How Carbon Offsets Increase Organizational Sustainability

Apr 3rd, 2017 | By | Category: Climate Change

EHS Journal - Christmas in the Mountains 1 by Ben Earwicker

Has your company or organization invested in carbon offsets? Carbon offsets are proving an important tool for companies that want to reduce the impact of their carbon footprint. An offset is achieved through the funding of a “green project” that reduces emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases (e.g. nitrous oxide, methane) in the earth’s atmosphere in order to compensate for or diminish the impact of emissions made through other projects.

The end goal of carbon offsets is to achieve an overall reduction in carbon emissions over time, supporting the move to a lower carbon economy, through the funding of a significant number of green projects. A certificate is providing representing the reduction of one metric ton (2,205 pounds) of greenhouse gas emissions.


Sustainability Benefits for Global Organizations

Carbon offsets can achieve far more than simply reducing a company’s carbon footprint. They can greatly enhance the sustainability story of global companies, especially those in industries known to produce a high level of emissions (e.g. oil and gas, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, metals and mining). Sustainability goals vary from company to company and industry to industry. The Clean Development Mechanism, defined by the Kyoto protocol, identifies more than 200 types of projects eligible for carbon offsets. Projects are grouped into 5 categories: renewable energy, methane abatement, energy efficiency, reforestation, and fuel switching.

Central to improving a company’s sustainability story is the need to carefully choose which emission reduction projects best reflect a company’s overall mission, values, and vision. Realize too that offset projects undertaken by companies often result in additional community benefits such as improved air and water quality or a better overall quality of life. These co-benefits should be carefully considered when choosing a carbon offset project.


Traceable, Transparent  Data 

The purchase of carbon offsets needs to work hand in hand with traceable, transparent environmental data management. Air emissions data, including greenhouse gas emissions, can be difficult to track as there are both measurable and non-measurable contributing factors. To ensure the most accurate calculations, organizations need to choose an environmental reporting system that is built to handle the frequency, volume, and type of emissions data that will be evaluated. Data accuracy can be enhanced by combining and consolidating data from energy generation, fuel combustion, fugitive emissions, measured emissions, and calculated emissions.

Adopting a more transparent approach for tracking and calculating emissions data provides companies with accurate insight into the number of green projects that must be undertaken to offset the calculated impact of emissions; using a transparent approach to data management can also enhance the company’s overall compliance program. Compliance is important because producing emissions above the allowed industry caps can incur financial penalties from regulatory bodies. Also, international governments have begun to implement and enforce other standards and best practices for offsetting emissions, which reinforces the importance of the data accuracy in calculating emissions that need to be offset.


QAS for Carbon Offsetting

In a bid to regulate carbon offsetting projects, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the United Kingdom introduced a number of best practice standards, now known as the “Quality Assurance Scheme” (QAS) run by a limited company, Quality Assurance Standard Ltd. According to this scheme, U.K. carbon offset projects must meet the following criteria:

  • Accurate calculations of offset emissions
  • Use of Kyoto-compliant or high quality carbon credits
  • Cancellation of carbon credits within a year of the offset purchase
  • Transparent offset pricing
  • Provision of information about the role of the carbon offset project in tackling climate change or reducing the carbon footprint

Many other governments worldwide are developing or are expected to develop their own sets of standards and best practices around the purchase of carbon offsets.



While some critics may disagree, carbon offsets are an important tool for maintaining stable economies and improving corporate sustainability. The projects implemented to gain offsets tell an impactful story about a company’s efforts to reduce the global warming potential of harmful greenhouse gases, which benefits not only the company pursuing the offset, but also people inside and outside of the company and the planet.


About the Author

Jon Eivind Stromme, is the CEO at Emisoft, an environmental management platform that helps clients in regulated industries monitor, measure, manage, and report on their environmental performance. Mr. Stromme is a leading expert in the field of environmental reporting and performance.  He has been with Emisoft since 2010.

Photograph: Christmas in the Mountains 1 by Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography, Boise, ID, USA.


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