Guide to going carbon neutral

There are steps you can take to reduce your environmental footprint.
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  • Updated:3 Nov 2007

07.Step 4: Carbon offsets

If you’ve reduced your electricity, gas and petrol consumption and switched to GreenPower electricity, the next step in your quest to become ‘carbon neutral’ is to buy offsets. This means paying someone else to reduce their emissions.

But the offset market is new and poorly regulated, with big differences in the price and quality of offers available. Here are some questions to ask offset providers:

  • What projects or activities does my money pay for?
  • Is the scheme independently audited and verified?
  • Would the reduction in emissions happen even if I don’t buy the offset?
  • What’s the price per tonne of carbon saved?
  • Are you not-for-profit?
  • What other environmental or social benefits does your scheme provide?

The main types of offset are:

  • Tree planting and forestation schemes. You pay a company to plant trees to soak up (‘sequester’) carbon from the atmosphere. These schemes are often criticised because it takes up to 100 years to sequester what’s already emitted, and there’s no guarantee the trees will be around for that long. According to the AGO, Greenhouse Friendly-approved projects are independently verified and have legal arrangements to ensure the forests are permanent.
  • Renewable energy, available as Accredited GreenPower, non-accredited hydro power (which does less to reduce our carbon emissions in the future) or Gold Standard renewable energy (from overseas renewable energy projects).
  • Energy efficiency schemes. For example, companies in the ACT and NSW, operating under the NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, give away free compact fluorescent light bulbs and water-efficient showerheads to consumers. How can they afford to do so? The devices are paid for by electricity retailers, which are required to offset some of their emissions, or by consumers buying voluntary carbon offsets.
  • Australian Greenhouse Friendly accredited projects. The AGO accredits emission reduction projects including energy efficiency and flaring of methane from landfills — these are offered as offsets by some suppliers.

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