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Carbon Offsetting (continued)

Date: 28 November 2007

More and more firms are voluntarily donating cash to CO2-reducing projects to compensate for the amount of carbon dioxide they pump into the air. But which schemes are best, and, with the likes of Greenpeace calling them a last resort, is carbon offsetting even worth pursuing? David Motton investigates

Are they worth it?

The issue of how to calculate the benefit of individual projects isn't the only grey area. Environmental groups question the whole principle.

Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the WWF-UK drafted a joint statement on carbon offsets in August 2006. "Carbon offsets do not reduce emissions overall and therefore purchasing offsets should be seen as a last resort after other measures to reduce emissions have been thoroughly explored." The green groups are also concerned that "offsets can be seen as an easy way for businesses to continue polluting".

But this simply isn't the case, according to the Institute of Car Fleet Management's chairman, Roddy Graham. "Major fleets look at a whole raft of measures. Cleaner vehicles, better driving habits, alternatives to the company car and better journey planning all have a part to play."

Setting the standard

Fleets that do offset face a bewildering number of firms to choose from. More confusing still, there are several standards to which these companies can aspire. However, the green lobby is in no doubt which accreditation programme is the one to look for. "We only advocate the use of Gold Standard projects," says the WWF's Kirsty Clough.

Only renewable energy and energy efficiency projects need apply. "We don't deal with pollution, we stop it in the first place," explains the Gold Standard's marketing director, Jasmine Hyman. There's also a strong emphasis on the social impact of projects, as well as tests for environmental quality carried out by an independent third party.

The trouble is, just seven projects worldwide have so far achieved the Gold Standard, although many more are working their way through the validation process. Hyman admits this is a "miniscule" portion of the market but predicts "we'll grow".

In the meantime, the UK Government's Code of Best Practice is due to be published in January. Hopefully, this will give businesses and consumers alike some much needed clarity by establishing a standardised mechanism for calculating emissions.

Even then, carbon offsetting won't be a panacea. As Roddy Graham says: "It's not the answer to a maiden's prayer." But find a high-quality partner investing in top-drawer projects, and offsets can be an important part of making business driving greener.