23 Jun 2020

The power of one offset


We each have a solution at our fingertips which has the power to tackle a deep, uncomfortable reality playing out for millions around the world right now. As consumers and employees, we can collectively deliver much needed climate finance to the most needed corners of the world. This is what the Paris Agreement and COVID-19 demands of us. Carbon offsets play a critical role.

In 2005 I travelled through northern India for six weeks. Gobsmacked by the intensity of colour, volume of people and spice of the food, I developed a deep appreciation for what extreme poverty looks like.

These memories were jolted back into front of mind tonight when a news article confronted me with the reality that the world’s poorest are currently living through.

COVID-19 has massively disrupted food supply chains, cutting off millions from their daily meal. Schools have shut down, deepening the education gap especially for young girls. The door for hunger and exploitation is wide open.

Having worked in the countries where such vulnerabilities are now so acute, I’ve learned to try and see myself as part of the solution, whether that be in a large or small way. Never has this mindset been more important than today.

You see, although the connection between this situation and our day-to-day lives might seem worlds apart, they are actually deeply intertwined.

Firstly, take our roles as consumers. The massive increase in delivery services over the last couple of months is in fact connected by our national postal service’s commitment to carbon neutrality. Behind this product are carbon offsets which deliver benefits that go to the heart of the uncomfortable reality; your carbon neutral package is directly funding clean renewable energy in southern India which also supports immunisation clinics and educational facilities. Such services are more critical now than ever.

And yes, soon we will get the chance again to ‘tick the box’ and fly carbon neutral. We will get to do the same with hotels, car trips and other travel services thanks to software like BlueHalo. All of these services will be on the rise according to the latest Newgate research.

If you think this is all a bit simplistic, and that we can’t simply ‘consume’ our way to helping others, you’re right. But the point is that we make purchasing choices every day, and there is a small, but significant role we can play in choosing the products and brands we interact with. Backing brands that are carbon neutral is a very good place to start.

Secondly, take our roles as sustainability managers, corporate leaders, business executives and the like. In such ‘uncertain times’ we should remember that the most certain business signal we have is the pathway to decarbonisation. The Paris Agreement was the mother of all market signals. And here again is where offsets play a big role in delivering much needed climate finance.

Offsets are not a new instrument (albeit one that is commonly misunderstood), but they are a critical part of the climate strategy for businesses properly managing their climate risk exposure, responding to customer pressure and future-proofing themselves by internalising the cost of carbon today.

Offsets are also a critical vehicle for immediate injections of much needed climate finance. The sort of finance that is vital for countries whose budgets don’t support multi-billion-dollar bailouts for those most vulnerable.

Take a recent example of our client, Lion who became the first Australian large-scale brewer to go carbon neutral. Certainly, this commitment aligned with the strategic direction of the brand but it will also provide for the communities supplying their offsets a lasting legacy by mobilising immediate finance to keep their offset projects going.

This is what ‘leadership in a time of crisis’ looks like.

Some at this point will argue that using offsets from the past to achieve carbon neutrality today is not resulting in the flow of finance. Indeed, there is some merit to this, and is why we work with projects where any purchase of previous years’ offsets is set to support the forward expansion of more cookstoves, more renewable energy, more forest protection; more opportunities to inject desperately needed finance into the pockets of people left so vulnerable today.

The more we see this responsibility as ours collectively, just as we have done with COVID-19, the faster we can achieve the dual objectives of getting the world back on its feet in a way that is consistent with the decarbonisation pathway we critically need to be tracking.

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