticket!

Is the initiative too little, too late?

The reality is that there is no undoing the environmental damage that we have already wrought upon this Earth, but it is important for us to believe that doing something is definitely better than doing nothing about it. While carbon offsets are a positive solution to the problem at hand, we need more individuals (and businesses) to work on adopting a more permanent solution – living in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. At the end of the day, it will be all the small steps we all take in all walks of our life which will all up make the big difference!

If carbon offsetting has caught your attention, do refer to the comprehensive list of Carbon Offset platforms that are around and doing good work in this article.

Looking to offset your carbon footprint? │ A handy guide to choose the right carbon offset project


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