running a green office

business benefits of off-setting

Carbon is now a hot issue for business. Every company, whatever size, needs to think about how to reduce and manage its carbon footprint. The UK is the first country in the world to set standards for carbon offsetting schemes, and it makes good business sense to reduce and offset.

Cutting energy consumption and travel are the most obvious steps to reduce carbon emissions, but carbon offsets can also be used as a business strategy. Increasingly customers may ask questions about what your business is doing to reduce your impact. You need answers. The first step is to know exactly what your company’s carbon footprint actually is and then you can act upon it.

what is my business carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is simply a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gas produced. Because carbon is one of the biggest gases produced carbon footprints are measured in units of carbon dioxide. For small businesses the main carbon creators are energy and travel. It is quick and straightforward to calculate your own carbon footprint at Duport. All you need to know is your yearly energy usage and travel mileage. Click onto the Duport carbon calculator and follow the simple instructions. It will take only minutes to calculate your business carbon footprint, but then you need to work out what to do with the result. As well as reducing energy and travel you may want to offset some or all of the carbon the business produces. Choose a reputable company to offset with.

what exactly are carbon offsets?
Carbon offsets enable people and organisations to reduce their carbon footprint. Carbon offsets allow carbon dioxide (one of the main greenhouse gases) to be taken out of the atmosphere or reduced in another part of the world. There are several ways of offsetting your carbon footprint. You can plant a tree. Trees breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, this process is called 'carbon sequestration'. Or it is possible to purchase carbon dioxide credits and then not use them. This stops other people, organisations and countries using them. Another alternative is to invest or donate to companies or organisations, which research and develop renewable and sustainable technologies. Or you can buy energy efficient technologies and donate them to developing countries.

what are the business benefits of carbon offsetting?
You can win more customers for a start. If your business offsets its carbon you will demonstrate your green credentials, improve public relations, marketing and brand leadership. Current customers will approve and if you have shareholders they will also be happy. Depending on which company you offset with you may be able to use an offsetting quality mark, which again can boost business. Offsetting demonstrates your commitment to environmental responsibility and also satisfies new investors wishing to invest in your environmentally responsible organisation.

Offsetting can be used as a marketing tool to improve customer retention, attract new clients and help attract the best employees to your business (and staff will be involved in the climate change issue and the business impact). Not only that but you will minimise the risk of your removal from any supply chain on environmental grounds and will meet your legal and corporate social responsibility requirements. Certain businesses already face restrictions, and others are do so voluntarily. It is highly likely all companies will one day be regulated and if you start now you will be prepared.

Offsetting can be a cost-effective way to engage customers in products or services. For example you can offer carbon rewards for your products – perhaps offering to offset 100 grams of carbon for every £1 spent. Very effective. Or you could offer customers the option to offset as part of the package. Maybe offsetting company emissions could be part of a wider environmental management strategy. If you host events or exhibitions you may also choose to repair some of the environmental damage. Basically you choose what suits you.

how do I offset?
Decide what you want to offset. Business operations, customers’ use of products and services, your products and services or perhaps the events you host? If you wish to offset the greenhouse gases from your business operations, first calculate your business carbon footprint.

which companies should you choose to offset with?
This should be simple, but it is not. There are bogus schemes and many that lack transparency and inconsistency. The government recently announced a consultation paper with a view to establishing a 'gold standard’, so that should help. But it announced only four companies, out of the 61 UK offset operators, that appear to meet the guidelines - Pure, Global Cool, Equiclimate and Carbon Offsets have been named by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

So your business could choose one of these. These will certainly provide consumers with assurances that when they pay for offsets the money is spent on projects that deliver CO2 emission reductions. But there is a catch. The government standards are based on the existing Kyoto carbon market where carbon can only be traded if the offset project goes through a rigorous certification process such as that provided under the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Inevitably these schemes focus is on large scale enterprises involving the UN and the EU’s carbon reduction regime. Smaller voluntary projects that seek to reduce carbon emissions on a grassroots level have been excluded. For example less than 1% of the Kyoto-qualifying schemes are in Africa, but many of those funded by voluntary offsets are on the continent. So if you want to help smaller projects you will have to look elsewhere. Many of the smaller projects are good, and although they haven’t got government approval, some will probably get it when the guidelines are finally written. For example First Choice Holidays and lastminute.com have undertaken to meet the standards by the end of the year.

Businesses should offset their carbon with companies they feel comfortable with. As part of our own carbon offsetting scheme, Duport will offset with a mixture of companies, including the government approved companies and also choose several other, smaller firms to deal with. The idea is that Duport will build up a small portfolio to invest our carbon offsetting in. This may change as we monitor the outcomes of our chosen companies.

It is important that offsetting is not used as an excuse to ignore other issues. Your business does not want to give the impression that a bit of carbon offsetting will exempt it from the responsibility of reducing emissions.

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