The debate around the ethics and effectiveness of individuals and businesses purchasing carbon credits as a means to lower their carbon footprint has been going on for some time. Critics say that allowing carbon emitters to pay others to make reductions on their behalf reduces personal responsibility for controlling emissions. They also argue that the use of a voluntary carbon credit system gives large companies a license to conduct carbon-producing business and using the resulting profits to purchase offsets free of guilt. There are also concerns about the validity of the carbon credits that are being sold by some offset providers as well as challenges with ensuring that a given project is providing carbon benefits that would not have been realized anyway (in carbon speak this is called "additionality").
On the other hand, there are plenty of credible organizations out there - like The Climate Action Reserve, The Gold Standard and Verified Carbon Standard - that are applying rigorous standards to the carbon offsets they certify. And, in many cases, the revenue from offset purchases is going towards projects that yield benefits which go far beyond reducing carbon. Forest projects, forest regeneration, avoided deforestation, improved ecosystem health, and increased biodiversity are just a few of the positive side effects. Other projects - like the promotion of cleaner, more efficient cookstoves in rural African communities - can also have positive social benefits such as improved local air quality.
Regardless of what side you come down on in this debate, a new global report shows that the voluntary carbon market is booming. It also appears to be driving new innovation in sustainable development initiatives.
The study, conducted by Forest Trends' Ecosystem Marketplace Initiative and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, found that in 2011, voluntary carbon offsetting hit a three-year high of $576 million with 65 percent coming from corporate buyers. The report includes some surprising findings:
[Image credit: Timothy Tolle, Flickr]
Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant. She recently received her MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.
Kara is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant with expertise in consumer research and environmental science. Currently, Kara is working as a Graduate Associate on the <a href="http://corporate.disney.go.com/citizenship2010/">Corporate Citizenship</a> team at the Walt Disney Company. She is also a founding partner of <a href=http://besui.com/">BeSui Consulting</a>, a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in consumer insights and marketing communications.
Kara graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in <a href="http://admissions.rutgers.edu/Academics/AcademicContent.aspx?CAMPUS=New… Policy, Institutions and Behaviors</a>. She is currently pursuing her M.B.A. in Sustainable Management from <a href'"http://www.presidioedu.org/">Presidio Graduate School</a> where she is exploring the impact investing space and working to identify new ways to increase access to capital for start-ups and social ventures. Follow her on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/karameredith">@karameredith</a>.