Carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting

By on 02/01/2008

Every one of us has a carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide each of us produces during everyday activities. Nearly everything we do in our daily lives contributes to our carbon footprint, from the clothes we buy, to the food we eat, to the computers we rely upon for work. Driving gas-powered vehicles and consuming energy in our homes and businesses are among the more obvious ways we contribute to climate change.

Carbon offsets are intended to balance out these greenhouse-gas emissions. Purchasing carbon offsets reduces the overall amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For example, if you were to purchase five tons of carbon offsets, you would be helping to implement a project (renewable-energy installation, tree planting, new energy-efficiency measures etc.) that would result in the production of five less tons of carbon dioxide. Essentially, the project takes five tons of carbon dioxide out of the air. For the sake of simplicity, most carbon-offsetting programs only consider transportation, home and business energy use when calculating a carbon footprint.

Why offset your carbon footprint?

After reducing your carbon footprint as much as possible, you can purchase the carbon offset equivalent to your remaining impact. Carbon offsetting is one of many market-driven economic actions you can take to address climate change. While it may not be the answer to global climate change, it is a great educational tool that can have a lasting impact. Through WNC’s recently formed Appalachian Offsets, the nation’s first locally based program, our community benefits directly through improved air quality and economic gains.

How do you know your carbon offsets are actually reducing greenhouse gases?

As carbon-offset programs become more numerous, criticism is mounting as to the legitimacy and true effectiveness of carbon offsetting. It is important for people to choose programs that are transparent and that achieve real results in terms of combating global climate change. There are a wide variety of local and international carbon-offsetting projects to choose from, including energy efficiency, renewable energy and tree planting.

The recently launched Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) provides a quality-assurance check for voluntary offset projects. The existence of an international standard, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, should lead to more investment into credible offset projects. Guarantees made about the VCS include: Certified offsets will have environmental benefits; the VCS will stimulate greater innovation and investment in a wider range of low-carbon technologies without compromising environmental integrity, and the public will be able to access information on every VCS-approved offset project.

Appalachian Offsets was developed as a way to bring our community together to combat a global problem on a local level. The first Appalachian Offset project, funded by local businesses and individuals, took place on Sept. 11, 2007. More than 300 University of North Carolina-Asheville students volunteered with the Asheville Housing Authority, the local public-housing agency, and changed out 5,500 incandescent light bulbs for compact-fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) in only four hours. The 5,500 CFLs will save more than 2.5 million kilowatt-hours, $220,000 in electricity costs, and will reduce carbon pollution by 1,610 tons over the bulbs’ lifetimes. Future projects will include using offset funds to help pay for the installation of solar hot-water systems on affordable-housing units and other renewable-energy projects. The hope is that Appalachian Offsets will serve as a model for other communities.

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