Carbon Offsetting for Digital Businesses
10 March 2022
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In an effort to cut down on their carbon footprint, more businesses than ever are considering carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting allows companies to compensate for the carbon emissions they are producing, or are struggling to cut down, by investing in schemes that help to absorb carbon elsewhere.
Here at Nivo we offset our carbon we cannot cut out, which helps us become carbon negative. As a digital business, we are also on the quest to help our fellow website owners and clients to understand their digital carbon footprint, and to offset it, where reductions are not possible.
Carbon offsetting is a way of negating the carbon emissions you release into the atmosphere. Businesses often invest in carbon offsetting schemes if they are working to be carbon neutral or carbon negative. As a business, it is impossible to completely cut out all carbon emissions. Websites themselves produce large amounts of CO2. Websites can be designed to be low carbon, however, by investing in schemes that reduce or store carbon, companies can work to completely ‘offset’ their emissions.
When discussing digital carbon footprints, it is easy to put sole emphasis on the energy use of the host and servers, but it is important to remember that our laptops, PCs and phones themselves have large carbon emissions associated with them. Figuring out your business’ digital carbon footprint is the first step you want to take when working to be more sustainable. There are several calculator tools out there; we at Nivo are also happy to take a look at your digital carbon footprint.
There are many different types of carbon offsetting schemes. Forest preservation, rewilding schemes and tree planting are perhaps the most well known types, but there are a variety of projects that reduce fossil fuels in other ways. Investing in renewables, fairtrade projects helping communities reduce their own carbon emissions, or better farming methods, for example.
Certified schemes offer carbon credits to purchase; one carbon credit represents one tonne of carbon emissions, so businesses can effectively buy these credits to cancel equivalent amounts of their own emission.
Selecting the right carbon offsetting scheme is important. Some of them are considered to be more effective for the overall climate mitigation than others.
Supporting renewable projects are arguably the best form of offset, as these are addressing the focal problem: using fossil fuels for energy. Wind projects are thought to be some of the most sustainable as they offer new jobs and help an area or country become energy-independent.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and act as carbon stores. Planting trees is a popular carbon offsetting choice. But, with the currently alarming levels of deforestation, it cannot make up for all carbon lost. It can also not replace the lost wildlife, or mitigate the issues brought to those who experienced the destruction of forests they once explored, lived, or worked in. Trees also absorb carbon slowly until they reach their full size. After that, they remain there and hold the carbon (unless they are cut down). They would need to remain in place for centuries to act as effective carbon stores.
Offset schemes protecting existing forests, such as REDD projects (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), have become more popular instead. However, they are controversial. These schemes may only shift deforestation around, which is often caused by complex social issues in the first place. Ultimately, it is hard to be sure that they are helping rather than harming.
You could also give to projects that may be able to create more transformational change, such as political and educational projects.
Most importantly, you should select individual projects that are quality standard checked by widely recognised certifying bodies. Nivo recommends and supports schemes via the Gold Standard, an industry-leading certification programme that has both social and environmental benefits.
Gold Standard-certified “Climate+” projects have a wider socio-economic benefit to communities – for example employment, health improvements, biodiversity and other factors that contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They also allow for independent monitoring which means that carbon savings and reductions can be seen and tracked by developers outside the corporation. This ensures accurate and unbiased reporting.
Here at Nivo, going carbon negative is part of our green pledge. We decided to go beyond net zero to actively eliminate the carbon our company produced over time.
It is important to remember that carbon offsetting is not a universal answer for climate mitigation. On its own, it won’t do much to reduce the volume of emissions being generated. Offsetting schemes also raise ethical questions: should we really be getting people from low-income communities to reduce their emissions on our behalf?
The first and most important step therefore is to actively work to reduce emissions. As a digital agency we have already been working to significantly cut down on our digital carbon footprint. Read Nivo’s story on how we are minimising our digital carbon footprint, and we are encouraging our clients to do the same by providing sustainable and climate-friendly website design services.
Ultimately, carbon credits should not be bought as an alternative to eliminate a business’s carbon footprint. However, no matter how technologically advanced we may be, a business cannot cut out all of its carbon. The right offsetting scheme offers the opportunity to negate the remaining carbon emission, and to possibly take one’s climate action further by becoming carbon negative.