In a previous article, we covered what you need to know about carbon offsets. The TL;DR: To counterbalance—or offset—emissions, carbon offsets allow organizations and individuals to finance carbon removal or carbon reduction projects. In that same article, we acknowledged why offsets get a bad rap, “if offsets are the only solution to curb your carbon footprint, rather than part of a broader strategy, climate change impact will remain business as usual.”
While Sustain.Life offers vetted carbon offset projects for CO2emissions you can’t yet mitigate, we take things a step further. We believe in a future where you won’t need to purchase offsets because you’ll have tools to help you practice emission reductions from the start.
Here’s how carbon offsets work on Sustain.Life
Complete one of our carbon calculators for, say, your commuting or business travel, and we offer you verified carbon offset projects to offset those emissions. But we take it one step further and give you tailored guidance so you can take action to curb your emissions-generating behavior in the first place.
The types of carbon offset projects available on Sustain.Life
Improved forest management
Forest management offsets balance timber demand with the need to protect and preserve forests and restore biodiversity. One of the advantages of improved forest management offset projects: they incentivize both large forestland owners and small private owners to keep trees in the ground, increase local biodiversity, and reduce the risk of wildfire.
Wind offset projects invest in the development of wind turbines to generate renewable energy. Around 60,000 utility-scale wind turbines operate in the U.S. today, and the potential for wind power far exceeds the total annual electricity consumption—both in the U.S and globally.
The solar power sector has experienced massive growth over the past decade—in 2020 it employed more than 230,000 Americans. Clean energy investments in solar offset projects fund everything from large solar farms to smaller community installations. Spurred by corporate climate action commitments and improvements in energy storage technology, the solar market is poised for continued growth.
Simply put, avoided conversion offsets are when an ecosystem that was otherwise slated for conversion—often into cropland—stays intact. These offset projects come into play when the economic incentive to leave land untouched outweighs the potential gains from its conversion. The money from carbon offsets offers landowners recurring incentives to preserve existing forests, wetlands, and other vital ecosystems.
Organizations can support and create sustainable development and energy practices by getting their energy efficiency projects (e.g., installing solar panels) and technology verified by a third party. They can also sell the resulting credits. Energy efficiency offsets compensate for your unavoidable emissions because they help fund those operational efficiencies for companies that sell their remaining credits. Energy efficiency offsets also support the development of products that those companies can then sell to others to be more efficient (e.g., a retrofit kit that makes an AC unit more efficient).
Biomass offset projects convert organic waste into useful energy—for example, heating buildings with the energy generated from wood waste from a nearby sawmill. Biomass offset projects are a good option when the fuel source is local or generated on-site (reducing potential emissions generated from transporting the biomass), provided the biomass is truly a repurposed waste product.
Ozone-depleting substances (ODS) are most common in some refrigerants and fire suppression equipment. Because the global warming potential of ODS is much higher than that of CO2, destroying them with heat yields a net emissions reduction. Replacing ODS with alternatives through equipment retrofits is another way to remove them from circulation.
Borehole restoration and maintenance
Boreholes supply wells with water in regions where community members—especially girls and women—would normally spend several hours each day collecting water. When the boreholes collapse or clog, the water source disappears. Restoring and maintaining boreholes means continued access to water and often enables girls to pursue an education while reducing the emissions associated with boiling water to make it safe for use.
The U.S. EPA mandates methane capture for large landfills, but greenhouse gas emissions data for methane likely gets underestimated—it lacks enforcement, and smaller landfills don’t enter the equation. Landfill methane offset projects either capture and destroy landfill methane or use the gas for heating, also known as energy-from-waste (EfW). Until widespread regulatory requirements exist and there’s broad adoption of better waste management practices, landfill methane capture offset projects are worth pursuing.
Some rocks and silicate materials—like peridotite, wollastonite, and olivine—naturally absorb and mineralize carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a process that can span decades. Grinding up these rocks creates more surface area, which speeds weatherization, thus absorbing more CO2. Enhanced mineralization is in the early stages of exploration and development for both land and ocean applications.
Kelp forests consist of fast-growing (up to two feet per day) macro-algae that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. Due to their location near shorelines, kelp forests are susceptible to damage from pollution. Forestry projects that work towards restoring and protecting kelp forests ensures the continued carbon capture in the form of absorption of an estimated 200 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Before you start supporting carbon offset projects, we recommend starting with measuring your business's current carbon footprint using a business carbon footprint calculator.