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Is Carbon Offsetting Really a Sustainable Climate Action?

Is Carbon Offsetting Really a Sustainable Climate Action?

Is Carbon Offsetting Really a Sustainable Climate Action?

Climate change impacts the world and our global ecosystem in both massive and seemingly granular ways. Climate action comes in many forms and each ‘action’ addresses a different problem under the umbrella of the climate crisis. Further, every one of these sustainability movements or foundations are calling for your help. It can be paralyzing feeling like one person in a sea of issues that all need your undivided attention and advocacy. This eco-anxiety comes from the top down. The lack of action and accountability from governments and massive corporations with even larger carbon footprints leaves the onus on the individual to solve our climate crisis.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

Mitigation Isn’t Working, We Need to Take Climate Action

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report that warns certain policies and infrastructure placed on governments and corporations intended to mitigate the impacts of climate change may instead be making them worse.

Mitigating action in the form of “adaptive measures” includes re-forestation, ecosystem restoration and other “nature-based” solutions. These measures are not being rolled out at a large enough scale and end up less effective as more time passes without implementation. They also have unintended consequences when implemented negligently. For example, you have likely come across an organization that is promising to plant trees to offset their carbon footprint. Some of these organizations plant forests on land that was not previously forested. This results in exacerbated food and water scarcity, damaged natural biodiversity of the previously un-forested land, and disenfranchised low-income rural communities.

These adaptive measures focus on offsetting carbon footprints. It allows corporations to continue with harmful production practices with the excuse that if they ‘plant enough trees,’ they can continue business as usual.

As we highlight in our Greenwashing article, offsets are one of many tactics that defer from the rooted problem. Carbon offsetting fails to address the critical problems in the systemically flawed fossil-fuelled industries. Carbon offsetting lacks standardization, credibility and accountability. These kinds of ‘solutions’ do not drive the innovative changes required to actually mitigate the effects of our climate crisis.

How to identify green action vs washed action

The “going green” trend is reliant on carbon offsets as the dominant form of climate action and is a false promise. So, let’s explore how to identify the companies and organizations that are leading the green movement.

  1. The proof is in the pudding
    • Companies that are walking the walk will be talking the talk.
    • Look for very specific claims and details in a company’s eco-initiatives. Companies making emission reductions or a tangible impact will be clear and data-driven with their initiatives and proactive action.
    • When companies make vague claims or lack detail and traceability in their action, there is no accountability or transparency. If there is no proof, they are simply empty claims. Action is measurable, not hidden.
  2. Taking a holistic approach to sustainability
    • Sustainable action comes in many forms beyond carbon offsetting. There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the UN and “climate action” is only one of 17. Sustainable business involves more than climate action. For example, providing clean water, education, and sustainable infrastructure are all sustainable actions.
    • Companies involved in sustainable action are taking into account their carbon footprint and social impact. This is a holistic approach to sustainable business as it reflects the understanding that sustainability goes beyond our environment.
    • For example: HOPE takes a holistic approach as an all-woman company producing pet treats and food made with insects. We reduce our carbon footprints, protect life below water, protect life on land, and use innovative and responsible production methods to reduce food waste. This encompasses 5 of the 17 SDGs. We also go above and beyond by using local ingredients and fully recyclable packaging, emphasizing our holistic commitment to sustainability.
  3. Reform the norm
    • Companies that are reestablishing the standard for responsible production practices by implementing SDGs in their business foundation are paving the new norm and leading by example.
    • Consumers have the power to reset the standards and expectations of acceptable production practices across industries. Changing our consumption habits to be more sustainably driven, harnesses power from the bottom up . By supporting sustainable and ethical companies when we can, we express our consumer power to drive change.
Photo by Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash

“In order to create something new, we have to acknowledge that the existing system is not good enough.”

Niklas Kaskeala, the head of sustainability at Compensate, a Finland-based non-profit offset brokerage stated that “in order to create something new, we have to acknowledge that the existing system is not good enough.” Kaskeala also found in his own offset practice research that “90% of the offsets either failed to offset as much as they claim, are not permanent, come with damaging side effects for local communities or ecosystems, or some combination of the above.” Kaskeala’s work and research sheds much-needed light on the business of carbon offsetting and highlights that it is no substitute for actual emissions reductions.

Next, the revolution.

Our global market needs a revolution, establishing environmental and social sustainability in its foundation. While significant responsibility will be on our governmental and corporate leaders, consumers must empower each other and those in power to prioritize our global condition and climate action. By consuming mindfully and spending with sustainable companies when we can, we are being explicit with our values and are taking the wheel as change makers.

HOPE is one of the many companies taking part of this revolution and we are always eager to learn more about other businesses doing the same. Please feel free to share the authentically green businesses that inspire you in our comments below!

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