Monday, June 9, 2008

Choosing a Carbon Offset Provider

The third post in the carbon series deals with choosing a carbon offset provider. In today’s climate of unregulated providers, this can be a “buyer beware” situation.

Which offset provider do I pick?

There are many organizations that are able to provide carbon offsets, and many more that are emerging daily as the ‘carbon market’ grows. Because each program is different it is critically important that meeting and event planners make informed decisions when selecting their offset provider.

Key questions to ask your prospective offset provider include:

1. Do they provide offsets for meetings and events? Choose a provider that has experience with events. Ask them for references of planners you can contact.

2. How do they calculate event emissions? Do the calculations include transportation, buildings and/or manufactured products? Some offsetters will only calculate emissions for air, however others can also account for emissions from ground transportation, food production, waste hauling and building operations. Also, ask providers about any assumptions they make when calculating emissions. Some calculations are based on national or state averages, others on actual emissions by your vendors. Try to be as accurate as possible.

3. Do they only calculate emissions associated with climate change? Or do they include emissions that affect public health? Most offset providers will only calculate greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide. Others may also calculate sulfur dioxide or particulates which are believed to impact human health locally.

4. What type of event reports are they able to produce? Negotiate what kind of data you want your offsetter to provide. Common measurables we ask for include a breakdown of emissions volume by type, estimated fuel use, and total miles traveled.

5. What percentage of offset funds are retained for administration? This question is critical. Our research shows fees my vary from 3% to 50% of the offset cost, with the average lying close to 20%.

6. Is the offset provider a broker? Some offsetters manage their own projects, others broker or sell the projects of others. Using a broker has the benefit of accessing a diversity offset projects that meet your needs, however can mean you pay higher fees than dealing with the project provider directly.

7. Is the organization a registered charity and able to provide audited financial statements? For some of your attendees and sponsors the ability to provide a taxable benefit may be important. If not, you might also consider private offset providers.

8. Are you certified? Certification for offset providers is only just emerging. The two most common are the Gold Standard and the Voluntary Carbon Standard. Not many offsetters are certified at present, but ask if your provider is working toward certification or has undertaken any verification of their projects.

Our organization has struggled with making the right decision for both ourselves and our clients. We have recently undertaken a vetting process of over 25 offset providers and developed a spreadsheet to help. It is now available in Meeting Strategies Worldwide’s MeetGreen® Toolbox along with a Primer on Carbon Offset Certification. The Toolbox is available on

My thanks to Shawna McKinley for the Carbon Offset Primer which served as the basis for this series.

1 comment:

Mira said...

Hi Nancy,

Thanks for the blog and for getting the word out about carbon offsets for meetings. We participated in the data collection that Shawna worked on, but I am also happy to answer any other questions that you might have about TerraPass. Feel free to contact me at mira at terrapass dot com.

Best regards,