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There are two ways to combat climate change that is due to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. First, change your activities so you create less carbon dioxide (CO2). Next, undertake activities that decrease the amount of CO2 that’s already in the air.

We believe individuals and businesses should do both, through changing our activities and carbon offsetting. This is where the controversy comes in. If you’re purchasing carbon offset, are you really helping the planet, or is it greenwashing – simply giving the appearance that you’re helping mitigate climate change?

Changing your activities

Most of us know the basics of how, in our personal and professional lives, we can decrease the amount of CO2 we put into the atmosphere. You can walk, cycle, or take public transportation instead of driving. You can travel less, and whenever possible, take modes of transport that emit less CO2. You can put solar panels on your roof to generate electricity and install a heat pump instead of using conventional gas or electric heating.

As just one example, our Climate Impact service already allows you to calculate the carbon footprint of your vehicles, properties and every form of travel. Beginning in early 2022, you will also be able to enter a proposed trip into Mia Bazo and receive recommendations for cleaner alternatives. This could be by showing you the most fuel-efficient aircraft on your route, or listing the taxi services in your destination city that drive zero-emissions vehicles.

However, these activities – as necessary and vital as they are – don’t decrease the amount of greenhouse gases in the air. You are simply doing your bit to keep the situation from getting worse.

Keeping the situation from getting worse, part two

Individuals and businesses can purchase carbon offset that doesn’t necessarily remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Take the example of an organisation that donates water filters to people in areas where clean water is not available. With these filters, people will not have to burn wood to boil water until it’s fit to drink. So, less wood burned, less CO2.

Organisations like this sell carbon offset to corporations. They calculate how much less CO2 is emitted by villagers not burning wood (say, one metric tonne) and sell it.

(We won’t even start the conversation about how they’re making the calculations.)

Are the corporate purchasers really offsetting carbon? Nope, they’re just contributing a bit to the situation not getting worse. If they’re not also taking positive steps to, for example, reduce the carbon footprint of their offices and manufacturing processes, that’s greenwashing.

Decreasing CO2 with plants

Plant life absorbs CO2 and releases oxygen. This is why a lot of the carbon offset easily available for purchase is tree planting. Currently, this is the only carbon offset offered for purchase through our Climate Impact service, although we plan to add other projects in 2022.

Tree planting is relatively easy to verify (as in, yup, we can verify the forestry projects we work with is actually planting trees with the money they receive) and inexpensive. A rough guide is US$10 per metric tonne of CO2.

Is this carbon offsetting? Yes. It does a little good. If this is all a company does to decrease their carbon footprint, it still has a whiff of greenwashing.

Removing greenhouse gases from the air

We’re very interested in other projects that remove carbon and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (called direct air capture). One example is removing carbon from the air and pumping it underground, in some cases, into spaces that have been emptied of fossil fuels.

The world’s largest project that does just that was launched in Iceland on 8th September 2021. It will remove up to 4,000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere per year. Whilst that number isn’t very big when compared with the global problem, it is being seen as an important test case.

Some of these projects sell carbon offset, but at the moment, prices are much higher than tree planting. Nonetheless, we will soon be offering some of them for purchase through our Climate Impact service.

Most carbon-removal projects we’ve been following are small scale or even still in proof-of-concept. As technology improves and is adopted more widely, we expect prices to come down.

Is this carbon offsetting? Yes, and it could do a lot more good than planting trees. We hope companies will begin widely investing in this kind of project.

So what is not greenwashing?

Many manufacturers are developing carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) programmes. As just one example, cement manufacturers are beginning to capture the CO2 emitted by their processes and converting it into building materials.

According to the International Energy Agency, “Plans for more than 30 new integrated CCUS facilities have been announced since 2017. The vast majority are in the United States and Europe, but projects are also planned in Australia, China, Korea, the Middle East and New Zealand. If all these projects were to proceed, the amount of global CO2 capture capacity would more than triple, to around 130 mega-tonnes per year.”

When a company examines every process, property, vehicle and employee travel for opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint, and then purchases valid carbon offset to reduce their balance to zero, that company is truly green.

John Scott

John Scott is founder and CEO of Mia Bazo and our sister company Voyage Manager, with 24 years in software design and development. He is a digital nomad and committed environmentalist.

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