Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Washington Post on carbon offsets

Cost of Saving the Climate Meets Real-World Hurdles
By David A. Fahrenthold and Steven Mufson

Washington Post Staff WritersThursday, August 16, 2007; Page A01

On the Internet, erasing your role in climate change seems as easy as ordering a DVD -- and cheaper than a cup of coffee a day.

With a click, a credit card and $99, visitors can pay a Silver Spring nonprofit group,, to "offset" a year's worth of greenhouse-gas emissions. Whatever the customer put into the atmosphere -- by flying, driving, using electricity -- the site promises to cancel out, by funding projects that reduce pollutants.

Sites such as this one, offering absolution from the modern nag of climate guilt, have created a $55 million industry that once would have been beyond the greenest of imaginations. The market for "voluntary carbon offsets" now encompasses dozens of sellers and thousands of buyers, including individuals and corporations.

But in some cases, these customers may be buying good feelings and little else....

Critics say that offset sellers usually have good motives. But the market is confusing enough that, this month, the Federal Trade Commission said it would look into whether consumers are being adequately protected.

"It's just like the Wild West," said Frank O'Donnell of the group Clean Air Watch. "There are no controls, no standards."

(the full story at )


Tom said...


It's a shame that the article didn't cover the good progress on standards that we desperately need.

I'm sure you are aware your colleagues at organizations like ED, NRDC, WRI, WWF, The Climate Group, and CRS are all working hard to assemble a standard for the voluntary carbon market, and making good progress. But your readers may not know and may benefit from an overview.

I also haven't seen your comments on the drafts of any of those standards? Is there a reason that you didn't comment?

Sean said...

Hi Frank:

I have to agree with Tom that this article, sadly, did not pay any homage to the current standards in place, nor the new and more complete standards under development.

Most offset organizations, including, certify, register, validate, measure and audit their green certificates and offset offerings, as they should. There are several highly regarded and widely used certifications including Green-e; Environmental Resources Trust; the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance. Certified green power is a mainstream strategy to reduce pollution and has been embraced by household names such Pepsi, IBM and Starbucks, as well as the US, State of Pennsylvania and Montgomery County Governments.

Voluntary carbon and green-energy investments have had remarkable results. For example, Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) have made nearly half of all the new wind energy built over the last ten years possible. At, our donors alone are offsetting almost a billion pounds of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of removing 100,000 cars from the road for a year.

L.L. Norton said...

Strange that these fellows don't want to use their last names. Wonder what they are trying to hide? Maybe the FTC investigation will find out. Go, Ed Markey!