What is carbon offsetting?

How does carbon offsetting work? Where are the pitfalls? And how can we ensure they are having an overall benefit to the planet?

Aug. 7, 2020, 10:30 a.m. by Anna Prendergast

Carbon offsetting is one of the easiest ways you can reduce your carbon footprint. Haven’t studied global warming since year nine Geography? Let’s recap: almost everything we do as humans requires energy, and around 80% of the world’s energy is produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. This process in turn emits carbon dioxide (CO2) and other damaging greenhouse gases (such as methane, nitrous oxide and F-gases, commonly referred to as carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e). These gases create the greenhouse effect, which traps heat close to the surface of the earth and is one of the most prominent causes of the climate crisis.

So where does carbon offsetting come in? For every unavoidable tonne of CO2e an individual or business emits, they can compensate for it elsewhere – or ‘offset’ it – using ‘carbon credits’ generated by the funding of projects that reduce emissions in the first place and/or remove CO2e from the atmosphere. A single carbon credit represents the removal of one tonne of carbon from the atmosphere, and all of our projects are certified by Gold Standard. Aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and founded by WWF (one of the world’s leading conservation organisations), it’s considered to be the highest governing bodies to verify carbon credits. Gold Standard verification means that projects must meet seven criteria to ensure all carbon offsets are real, sustainable and authenticated, plus accurately measured, reviewed and approved by an independent party as well as by Gold Standard itself. 

Broadly speaking, offsets are split into two categories: compliance offsets and voluntary offsets. The former refers to mandatory credits that countries and even large-scale businesses are legally required to buy in order to counteract unavoidable carbon output in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol.

As a business, it actually means that by educating our customers first and foremost, we end up with less money than if we simply encouraged you to offset alone

Voluntary offsets, on the other hand, are what we provide here at C Free – offsets that any individual or business can purchase when they don’t have to, but want to reduce their negative impact on the planet. It’s for those that want to go above and beyond and take their positive practises to the next level. Historically, voluntary offsets have been difficult to regulate, making them vulnerable to fraud and giving them a bad name in the industry.

That’s why here at C Free, transparency is crucial – our customers are able to see exactly where their offsets come from and how they work, and we notify every customer when their carbon credits have been ‘retired’ (meaning they can’t be sold on or misused elsewhere). As one of the first companies in the UK to offer a custom-built carbon calculator to our customers directly followed by the opportunity to choose a project to support, we’re streamlining a complex process and making it more accessible than ever. Plus, when you offset with us, you can be confident in our promise that 82% of your money goes directly to the project, while the remaining 18% goes straight back into spreading the word about C Free in order to maximise our long term impact. 



So far, so good. But the climate crisis is widespread and complicated, and it’s important to acknowledge that carbon offsetting is not the solution, rather a single brick in building the foundations of a sustainable lifestyle. There’s a common misconception that by investing in carbon offsets, you are purchasing a ‘permit to pollute’ – but we at C Free urge you to reduce your emissions as much as possible before you offset, which means you’ll have less to compensate for when it comes to your calculation. As a business, it actually means that by educating our customers first and foremost, we end up with less money than if we simply encouraged you to offset alone – but tackling the climate crisis is our priority, and reducing your carbon footprint should always be the first step. Look out for a series of upcoming blogs showing you how – we’ll be covering topics such as food, travel, fashion and tech.