A Consumer's Guide to Becoming Carbon Neutral
Clean Air-Cool Planet's guide also gives high ratings to two other U.S. providers of carbon offsets, the nonprofits Climate Trust and SustainableTravel/MyClimate. But the guide says that nonprofits are not inherently better than for-profits, since some focus narrowly on one type of favored project, such as forestry.
Although planting treeswhich absorb carbon dioxideis a popular form of offset, even it can be controversial. "It's fashionable to think planting a forest in Brazil is the very best thing to do, but it does nothing to fundamentally change the way you use energy," says Jasmine Hyman, marketing director of Gold Standard, a nonprofit carbon watchdog group. A foundation started by the World Wildlife Fund and several indigenous environmental groups in the developing world, Gold Standard seeks to put its brand on what it views as the best offset projectsrenewable energy by developers who have worked closely with local populations, mainly in poorer countries.
Currently, it has only six approved projects, with 50 more seeking approval in the pipeline. The bank HSBC works with Gold Standard to achieve carbon neutrality. Another provider worth considering is Terrapass, a business started by a University of Pennsylvania professor and his students. It offers consumers a simple calculator for figuring vehicle emissions based on make, model, and year. Terrapass has a partnership with Ford, which has been trying to burnish its environmental image.
Just as when considering a charitable donation, consumers should ask what percentage of an organization's funding goes into overhead expenses and what fraction is spent on actual projects. (Some of these do-good donations claim to be tax-deductible and some do not; don't brave this thicket without a tax adviser.)
Consumers also should be sure the company or nonprofit they choose has a credible outside party validating its work. Alsoand here's where it gets really complicatedask if your provider can demonstrate that the offsets are not sold twice, three times, or more.
Advocates say that despite the many issues, carbon offsets are a great way to raise awareness of the global warming issue. They also give Americans a way of chipping in to help, especially now that a Massachusetts Institute of Technology survey shows that citizens now rank climate change as the nation's most pressing environmental concern, even though there's no law in place to address it. But expect to do a lot of research if you want to be sure of making an informed choice. Kermit the Frog didn't know how lucky he was. Being green was easy compared with being neutral.