Carbon Offsetting - 5 Useful Insights

We’re no experts in carbon sequestration, and carbon offsetting is becoming an increasingly complex ‘industry’ by the day. So, as we search for a solution that works best for us, here are five of the things we’ve learnt on our journey.
Patrick Mulford
June 12, 2023

Like many businesses Clock is committed to reducing our environmental impact, especially now we’re B Corp certified. While there are many ways you can reduce your carbon footprint, for most companies reaching net-zero will involve ‘offsetting’ their remaining impact by contributing towards a project that is removing or ‘sequestering’ an equivalent amount of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.

We’re no experts in carbon sequestration, and carbon offsetting is becoming an increasingly complex ‘industry’ by the day. So, as we search for a solution that works best for us, here are five of the things we’ve learnt on our journey.

1. Natural Capital (it’s what every banker is talking about)

You can offset your carbon footprint by buying ‘carbon credits’, each of which is equivalent to 1 metric ton of greenhouse gas removed from the atmosphere. As demand is high, carbon credits are getting more expensive – rising from $2.50/ton in 2020, to a predicted $47-$120/ton in 2050. Of course, whenever the ‘value’ of something increases that fast, financial markets swoop in to capitalise.

‘Natural capital’ is the most exciting thing in the city right now and investments are being made in rewilding schemes and nature restoration projects, based upon the amount of carbon and biodiversity credits they could be worth. Obviously, a lot of conservationists and economists are sceptical about the whole thing. Firstly, we’re expecting capitalists to dig us out of the environmental crisis (wasn’t it them that…. nevermind). Secondly there’s lots of scope for ‘greenwashing’.

So, it’s now more important than ever to understand what you’re ‘investing’ in and who else is invested in it. Plus, knowing about where your credits come from makes you and your staff personally invested in the project.

2. Environmental Projects Come In Many Shapes And Sizes

Projects that present an opportunity for carbon offsetting loosely fall into two categories – nature-based and technology-based. Nature-based projects protect and restore pristine ecosystems, in order to sequester carbon. These nature reserves also provide flood management, improved water quality and increased biodiversity. Technology-based projects develop the means to reduce or even remove the greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. Tech-based projects can be as diverse as trying to reduce methane emissions from cows, creating clean stove technology for developing nations, or building a huge chimney to suck greenhouse gas directly out of the sky! All of these projects have the potential to create jobs and enrich local communities – but like any investment they could also ultimately prove unviable – so do your homework and choose wisely.

Numerous businesses and brokers offer their services online as the link between a company and projects they have qualified. They offer tools that allow companies to calculate their carbon footprint and then invest in the projects of their choice, to the tune of the number of carbon credits they need. However, there is nothing stopping your company from identifying a local or global project that is removing or sequestering greenhouse gas, and investing in that scheme directly. This may be of interest to a B Corp who wants there to be an immediate, tangible connection between themselves and a local community project, or an individual developing a specific piece of tech.

3. Trees are Good (but some trees are much, much better than others)

We are told that we should plant more trees. Trees act as carbon sinks by capturing and retaining carbon in their trunks. If you plant a tree, you offset your carbon footprint – right? Yes… but…

A healthy oak tree can capture up to 48 pounds of carbon every year for 600 years and support a biodiversity of up to 2,300 species. When it dies it supports more life than when it was alive, as parasitic organisms draw the carbon back into the ground, and process it as part of the larger ecosystem. The same is true of a tree in a rainforest. But a vast plantation of non-native Sitka spruce trees, densely and ‘sustainably’ planted in orderly lines for harvesting, supports a quarter of the biodiversity of an oak tree. The trees deprive all other vegetation of sunlight, grow quickly, and are chopped down after approximately 40 years. At this point their carbon is either burnt and released back into the atmosphere, or the wood is processed on an industrial scale.

It’s not really the tree that counts as carbon capture, it’s the greater, fully functioning ecosystem; the soil ecology and the biodiversity. The best kind of forest is the diverse and permanent kind of forest (that probably planted itself) - that supports a myriad of creatures. When offsetting your carbon footprint against trees and tree planting, make sure it’s in a protected natural reserve, and not a timber yard. Carbon offset brokers such as Ecologi invest in rainforest reforestation and carbon avoidance projects that ensure your efforts are a permanent way of sequestering carbon.

4. Trees are Good (but not as good as tundra)

Why is there such a focus on trees? Every living organism stores carbon. You store carbon. The earth beneath your feet stores carbon, and the zooplankton in the world’s oceans certainly store a lot of carbon.

Tropical forests, the so-called ‘lungs of the planet’, get a lot of airtime, and they are an excellent way to sequester carbon. But they are only the fifth most effective ecosystem for doing so. If you really want to keep the carbon where it belongs (in the frozen ground) you should be protecting the tundra at the poles. Alternatively, there is more carbon in an underwater seagrass meadow (per area) than in a rainforest. The same can be said of mangrove forest and salt marsh.

So definitely keep an open mind when investing in nature-based projects that offset your carbon footprint. Based upon its position as a keystone species in an ocean ecosystem, a blue whale has just as important part to play in carbon sequestration as a tree.

5. Offsetting Shouldn’t Replace Responsibility

Investing vast amounts in natural capital can (and probably will) enable the greatest fossil fuel polluters on the planet to offset their carbon footprint, and meet seemingly laughable environmental commitments. They stand to make a huge profit in the process. This illustrates that you can be perceived as environmentally good, yet still do a ton of environmental bad.

So always start with what you can do to reduce your footprint first, not how you offset it. Not only will that result in a smaller amount of carbon needing to be mitigated, but you can also feel a lot better about your actions and intentions.

Of course, as many businesses transition to a hybrid or remote-first work policy it becomes far trickier to implement environmental initiatives, compared to when we were all sitting in the same space. So how do you implement a work-from-home environmental policy, and calculate the subsequent carbon footprint? That’s probably something to cover in a future article…