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“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” ― Lawrence Clark Powell

Not All Carbon Offsets are Equal

Posted on 3/5/2018 by in carbon offsets carbon reduction fund carbon reductions chesapeake bay foundation
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Those of us in the carbon offset market like to drive home the point that eliminating your carbon footprint is as simple as purchasing carbon offsets for every metric ton (tonne) of carbon emitted as a result of one’s carbon footprint on Earth. We often say, since carbon in the atmosphere is a global issue it doesn’t really matter where that carbon offset comes from. If you put a tonne of carbon in the atmosphere in Indiana, carbon offsetting allows you to neutralize that impact with a tonne of carbon offsets from a carbon reduction project in Africa.

 

But are all carbon offsets equal?

On a tonne per tonne basis, only, all carbon offsets may be considered equal once they are certified.  But there are other circumstances where carbon offsets from certain projects have additional benefits that make them more worthy than others. Carbon offsets that reduce additional pollutants other than carbon are an obvious choice. For example, other greenhouse gas offsets, such as nitrous oxides, that have a carbon equivalency, but also reduce nitrogen from our rivers and streams have greater value because they not only reduce global warming, but they reduce pollution in our water ways. Carbon offsets that have a nearby regional impact, environmentally, or even socially, are other examples. 

Sterling Planet and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

This brings to mind a special carbon offset project that Sterling Planet has been involved with for almost eight years. In the mid-Atlantic Region, the Chesapeake Bay is an example of building environmental program success. The Chesapeake Bay was once pronounced largely dead in the early 1980’s by the Baltimore Sun. A group of prominent Republicans, recognizing the bay’s decline; U.S. Senator Charles Mathias, EPA Administrator Russell Train, Interior Secretary Rogers Morton, and community leader Arthur Sherwood, created the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) in 1967 to develop programs for its restoration. The bay is one of the largest estuaries in the world and is the ultimate collection point for waste from over 18 million people who live in the bay’s watershed, an area that encompasses six states and the District of Columbia. 

One of the critical issues in the bay has been the high percentage of dead zones brought about from nitrous oxides and phosphorous draining into the bay from the Susquehanna River in the North, the James River in the South, and the myriad of creeks that feed them and the rivers in between. Planting trees and riparian buffer zones to filter out the nitrous oxides and phosphorous before they enter the water system has become one of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s key functions. However, it is a costly and labor-intensive activity. 

Using Carbon Proceeds to Plant Trees

Recognizing that planting trees and riparian buffer zones also soaks up carbon in the atmosphere, and could be considered a carbon offset, Sterling Planet and WGL Energy Services, Inc. (WGL Energy), a local energy company, approached CBF in 2010 with a bold plan to encourage carbon offset development and sales to customers seeking to reduce their environmental footprint. WGL Energy, is a retail energy supplier and offers CleanSteps® Carbon Offsets matched to customer’s natural gas usage. For every carbon offset sold, Sterling Planet and WGL Energy contribute an amount to a fund (the Carbon Reduction Fund - CRF) to support additional planting of trees and buffer zones. Over eight years the CRF has grown to over $1.5 million with trees being planted from Virginia to Pennsylvania. Over 300,000 metric tons of carbon offsets have been sold to date, representing the energy carbon footprint of 15,000 households.

Chesapeake Bay back in the Oyster Business

Recent reports show the bay is getting cleaner, that the dead zones are fading and oysters and blue crab have returned. This week, Sterling Planet was invited, with WGL Energy, to attend the third annual DC on a Half Shell Oyster Bar Event with oysters served from eight different locations around the Bay. Indeed, the oysters have returned, but the Chesapeake Bay is not out of the woods yet. Many say we are only at the halfway point and significant cuts at the EPA threaten a number of the programs that have helped clean up the bay. One program that is independent of the pending EPA cuts is the Sterling Planet – WGL Energy – CRF program, about which Will Baker, Executive Director, CBF, told us at the event “the Sterling Program is a really great program for the Bay.” It continues to grow as more and more people and organizations seek to offset their carbon footprint. 

When your organization offsets its footprint by purchasing carbon offsets through the Sterling Planet –WGL Energy program, you not only reduce your carbon footprint but you ensure ongoing clean-up efforts for the Chesapeake Bay continue and expand. So maybe there are carbon offset opportunities out there that are clearly superior to simply a tonne of reduced carbon. Not all carbon offsets are equal! Oysters anyone?

 

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