Caveat Emptor: Carbon Offset Programs


Don’t be shy – calculating your carbon footprint is right up there with weighing yourself – it’s vital information we can’t ignore. Did you know that carbon offset programs that let you calculate the carbon footprint of your daily activities by donating money to carbon reduction programs are pretty popular these days? A quick search on Google returns thousands of carbon offset programs, all vying for your attention. Trouble is, how do you know which carbon offset programs are real, and which are potential scams designed to take advantage of environmentally-aware consumers?

Think credible – Make sure the program you choose is certified by a reputable, neutral agency to ensure your money is really being spent to plant trees, reduce methane gas, or whatever claims are being made. A great place to start independent consumer protection website, Green-e. It keeps an eye on carbon offset programs and certifies the validity of those which it confirms spend contributors’ dollars properly. Whichever program you choose, be sure to ask for a public disclosure statement to verify how funds are spent. If the program can’t or won’t provide one, move on.

Think local – Many local government agencies are getting on the carbon offset act and developing their own programs close to home. Solana Beach, CA residents can contribute to the preservation of an Ecuadorian tropical forest, while residents of western North Carolina can buy offsets for local renewable energy projects. When you’re ready to buy carbon offsets of your own, look around for programs close to home before grabbing an organization off the Internet.

Think specific – Consider buying offsets related to the specific way you leave your carbon footprint. For instance, United, Continental, and many other airlines have carbon offset programs of their own, so if you’re a frequent flier, that might be a great place to make a contribution. Residential energy companies are pretty sensitive to their environmental impact, so don’t forget to check with your local electric or gas company to see if they have programs in place to help you offset your cooling and heating emissions.

There are plenty of reputable carbon offset programs out there, but we need to choose carefully – not every one of them has the best interests of the planet at heart. Even the most well-intentioned among us can sometimes get taken in by programs that talk a good game but don’t deliver. To see just how critical it is to choose wisely, have a look at this episode of Penn and Teller: Being Green. Beware, there’s a lot (and we mean, a lot) of swearing, but the point is still valid: all carbon offset programs are not created equal and it’s easy to be duped.

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