Your guide to carbon offsets: 3 actions you can take now

Appealing, convenient and impactful ways to reduce your environmental footprint.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by switching to renewable energy may be one of the world’s most crucial goals.

But carbon offsets have a legitimate role in our climate action toolkit too. For the emissions we simply can’t avoid, purchasing carbon offsets is a great way you can contribute to positive environmental and social change.

And it’s not just businesses that can participate. Individuals can purchase carbon offsets and invest in fantastic projects such as restoring bushland biodiversity.

It can be hard to know if the carbon offset projects you’re paying for genuinely contribute to climate action.

From the research available, it is worth investing in carbon offsets. Here’s what you can do.

1. Offset your household emissions

  • Check out Trace, Greenfleet, and GreenBeen. They all make it easy to buy carbon offsets from a range of projects. Choose a monthly plan from as little as $15 or make a one-off payment. Expect to pay in the range $51-365 for one-off payments. Trace and Greenfleet both have simple carbon calculators you can use to get a rough idea of your emissions. And here are some examples of the great projects you can invest in:

  • When you buy electricity, you’ll note there are companies advertising carbon offset plans. Rather than choosing a carbon offset plan, you’ll do more good for the environment if you opt for an accredited GreenPower electricity plan. You’ll help get more renewable energy produced, rather than simply offsetting emissions. Most providers sell GreenPower. See a list of GreenPower providers.

  • When you’re shopping for goods and services, look out for companies that have the Climate Active seal of approval. Climate Active is a federal government-backed program that certifies businesses and organisations that have proven they’re measuring, reducing and offsetting their emissions. The list of Climate Active certified businesses is growing. Ask businesses if they’re Climate Active certified. It might prompt them to get certified if they’re not already.

2. Offset your car emissions

You don’t need a car to use these services. Consider these as a gift or simply feel good by investing in projects like restoring native eucalypt and mulga forests near Bourke in north-west NSW.

  • Buy a Go Neutral sticker and offset your car emissions for a year. Go Neutral is a new, Sydney-based not-for-profit organisation founded by a former engineering lead for Google. The organisation makes it easy for anyone and everyone to invest in great Australian offset projects.

  • Greenfleet also offers multiple options for cars, scooters, motorbikes and 4WDs. And GreenBeen offers an option too.

3. Switch your search engine

When you use the internet, try Ecosia, the search engine that turns profits into planting trees.

Carbon offsets defined

So, what are carbon offsets? They’re a type of trade – a transferable instrument certified by governments or independent certification bodies.

A carbon offset broadly refers to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions or an increase in carbon storage – through land restoration or planting trees, for example – that is used to compensate for emissions that occur elsewhere.

When you buy them, your money goes towards projects that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions – your investment helps reduce your carbon footprint. Buying them can help compensate for emissions that you can’t reduce.

An example might be if you plant enough trees to compensate for the emissions produced by a flight from Sydney to Melbourne.

Carbon offsets are measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). So, 1 offset equates to a decrease of 1 tonne of CO2 (or other greenhouse gases equivalent).

As carbon offsets are intangible – not physical assets – people are sometimes sceptical about them and spending money on them.

But these emission trade-offs provide us with options for reducing or neutralising our carbon footprint, and also deliver social, cultural and economic benefits.

Embedded content: https://cityofsydney.wistia.com/medias/c9kg0opy5c

Benefits of carbon offset projects

As well as reducing harmful emissions, offset projects lead to better air and water quality, wildlife conservation, and less waste of our natural resources.

But communities can reap other advantages from carbon offset projects including social, educational, health and cultural benefits, and business boons.

In sustainability lingo, these positive impacts are called co-benefits. The list of co-benefits includes:

  • short- and long-term employment opportunities for locals, which in turn, can lead to increased economic activity for their communities
  • improved health from cleaner air and water
  • access to clean and affordable energy
  • increased awareness and literacy around the environment, greenhouse gases and climate change, which can lead to more environmentally friendly projects and eco-champions
  • improved infrastructure
  • technology transfer to a new region, which involves training opportunities that bring unique skills to the local workforce
  • improved reputation, brand image and market differentiation for businesses, whose green credentials can tick an important box for customers and employees alike.

What we’re doing

We’ve been buying offsets since 2006. Read more about the Australian project we're supporting.

If you know of other organisations offering great offset products, or you have any questions about carbon offsetting, email us at renewableenergy@cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au.

Note: we do not endorse any of the abovementioned products or companies. As always, be wise and do your own research.

An elder from Western Yalanji supervising a traditional burn in 2020

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