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How Carbon Offsetting Can Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

what is carbon offsetting?

You might have come across the term “Carbon Offsetting” recently, as it’s gradually risen in popularity. But if you’re not quite sure what it is or how it works, that’s exactly what we are going to explore today. 

Let’s start with the basics. 

What Is Carbon Offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is defined as 

“the action or process of compensating for carbon dioxide emissions arising from industrial or other human activity, by participating in programs designed to make equivalent reductions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” 

That’s um … a bit of a mouthful. Let’s break down that definition.  

Essentially, carbon offsetting is when an individual or an organization funds an environmentally friendly project in order to balance out their own carbon emissions. 

In some cases these projects directly remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. In others, they prevent them from being released in the first place. 

How Does Carbon Offsetting Work?

Here’s a breakdown of the process. 

The first step to carbon offsetting is always to calculate carbon emissions. 

For a company, this can be done by having a third party auditor examine the various steps it takes to get the product from conception to consumer. A simpler (though less accurate) alternative is to use previously gathered data about certain materials and transportation methods to estimate overall carbon emissions for a product. (E.g. a small package travelling 500 miles via ground transportation emits about 1.3lbs of greenhouse gasses. The same package traveling by air emits about 2.1lbs). 

At Cloud Paper, we use a mix of a third party auditor, and CarbonFund's business calculator to determine our carbon footprint. 

For an individual, this kind of estimation can be done very easily using a reputable online survey such as UC Berkeley’s Carbon Footprint Calculator. 

If you’d like to go the extra mile and get a more accurate representation of your personal emissions, you’ll want to take into account all the different ways your lifestyle contributes to greenhouse gases, including things like transportation, utilities, food choices, and shopping habits. You can start your own energy and trash audits by using the methods described in our blog: How to Live Sustainably in 2021 and Beyond.

The second step is the “offsetting” part. 

Once a carbon footprint has been calculated, it can then be balanced by donating to a carbon reduction project. The donation amount is determined by how much carbon you’re trying to offset. 

Let’s look further into these carbon offsetting projects to demonstrate how this works. 

Carbon Offsetting Projects

There are many companies that offer carbon offsetting, but as an example we’ll use CarbonFund, since that’s who we use for our own carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting programs can take many different forms. CarbonFund distributes contributions to three types of projects: 

  • Forestry
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Renewable Energy 

carbon offsetting forestry projects

1) Forestry Projects

Made popular by celebrities like Coldplay, planting trees to offset carbon emissions became a trend in the early 2000s. Trees are well known for their ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, storing it in their fibers as well as returning it to the soil around their roots. 

It’s estimated that a mature tree can pull 48lbs of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. To translate that into carbon offsetting terms: it would take an acre of mature trees approximately one year to absorb the amount of carbon emitted by a standard car driving 26,000 miles. You can start to see why it’s critically important to conserve trees. 

Example forestry projects that CarbonFund supports: 

Deforestation accounts for about 20% of global carbon emissions. The Purus Project works to conserve 86,000 acres of tropical rainforest from deforestation.
Their mission is to reforest a million acres across the Alluvial Valley which spans from Illinois to Louisiana. 

2) Increasing Energy Efficiency

Think of it like switching out your old filament light bulb for an LED. It’s immediately going to reduce current energy usage while also curbing future consumption. 

These programs provide environmentally friendlier alternatives in areas where carbon emissions could potentially be avoided. 

For example: 

In Kenya, 80% of household energy is still produced with solid fuel such as wood fires. Not only is this method used for cooking, it’s also used to boil water – the primary way Kenyan’s purify their drinking water. 
This need for firewood fuel contributes greatly to the destruction of already limited woodland. In addition, open fires are very inefficient, consuming a lot of timber while producing copious smoke. Smoke is noxious and generally contributes to air pollution, but woodburning does more than that. Remember how we talked about trees absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere? Burning wood actually releases that carbon dioxide back into the environment. 
The aim of these carbon offsetting projects is to provide people with more efficient alternatives (modern cookstoves and Bio Sand water purifiers) that can ultimately prevent 181,797 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

3) Renewable Energy Projects

You’ve probably heard of wind, solar, and hydroelectric projects that use renewable resources to provide energy. CarbonFund contributes to a range of wind farms from Texas to Turkey, as well as the creation of a solar field in India. 

