13 Aug 2020

Let’s talk about offsets

Let's talk about offsets

Carbon offsets still seem to be a taboo subject for some organisations looking at their climate strategy. It’s time we sit down. Take a deep breath and understand a bit more about how they work. We need to learn to love offsets.

Remember that awkward conversation with the parents or school teacher about sex education? The old TV would be rolled out. The ‘Where Did I Come From’ video played. You slid down in your seat. Remained silent. And counted down the seconds until it was over.

Sometimes in client meetings, I am strangely thrown back to these moments. There seems to be an awkwardness around mentioning carbon offsetting born out of a misunderstanding of the fundamental role they play in giving life to an organisation’s climate strategy.

Abstinence is not an approach

Many critiques of carbon offsetting suggest that you should avoid them at all cost. They are wrongly seen as a cop-out of committing to carbon reductions. They are said to delay mitigation and have credibility issues.

Much like the notion of teenage abstinence, this thinking is misguided, naïve and set up for exposing an organisation to further risk.

Offsets do, and will continue to, play a key role in any organisation’s climate strategies. Look at the strategies of organisations like Google and Microsoft, or our partners at Lion, a2 Milk Company, Lendlease etc. These companies all effectively position offsets alongside renewable energy, energy efficiency and technology change to cut emissions. In fact, in every corporate case I have worked on, they are seen as a catalyst for these investments since offsets help to cost in the price of carbon today and therefore can act to improve the business case for these other parts of the strategy.

Where did I come from?

Babies don’t come from cabbage patches. And offsets don’t just magically appear on a website for any organisation to buy either.

The process of establishing, verifying, validating, pricing and marketing an offset is complex. Naively walking into the market and blindly purchasing credits can expose your organisation and its brand to unwanted risk.

It can also leave you blind to the costs of future offset purchases going forward and thus exposes your carbon neutral or net-zero strategy to unwanted cost fluctuations.

Learn to love offsets

Sex is a fundamental part of any good relationship, but it’s not the only component.

Similarly, offsets offer more than just the instant gratification that they have helped your organisation cut its emissions today.

Offsets deliver benefits to communities and environments that give your organisation genuine impact legacy. Whether it’s protecting the iconic Amazon forest – the ‘lungs of the Earth’, delivering clean energy to communities, or investing in the restoration of traditional land management. These impacts are real. And they are delivered through climate finance from offsetting. They complete the love relationship between your organisation’s desire to cut emissions and deliver real impact on the ground. Today!

So, let’s cut the awkwardness. Let’s have an open chat about offsets. Let’s embrace them for the amazing instruments they are. And let’s learn to love them.

Adrian Enright is General Manager Corporate; passionate about surfing, family and the unrelenting quest for a healthier future planet.