10 questions to ask your offsetting partner

Carbon offsetting plays an important role in our Members’ sustainability journeys. But with a range of offset projects on the market, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

You might choose to work with an agency to help you build a programme of work that aligns with your company’s sustainability goals. They might operate mainly in the carbon offsetting space, or might offer integrated services, which also include emissions measurement and reduction. Whichever solution you opt for, it’s important to do your checks.

Pledge has compiled a handy list of questions to ask prospective offsetting partners before you make your choice.

Question 1. What criteria do you use when selecting carbon offset projects?

There are a number of factors that carbon offset partners should bear in mind when selecting the projects that they work with. Key examples include:

Additionality: GHG (Greenhouse Gas Emissions) Reductions are additional if they go above and beyond the reductions that would have occurred without the implementation of the project. Additionality is important, because it ensures that the financial investment in a project makes a quantifiable, positive difference to our climate.

Verifiability: An easy first step is to check whether your projects can be verified by an independent third party, is by looking into whether they are affiliated with one of the main voluntary carbon market registries. See Question 5 for further insights.

PermanenceUp to 25% of carbon emissions remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years. This is why it’s so important that reducing and offsetting emissions are not just effective, but also permanent.

Leakage: Leakage occurs when efforts to reduce emissions in one place simply shift emissions to another location or sector where they remain uncontrolled or uncounted. There are two main types of leakage: activity shifting leakage and market leakage. Activity shifting refers to leakage at the project’s location, and the latter refers to mitigation policies having an effect on commodity prices, which in turn leads to changes in investment patterns.


Question 2. What’s the difference between avoidance and removal offsets?

Carbon removal projects effectively remove carbon from the atmosphere. Such projects can be split into two approaches: nature-based solutions and engineered solutions.

However carbon avoidance projects prevent carbon that would have been released into the atmosphere from actually being released. For example, building a wind farm to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.


Question 3. What’s the difference between nature-based and engineered removals?

Nature-based solutions (NBS) involve conserving, restoring, or better managing ecosystems to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. One example is regenerative agriculture, which works to improve soil quality whilst maintaining profitable farming practices.

Engineered (or science-based) removals, in contrast to NBS offsets, rely on technology and infrastructure to actively and (more) permanently hide away carbon. One example is enhanced weathering — speeding up the natural mineral weathering processes to capture carbon in calcium-based sediments that eventually turn to solid rock.

Question 4. Do your offset projects offer additional benefits beyond climate impact?

Additional benefits are any positive impacts from offsetting projects, outside of GHG emissions mitigation. They are more common in nature-based projects than engineered removals as NBS projects are usually in developing countries where the impact of biodiversity and conservation work is greater.

Additional benefits can be focused around other areas such as community, education, economic development etc. One example of both an educational and economic benefit is upskilling a local community in a particular technology required to keep the offset project running, and in doing so, creating new opportunities for better paid work. 


Question 5. Do your offset projects comply with recognised standards?

One of the best ways for an offsetting partner to check the additionality, verifiability and permanence of the projects that they work with, is to ensure that they are part of the established big four registries — VerraThe Gold Standard (GS), The American Carbon Registry (ACR) and Climate Action Reserve (CAR), or whether, in addition, they have been rated by independent experts such as BeZeroCarbonplanPerennial or Sylvera.

At the same time, new and emerging offsetting projects shouldn’t be forgotten. They need financial support to help them to scale.There are many promising new projects with the potential to have a significant impact on emissions mitigation. Organisations such as CarbonPlan can provide a detailed assessment of their capabilities and effectiveness.


Question 6. How closely do you work with project developers?

There are many brokers in the carbon offsetting market. As a result, you may have several middlemen between you and the project itself — with everyone taking a cut along the way. Ultimately, this means that less money is going to the long-term running of the project.

Ask your offsetting partner whether they have a direct relationship with the projects that they work with. A strong relationship is beneficial for both sides, as it means that you’ll have much greater insight into the development of the project that you’re investing in.


Question 7. What project types do you cover?

Ask your offsetting partner about the range of projects that they cover, as each has different costs and cost benefits.

Do they include both nature-based and engineered removal projects as part of their portfolio or marketplace? Do the projects that they partner with carry any additional benefits? Remember that the broader the range of projects available to you, the more you can diversify your portfolio. 


Question 8. Are offsets an easy way to be sustainable?

Carbon offsetting is not a single solution to the climate change crisis, and crucially, it shouldn’t be used in isolation.

When adopting a sustainability strategy, a company should first look into emissions measurement, then employ reduction strategies, and only use offsetting as a means of addressing unavoidable emissions. 


Question 9. Is there a difference between carbon neutrality and net zero?

There is a distinction between carbon neutrality and becoming ‘net zero.’ Carbon neutrality means balancing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through ‘offsetting’ or actively removing them from the atmosphere. A commitment to net-zero carbon means reducing greenhouse gas emissions and only using offsetting for those emissions that cannot be removed.


Question 10. What fees are you charging for selling offsets?

There has been a distinct lack of price transparency in voluntary carbon markets, which has led some resellers to charge high margins, which are sometimes as much as double the original price that they paid to the project developers.
Ask your offsetting partner what fees they’re charging, and what percentage of this cost goes directly to the project.


In Summary: It’s all about making offsetting clear and accessible

We hope that the answers to the above questions will stand you in good stead when choosing an offsetting partner.

We’d like to leave you with one final thought — choose a partner who makes offsetting as accessible as possible, with clear explanations of project scope, impact and price. That way, the selection process will be much easier and more enjoyable.

Source: Pledge

PLEASE NOTE: All information contained in this article was correct at time of publication and obtained directly from Pledge. Please ensure information is cross-checked against current legislations before taking any action.