Offsets are only a start in neutralising nasty whiffs

Can you really carry on polluting and then undo the damage by funding good works? By Tom McTague

Carbon offsetting is the phrase on the lips right now of anyone who wants to help save the planet. The theory is that you can carry on flying and polluting as long as you pay for someone else to do an environmental good deed or to cut their emissions. That way, you can repair the damage you caused in the first place.

So take that flight to New York, the argument goes, but then neutralise your carbon footprint by paying a company to help build a wind farm in Africa.

It's not only flights that can be offset. After all, we emit CO2 every time we turn on a kettle, so there's plenty of scope for consumers to take action. You can find out the exact extent of your emissions by going online and using the Department for Transport's "Act on CO2 calculator" or the "Carbon Calculator" form specialist offsetter The CarbonNeutral Company.

There are two main options if you want to clean up your own pollution. You can support green projects through dedicated firms such as The Carbon Neutral Company, Climate Care or Carbon Clear, or you can pay a bit more for flights or holidays through easyJet and lastminute.com, and the extra will help clear the air. You can, for instance, offset two and a half years' worth of your baby's nappies for 4.88 with Carbon Clear, and you can even become a "carbon neutral citizen" offset your entire annual footprint for as little as 71.32 with The CarbonNeutral Company.

Organisations that offer offsetting will look to carry out their pledge in one of two ways. First, they may use your cash to purchase carbon credits on a global market. Buying credits in effect forces businesses to reduce their emissions.

But at the launch of its flight-offsetting scheme last summer, easyJet rubbished brokers dealing in credits as "snake oil salesmen". Its argument was that brokers were charging too high an administration fee. As a result, it decided to buy carbon credits on the open market itself and sell them to passengers.

A more straightforward alternative is for the offset provider to pay for something of environmental benefit such as the wind farm in Africa or trees to be plan-ted in Norway. There is an internationally recognised accreditation for firms adopting this approach, designed by the Swiss non-profit foundation Gold Standard. Qualifying companies must use "renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies that promise sustainable development for the local community" to move away from a "fossil-fuel dependent lifestyle".

No matter what accreditation is in place, though, the "polluter pays" concept behind offsetting has its dangers, according to environmentalists.

Dale Vince, founder of the green energy company Ecotricity, says: "It's an easy 'out.' To say my flight to New York is OK because I pay a few quid to offset my carbon is a stretch."

Alex Lambie at Greenhelpline, the renewable-energy comparison website, says too much attention is "given to offsetting, as opposed to reducing emissions". But this argument also has much to do with the plethora of schemes available, some of which are less worth while than others most notably the practice of planting trees, which is hard to measure accurately and takes too long to have any impact. Mr Vince says such schemes give "offsetting a bad name".

Don't assume that by offsetting the odd flight, you're an eco-warrior. As Mr Lambie says: "It's not a bad thing to offset but it's not a good thing if that's all you do."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

    Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor