Existing on planet earth requires carbon. From single-cell organisms to modern industrialized nations, all manner of life depends on inhaling, exhaling, ingesting, emitting, and recycling carbon. We’re all intimately involved in the carbon cycle, the dizzying process that moves carbon through the earth’s natural systems. Because humans have upset the eons-long balance of this cycle, it’s up to everyone to do what they can to balance the scales.
As we explored in our last article, carbon offsets are an important tool for stabilizing our planet’s tipping carbon balance. But who uses carbon offsets, and what can happen when they’re employed on a global scale?
Who Uses Carbon Offsets? And Why Should You?
Amazon. Austin, Texas. NASCAR. Bill Gates. Jeff Bezos. Leonardo DiCaprio.
What do they have in common? They use carbon offsets.
These carbon customers are spurring a rapidly growing market for carbon avoidance and sequestration. In light of recent climate strikes, disturbing United Nations reports, and increasing severity of storms and weather extremes, thousands of organizations and individuals are taking keen interest in reducing or eliminating their carbon footprints.
Net zero is now mainstream. In 2019, just 16 percent of the global economy pledged to achieve net zero emissions. In 2021, 70 percent of the planet’s economic engine made commitments to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and some even sooner. Thousands of companies large and small committed to carbon neutrality through the Business Ambition for 1.5°C. A coalition of over 13,000 municipalities, organizations, and businesses have joined 120 countries in pledging to halve emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.
But reducing carbon footprints to zero isn’t just a PR stunt. Governments across the globe recognize the need to decarbonize as quickly as possible, and many have made net zero commitments, leading to mandatory carbon reduction schemes in many markets. There are two types of offset markets:
- Compliance offset markets require organizations to offset their emissions, such as Europe’s Emissions Trading System.
- Voluntary offset markets are free-choice purchases made by people and organizations choosing to reduce their carbon footprint on their own. Voluntary offsets represent the majority of current offsets on the market.
Carbon offsets send ripples across the global market. For example, if a company in the U.S. wants to do business where carbon reductions are mandatory, that U.S. based company needs to reduce its carbon, too. And when individuals buy offsets to reduce their carbon footprints, carbon reduction projects across the world are empowered to keep doing their good work.
The key to mitigating the worst of climate change is reducing emissions through better policy and low- to no-carbon technology. But adopting carbon-free infrastructure is expensive, policy is notoriously slow to push through governments, and—for many industries and individuals—climate-friendly technology isn’t yet available.
Thankfully, offsets offer the needed stopgap here.
Because many organizations and individuals can’t completely eliminate their emissions or reduce them quickly enough to meet reduction goals, carbon offsets are an increasingly important tool in meeting carbon neutrality goals.
So why would a company want to use carbon offsets? Let’s pretend your favorite coffee shop wants to offset its emissions. Growing, harvesting, sourcing, roasting, and preparing coffee is carbon-intensive, so your favorite coffee shop gets to work exploring carbon reduction options. The shop decides it needs to upgrade to an all-electric delivery fleet, invest in rooftop solar, and create a composting program for spent coffee grounds. But it takes time to plan, finance, and replace equipment with zero-emissions technology. The coffee shop sets up a long term plan to invest in these developments, but still wants to actively reduce its current carbon footprint. While long term carbon-free processes are in the works, your favorite coffee haunt decides to mitigate its emissions through carbon offsets.
Thanks to offsets, the coffee shop doesn’t have to wait to buy carbon-free equipment before making an impact on the climate. Offsets help your favorite java shop take climate action now as it invests in a carbon-free future.
Alright, so the coffee shop is chinking away at its emissions one caffeine-fueled offset at a time. But what about you, you latte-sipping java aficionado, you? What can you do to help the climate?
You step into your favorite java joint and learn they’re offsetting their emissions. “Cool,” you think. “But I drove here. I’m flying to see the family over the holiday, and that furnace in my basement is running like a nonstop flight to Vegas.”
The same carbon-canceling offsets available to businesses and governments can help you swipe your carbon-slate clean, too. You can easily quantify your carbon footprint and purchase quality offsets to wipe away emissions from that morning commute, that flight to see the family, and even that ancient furnace churning away in the basement.
Businesses produce the lion’s share of emissions, and they don’t always make it easy to live a climate-friendly lifestyle. But offsetting individual carbon emissions is important, because when it comes to effectively addressing the climate crisis, it’s all-hands-on-deck.
How much carbon can offsets sequester or avoid?
To stay on track with the Paris Climate Agreement, the world needs to remove a billion metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere by 2025, and a billion each year after that. Current sequestration projects will only remove around 150 million tons by 2025, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that’s way, way too little to avoid the worst of climate change. The good news is, nature-based solutions can offset 20 percent of the carbon needed to keep warming below 2°C (that’s about 3.6°F).
And the tap on this vast offset faucet is likely to be opened soon. According to a 2021 McKinsey report, demand for carbon offsets could increase 15 fold by 2030 and 100 fold by 2050, with a combined market value of $50 billion within the next decade. This means we can expect to see the carbon-reducing benefits of offset projects rapidly scale in the coming decades, and you are an important part of that movement.
As important as global-scale solutions are, making a climate impact isn’t just up to Fortune 500 companies and governments. We believe everyone has the power to meaningfully engage in the climate crisis. We get it: Individual actions seem like a drop in the bucket compared to a massive problem like climate change. But individual actions add up to society-wide collective impact, and comparatively small climate-friendly actions can catalyze others to do more for the planet. Corporations and governments must step up to uncouple fossil fuel dependence, but in the meantime, you are not powerless to make a positive impact on the planet.
Neutral: Carbon Offsets for Everybody
We can all take steps to reduce our carbon footprint. From small actions like shorter showers and using reusable containers to big changes like buying an EV and getting involved in advocacy work. But until systems change and carbon-free living becomes more widely accessible, we’ll all have some kind of atmosphere-damaging carbon footprint.
So do what you can and offset the rest with Neutral.
Easily quantify and neutralize your monthly carbon footprint with quality, affordable offsets from Neutral. Our curated portfolio of impactful offset projects are third-party verified and vetted for maximum impact so you can be sure your purchase not only erases your carbon footprint, but invests in a cleaner, more just world.
Make an impact, not a footprint.