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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Carbon Offsetting: The way out, or on its way out?

Carbon Offsetting: The way out, or on its way out?


It's been ridiculed since it was developed as a concept. In 2006, George Monbiot wrote an article for the Guardian comparing it to the Church's selling of pardons for sins in the Middle Ages. There are few objective standards of measurement, and no globally accepted certifications for it.

And yet, carbon offsetting remains a key focus of many industries' environmental efforts. There has even been a push in recent years to get individuals to think about and take action to reduce their own personal "carbon footprint". The big question that has been asked is, does this really do anything? Carbon emissions are only 2.5% of air pollutants, and only 1.7% is man-made. Even if every single person pays into a carbon offsetting program, will it have any effect on climate change?

However, one could argue, it's not whether the carbon offsetting is doing anything directly. It's about the awareness being raised that action needs to be taken. The marketing push that airlines are doing to promote their carbon offsetting schemes makes everyone who flies think about their effect on the world. Any awareness about pollution and its effect on climate change and the health of the planet results in an increased likelihood of positively modified behavior on the part of consumers. And if consumers are asking for, or expecting, these types of programs from the companies they patronize, those companies will be motivated to keep going with them.

The danger lies in getting stuck thinking that a carbon offsetting program is enough. It isn't. It should be seen as a first step in the direction of product and process modification. For example, instead of simply relying on unregulated third-  party carbon offsetting for commercial airlines, the industry is actively investing in alternatives to reduce carbon emissions at source, i.e., by changing the makeup of avation fuel. In 2008, Virgin Atlantic flew the very first biofuel test flight, using 20% biofuel. And biofuels were approved for use, for up to 50% of the fuel mix of a commercial airplane's fuel source, by the American Society for Testing and Materials in July 2011.

Carbon offsetting through external means might have been a way for industries to begin the process. But it should only be a beginning. We believe that in 20 years, carbon offsetting will be seen as having outlived its usefulness, because of process re-engineering.

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About the Author
ELCAMEDIA has proven experience of achieving ROI from CSR: developing clear steps for action helping international companies identify, adopt and implement CSR strategies throughout their organisations for the greater benefit of all stakeholders.

These include the necessity for a sound operational CSR strategy, a specific environmental and social strategy for the identification and management of related issues, and best practice in the field of approach, reports and communication when it comes to presenting the business to the wider world.

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