Carbon Offsets In A Nutshell By Susan Patel

I received an email last week with the question, ‘Do you recommend any particular carbon offset company?’ Great question and an even better topic to share since March 27 is all about climate change.

If you follow the news, chances are you’ve come across some sort of reference to carbon offsets. Its become all the rage as events like the winter Olympics and New York Fashion Week to people like Al Gore, Dixie Chicks and actors including George Clooney buy offsets in an effort to become “carbon neutral.” Not to mention, businesses around the world are taking a closer at their contributions to climate change, with an increasing number voluntarily reducing their “carbon footprint” too. What about you and your business?

Before you understand what’s involved, you need to know what it “is.”

Offsetting, in simple terms, is paying someone else to absorb or avoid the release of a ton of CO2 elsewhere so that the purchaser of a carbon offset (or credit) can aim to compensate for or, in concept, “offset” their own emissions.

Carbon offsets are a form of trade. When you buy an offset, you fund projects that reduce GHG emissions. Since GHG emissions circulate freely in the atmosphere and spread around the planet, the projects can be located anywhere in the world and still make an impact.

There are two types of carbon markets: compliance schemes and voluntary programs. Compliance markets are created and regulated by mandatory national, regional and international carbon reduction regimes like Kyoto Protocol (the largest). The voluntary carbon market functions outside of the compliance market. It enables businesses, NGOs and individuals to offset their emissions by purchasing offset independent of the Kyoto Protocol and local regulatory systems.

Why do businesses buy carbon offsets?

• Strengthen environmental image

• Position to meet upcoming government legislation on emission reductions

• Market differentiation by growing sales and brand awareness

• Communicate action on climate change to guests, employees, investors and other stakeholders

• Starting point of real emission reduction strategy

Hotel businesses buy carbon offsets to reduce their carbon footprint or build up their green image on a voluntary basis. Here’s what you need to know:

The voluntary market does not have a specific, well-defined regulatory apparatus, and is actually a mix of many different types of activities, providers and standards.

• There are numerous standards within the market from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Gold Standard, ISO 14064, VERplus to certification programs as the Green-e Climate Program.

• Each provider is different. The company’s operations and project vary tremendously from renewable energy, methane capture, energy efficiency to industrial gases and forest & agriculture.

Since there are endless options and the market certainly isn’t short of players, it can definitely get confusing. This is why you’ll need to keep a scorecard. There are many factors that need to be considered, as:

• Offsets should come from a real project that has actually been implemented or will be in the near future (guaranteed)

• It’s vital that the offset comes from a project that wouldn’t have happened otherwise (in “addition” to business-as-usual)

• Emission reduction from the offset project needs to be accurately quantified (establish baseline and monitoring plan)

• Offsets should be independently verified

• Provider should be registered with the government or be established as a contractor to avoid double counting (which has been a major issue)

• Offsets should be a permanent project making a permanent impact

• Offsets should not cause or contribute to adverse effects on human health or environment

• Offsets should provide development benefits (sustainability) to host country

These are areas I consider to be very important when evaluating a provider.

Going Carbon Neutral Game Plan
I recommend a three-step process to neutralize your hotel’s carbon emissions.

STEP 1: Conserve Resources
There are many strategies to conserve resources from reducing energy usage, water conservation to waste management. Your hotel can easily reduce energy use and save money by installing energy efficient lighting, water conserving fixtures and purchasing efficient electronics and appliances – to name a few. The team at EcoGreenHotel can help you implement an energy efficient strategy.

STEP 2: Buy Green
From clean, renewable energy to green, environmentally friendly products like cleaning supplies, you can find everything you need these days to operate your hotel sustainably. Many local utilities are beginning to generate their own sources of power through small-scale alternative energy projects. Products and services that have earned third-party certifications, contain recycled content, are recyclable and/or biodegradable and contain fewer or no toxins are now easy to find at www.EcoGreenHotelStore.com .

STEP 3: Offset Carbon Emissions
Take a look at the following helpful sites:

Carbon Offset Project List (www.carbonoffsetlist.org)
Carbon Catalog Project List (www.carboncatalog.org)
Clean Development Mechanism Approved Project List (http://cdm.unfccc.int)

EcoGreenHotel offers carbon market services to accurately quantify your hotel’s carbon footprint, help you offset your emissions by identify worldwide projects and monetize the credits to generate added income.

From a different angle, offsets do present a paradox. On one hand, they offer a cost-effective tool to reduce net emissions. However, as their popularity grows so does the criticism. Critics have likened corporate offsets to “bargaining with the devil” and putting “lipstick on a pig.” Despite the controversy, carbon offsets should not be ignored. Around the world, increasingly diverse companies of all sizes are finding offsetting to be an important component to their business model – from relationships with partners and customers to it being an option to address the pressures associated with climate change.

About Author
Experienced financial and private equity analyst of hotels and real estate investments, Susan Patel, driven by passion, leads business development and operations at EcoGreenHotel.

EcoGreenHotel is dedicated to helping lodging facilities address environmental issues and achieve the TBL. EcoGreenHotel.com is also a great resource for tools, checklists, current news and trends, as well as a marketplace for green products and services at EcoGreenHotelStore.com.