My annual offset disappointment

In the last week of the year, I have a ritual of calculating my carbon footprint and buying offsets.

I'm aware of all the arguments that offsets are an excuse for bad behavior. For me, this is an intentional choice.

First, I make ongoing efforts to reduce my footprint every day. (This year my biggest improvement was weatherizing my four-unit apartment building-home. I continued to commute and run errands by bike and remained a vegetarian locavore.)

Second, I hope that sooner than later there will be a robust cap-and-trade market in the US. I'm spending my money in support of a growing industry. I hope they will be able to handle the coming explosion in demand for their services.

Third, I'm investing in something I believe in.

Back to today's writing motivator. Last year, Heidi and I weighed in on offsetting, and I used this Clean Air-Cool Planet guide to carbon offsets (opens PDF). It still helps me figure out where to get "quality" offsets.

There's an organization, SELF (Solar Electric Light Fund), that I think is absolutely wonderful. I would love to buy offsets from them, and in 2008, in an uneducated state, I did.

Last year, I asked SELF if they would take steps to become a higher quality provider of offsets, based on the principles in that report. This year, in wishing yet again that I could feel good about buying offsets from SELF, I discovered that the quality of their offsets is now more transparently somewhere around the status of lame. They sell carbon offsets, but in describing them and how they work, they make up a new category of product called "soft" offsets. They don't even promise that they won't sell the same offsets twice, or that there's a correlation between the number of offset tons they say they are selling you and the reduction of CO2.

Huff. It makes me sad every year. I wish great non-profits wouldn't greenwash, just like I wish huge corporations wouldn't greenwash.

So, again this year, I sadly go to one of the three "top performers" from the Clean Air-Cool Planet report: Climate Trust, NativeEnergy, or Sustainable Travel/MyClimate.

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"I'm aware of all the arguments that offsets are an excuse for bad behavior."

Bah. That sort of claim is just backwards Catholic-influence guilt running wild.

Recently, I had a pleasant surprise. Bob Freling of SELF had left me a voice mail, wanting to thank me for my post and sharing their hopes and plans to get their work third-party certified as offsets. As a small non-profit, they struggle to find the time and money to get through that process -- I hope they'll be able to find a grant to pay for a consultant to get it done!

When they do, they'll become my offset provider of choice.

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