From: Karina Grudnikov, ENN, Sierra Club Green Home, More from this Affiliate
Published July 6, 2010 11:27 AM

Understanding Carbon Offsetting

Most of us know about carbon emissions and understand the idea of our own individual "carbon footprint," but here is a new concept that seems to be catching on: carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting seems to be an indirect way to "reduce" one's carbon footprint - by paying someone else to support eco-friendly projects. Below is a fantastic article from Sierra Club Green Home that helps explain what carbon offsetting is, the projects it supports and other useful information, such as how to make a smart pick of company if you do want to support carbon-offseting.

You’ve seen it in the news: Celebrities are flying all over the globe in private jets, then assuaging their guilty consciences by paying a fee to a company to "offset" their emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate-altering greenhouse gases. Or maybe you've passed a Hummer on the highway with a bumper sticker reading, "My vehicle is carbon neutral." If that’s not galling enough, there are reports of some of the carbon-offset companies making obscene profits and contributing less than 20% of revenues to emissions-reduction projects. So are carbon offsets nothing but "greenwash"?

Not quite. But this new and booming industry deserves to be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism. The concept is a good one–carbon offsets give you a way to vote with your dollars. Problem is, right now it can be hard to tell whether your money is actually doing any good. While there are several organizations working to establish standards for offset quality, the industry is largely unregulated, and some offset providers are not delivering on their promises.

Read on to learn about what to look for–and what to look out for–when buying offsets.

What are carbon offsets?

The vendors who offer carbon offsets are middlemen. They take in payments from consumers and companies, take a cut for themselves, and direct the rest to green projects. Of course, when you send your money to an offset vendor, you’re not directly cutting your personal emissions–you’re just paying for emissions to be cut elsewhere. Greenhouse gases readily mix in the atmosphere, so in theory reducing emissions in another part of the world is as effective as reducing them in your backyard.

Most carbon offset programs are very accommodating, allowing you to offset emissions of a one-time event, like flying across country for your college roommate's wedding, or ongoing emissions, like all the energy used annually by your home and vehicles. With a credit card number and a few clicks of the mouse, you can join the fast-growing world of carbon offsetting.

What types of projects do carbon offsets support?

You can buy carbon offsets that support domestic or international projects. The projects fall into two general categories: those that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and those that pull carbon from the atmosphere (also known as carbon "sequestration").

Emissions-reduction projects include energy-efficiency upgrades at manufacturing plants, and large and small solar and wind power installations.

Carbon sequestration projects include capturing methane from coal mines, animal waste and landfills, as well as forest protection and restoration. Some experts suggest thinking twice about supporting forest-related offset projects because the emissions reductions are more difficult to monitor than energy efficiency or renewable energy projects. To offset emissions, a tree needs to survive for many decades, but the actual carbon savings from a reforestation project may be short-lived. Even if the forest isn’t logged, trees can be killed by disease and fire.

Some offsets support projects in developing countries, such as supplying efficient cooking stoves to replace polluting wood-burning stoves and providing hand-powered pumps to replace dirty diesel-powered pumps for irrigation.

The rest of the article is found here.

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