Purchasing Carbon Offsets FAQs
Please email Meredith Leigh [email protected] with comments, or to suggest additional questions be added to this list.
This guidance focuses on the voluntary carbon market. Most campuses are not part of a compliance market (such as the California Cap and Trade Program) and all offset purchases are voluntary. While there are many standards that issue offsets through the voluntary market, the most widely used are the Climate Action Reserve (CAR), the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), the American Carbon Registry (ACR) and Gold Standard (GS). Carbon credits issued through any of these programs can be used to fulfil the Climate Leadership Commitments.
When purchasing offsets to cancel a portion of their emissions, campuses should look for offsets that are third-party verified. All credits issued from any of the major carbon standards (CAR, VCS, ACR, GS) will have undergone a robust verification process by an ISO accredited third-party verifier. These credits are also all tracked on registries to ensure emissions reductions are not double counted. Credits from standards not discussed above should be scrutinized carefully to confirm that they have been verified, are the result of a real project, have not been sold or retired previously, and are otherwise legitimate.
Carbon offsets can be generated by any type of project that reduces or eliminates greenhouse gas emissions beyond a business-as-usual scenario. Common types of offset projects include reforestation and improved forest management, methane gas capture and destruction, fuel switching, clean cookstoves, and energy efficiency. There are many more types of projects that can generate carbon offsets however. To get a feel for what project types exist, visit the methodologies page for the standards mentioned above.
The vintage year refers to the year the emission reduction occurred. Some projects will issue offsets every year, while some will issue offsets in multi-year increments. As a rule of thumb, campuses should look for offsets where the emission reductions took place in a similar timeframe to the emissions they are offsetting. Generally, offsets with a vintage year within 1-3 years of the emissions to be cancelled out are most desirable. Offsets with a vintage greater than 5 years in the past may be considered older, and less desirable.
Most offset projects are listed publicly, and campuses can visit the standards’ websites for lists of projects. VCS projects can be found through Verra’s VCS Project Database, ACR projects are listed on this registry, and CAR projects are listed here. Gold Standard also provides a list of projects. Keep in mind that some of these projects may be completed and no longer issuing offsets.
Carbon offsets issued through these standards will also have publicly available documentation on the project, emissions reduction calculations, and third-party verification.
The price of carbon offsets varies widely from <$1 per ton to >$50 per ton. The price depends on the type of carbon offset project, the carbon standard under which it was developed, the location of the offset, the co-benefits associated with the project, and the vintage year. Campuses may obtain a lower price per offset for larger volume purchases. Ecosystem Marketplace publishes yearly reports on the voluntary carbon market, which track information such as average offset prices and total global transactions. Here is the most recent report. The average offset prices are between roughly $3-$6 per ton.
- Ecosystem Marketplace publishes yearly reports on the voluntary carbon market.
- Duke University’s Carbon Offsets Initiative provides general guidance on offsets, including a Request for Proposals guide.
- The GHG Management Institute and Stockholm Environment Institute offer a comprehensive Carbon Offset Guide.
Co-benefits are positive outcomes from a carbon offset project, beyond the actual greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Co-benefits may be social, economic, or environmental. Examples of co-benefits include jobs created, health benefits, pollution mitigation (other than carbon), supporting gender equality, renewable energy generation, biodiversity, and education. Co-benefits are often the deciding factor in carbon offset purchases. Many carbon offset developers list the project co-benefits in terms of how they contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
There are many types of companies and organizations that sell carbon offsets. Some project owners and developers sell offsets directly to the end buyer; campuses can reach out to contacts listed on project documents to inquire about this. There are also a number of offset providers that serve as intermediaries and can supply campuses with offsets from multiple projects depending on campus needs. These intermediaries may be retailers (that purchase and resell offsets) or brokers (that facilitate transactions but do not own offsets). Below is a list of offset suppliers that can be used as a starting point. There are additional offset suppliers not listed here.
|Company||Website||Company Location||Sample Types of Projects|
|3 Degrees||3degreesinc.com||San Francisco, CA||Sustainable Forestry, Landfill Gas, Livestock Methane, Industrial Processes
CAR, ACR, Gold Standard
|BEF||www.b-e-f.org||Portland, OR||Improved Forest Management, REDD+, Wind Energy, Waste Heat Capture, Landfill Gas Destruction
|BlueSource||www.bluesource.com||Holladay, UT||Forestry, Landfill, Ozone Depleting Substances, Coal Mine Methane, Efficient Cookstoves, Transportation, Waste Water Treatment, Fugitive Methane Emissions, Agricultural Methane, Industrial Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Fuel Switching
VCS, ACR, CAR
|Carbon Credit Capital||carboncreditcapital.com||New York City, NY||Sustainable Forestry, Biogas, Organics Composting, Renewable Energy
VCS, Gold Standard, Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
|Carbon Fund||www.carbonfund.org||East Aurora, NY||Forestry, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy
ACR, CAR, Gold Standard, VCS, CDM
|Clear Sky Climate Solutions||www.clearskyclimatesolutions.com||Missoula, MO||Forestry
|ClimeCo||www.climeco.com||Boyertown, PA||Nitrous Oxide Abatement, Composting
|Cool Effect||www.cooleffect.org||Kentfield, CA||Grassland Protection, Methane Capture, Nitrous Oxide Abatement, Clean Cookstoves, Renewable Energy, Biogas
CAR, Gold Standard, CDM, VCS
|Element Markets||www.elementmarkets.com||Houston, TX||Forestry, Landfill, Ozone Depleting Substances, Coal Mine Methane, Transportation, Renewable Energy, Fuel Switching|
|Impact Carbon||www.impactcarbon.org||San Francisco, CA||Clean Cookstoves, Fuel Switch,
|Native Energy||nativeenergy.com||Burlington, VT||Renewable Energy, Methane Gas Capture, Land Use, Clean Water
Gold Standard, CAR, VCS
|Sterling Planet||www.sterlingplanet.com||Alpharetta, Georgia||Solar panels, wind farms, clean fuels and energy efficiency, tree planting, methane capture, landfill gas recovery|
|TerraPass||www.terrapass.com||San Francisco, CA||Landfill Gas Capture, Wind, Coal Mine Methane
|The Climate Trust||climatetrust.org||Portland, Oregon||Forestry, Grassland Conservation, Livestock Digester
CAR, ACR, VCS