But another example of renewable energy you may not have heard of are the gas-to-energy projects. 

A neat double whammy, this project captures landfill gasses (which include methane and carbon dioxide) to fuel power generators. This not only reduces the methane released into the atmosphere but also provides “recycled” fuel for energy generators. Psst – methane is 23 times more damaging than carbon dioxide, so it’s even more important to reduce it.

By donating to these types of projects, individuals and businesses can help offset their carbon footprint. 

It’s important to remember, however, that carbon offsetting isn’t a magic wand that makes our negative environmental impacts disappear. Think of it like adding weights to a balancing scale. The more you add on one side, the more you’ll have to add on the other side to balance it out.

At Cloud Paper, we’ve worked hard to reduce our carbon footprint at each step of the manufacturing process. Where transportation is unavoidable, Cloud Paper offsets 2x the estimated carbon emissions. 

how to reduce your carbon footprint

How Do You Offset Your Own Carbon Footprint?

After calculating your own environmental impact, you can offset your carbon footprint by donating to a program, as we’ve done. Take care, however, with what program you choose. Unfortunately, there are some misleading “carbon offsetting” companies that take profits and may pocket up to 60% of the funds for themselves.

Look for non-profit organizations with certifications such as the Gold Standard, who openly disclose financial information. 

CarbonFund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit with third-party certifications and annual audits to ensure quality carbon offsetting. They also release their annual tax reports for full transparency.

On their website you can donate to offset your own footprint – or even that of your whole family! It’s estimated that the average American contributes to over 50,000 lbs of carbon emissions per year, and the annual offset for an individual in the US is $240.

But if you’re not ready to go all-in, CarbonFund also offers excellent stepping stones to get started. 

For instance, you can choose to offset the carbon emissions of your car for the whole year. Or you can offset air travel to visit family for the holidays. Even an office gathering or a fundraiser event can now be carbon neutral with efficient carbon offsetting (don’t forget to petition your boss 😉). 

Other Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Of course, carbon offsetting isn’t the only way to lower your carbon footprint. We all know to reduce, reuse, and recycle (in that order). But there are other impactful ways to go greener. 

Learn about your products.

I know, it’s such a cliche but… the first step really IS awareness. 

The absolute easiest way to reduce your own footprint is to be aware of the environmental impact of the products you’re buying, and become an informed consumer. Here are a few questions to ask:

Where do they source their materials from? 

Look for certifications like USDA Organic, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), Green Seal, or Green C Certification.

Is their manufacturing process sustainable? 

Keep an eye out for Certified B Corps, WasteWise, and WaterSense certifications.

Are they carbon offsetting?

You can usually find this information advertised in their About section. Look for “carbon offsetting” or even “carbon neutral” (the gold star!)

Check out other environmentally friendly certifications here

Skip the rush shipping.

Sorry to break it to you, but speedy shipping is polluting. Rush orders add more to transportation emissions because delivery drivers have to go out of their way to get the product to you faster. 

When you choose no-rush shipping, your packages will take the snail trail to your house – meaning they hitch a ride on regular shipping routes so your delivery footprint is shared with the general postage system. 

It’s one of the easiest ways to significantly reduce your environmental impact today. 

Finally… 

Make the easy swaps. 

As always (if you haven’t already) consider switching to bamboo paper. Swapping a product you buy frequently – like toilet paper – to a more sustainable option is a very effective way to reduce your carbon footprint. You don’t have to swap everything all at once, but even making one small change can have a big impact. You can check out more easy swaps for your bathroom and kitchen in our blog. 

Make the switch and help us save the trees! 

You can order Cloud Paper online here, knowing you’re making a sustainable purchase with carbon-neutral delivery. 🌎