Looking to offset your carbon emissions? Now you can with confidence, thanks to a new online list of vetted, high-quality projects.
This fall, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) published CarbonOffsetList.org, a site that contains a list of carefully screened, credible carbon offset projects. There are 12 listed and most are landfill gas destruction projects in the United States. EDF says these represent more than 750,000 tons of credible emission reductions. Within the list are links to organizations that sell the offsets for each project, so you can purchase them.
Carbon offsets have come under scrutiny in recent years because of concerns that not all offsets that companies or individuals purchase actually help offset carbon emissions and improve the environment. Carbon offset standards are voluntary and some offsets have been sold against projects that have already been completed, for example, so they are not currently lowering emissions.
What EDF did is put out a request to about 100 organizations for offset proposals, screened the projects they received, and published the 12 that made the cut. The offsets had to directly reduce emissions, be trackable, and produce net environmental benefits, among other criteria. So if you want to purchase offsets you know will have an impact, this is the list to use.
My first reaction when I saw the list was that it’s very short. But it does allow you to purchase offsets for as little as $13.12, through TerraPass for the Greater Lebanon landfill gas-to-energy project. As for the list getting larger, apparently maybe not. An EDF representative told me via e-mail that “We hope that under President-elect Obama’s administration, a national cap-and-trade system will be implemented that includes clear and credible quality standards for offsets, precluding the need for this list in the future.”
You can learn more about carbon offsets from Wikipedia or in this Worldwatch magazine article. When I’ve bought offsets in the past, I’ve used a carbon offset calculator to figure out how much carbon my actions emit each year. Then I purchase the offsets to equal those emissions, if I can afford it. I admit I’ve only done this once, through TerraPass, and I think it cost me about $120 to offset home heating and cooling, as well as transportation impacts my wife and I incurred during the year. So it’s not cheap.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a two–person household generates carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions of approximately 41,500 pounds — or 19 metric tons — per year. You can use EDF’s carbon calculator to figure out how you stack up. The EPA also has a calculator, as do various other Web sites.
Remember, carbon offsets make a great holiday gift for the planet!
A 12-year veteran of environmental journalism, Dan Kulpinski is a frequent contributor to EarthSky. He also publishes the GreenListDC.org site and the GreenListDC Blog. Before joining EarthSky, he was a programming director at AOL and wrote the AOL Down to Earth blog.