Why Relying On Carbon Offset Credit Programs Isn’t Enough

Illustration by: Credits: Christina Animashaun/Vox magazine Credits: Christina Animashaun/Vox 

The allure of carbon offset programs is obvious: They allow us to imagine a world in which we can erase the environmental impact of our actions by purchasing carbon credits that support climate-beneficial projects. 

In a society that increasingly demands instant gratification, the idea of righting our wrongs with a simple purchase is endlessly appealing. And, as global climate change worsens — forcing individuals and organizations to reckon with their contributions to a mounting catastrophe — there’s comfort in thinking the solution could be as simple as spending some money to make amends.

But, as is true with nearly all “quick-fix” promises, purchasing carbon credits has been criticized by many. Let’s take a look at the carbon offsetting landscape today.

What Are Carbon Offsets and How Do Carbon Credits Work?

Consumers have the ability to purchase carbon offset credits via numerous carbon offsetting organizations, and a growing trend gives them the ability to offset emissions in conjunction with a purchase, such as buying an airline flight ticket.

Credits: Rodrigo Abd/ Vox A reforestation assistant Credits: Rodrigo Abd/ Vox
A reforestation assistant measures a newly planted tree in a field damaged during illegal gold mining in Madre de Dios, Peru, on March 29, 2019. In three years, the team has planted more than 42 hectares with native seedlings, the largest reforestation effort in the Peruvian Amazon to date.

Organizations, which generally have significantly higher emissions levels than individuals, have become a growing market for carbon offsetting. In the EU, for example, where organizations face strict carbon caps, purchasing offsets can help companies keep their net emissions within the legal limit. Huge corporations such as Amazon and Nestlé are using carbon offsets to reach their sustainability goals and carbon neutrality.

The carbon-credits market is, in recent years, booming, and its existence is largely positive. Where systems and infrastructure haven’t developed quickly enough to keep up with our sustainability needs, being able to offset the environmental impact of our actions can be a huge win.

Do Carbon Offsets Work?

It’s an amazing idea on paper, but carbon offsetting has received some valid criticism. 

First, the pay-to-fix concept circumvents more difficult (and increasingly important) conversations about the longevity of our existing infrastructure. If we allow businesses to simply buy carbon offsets to be accountable for their environmental impact, what incentive will they have to enact more lasting sustainability plans? What about cutting their emissions or designing more eco-friendly systems and infrastructure? The same questions could be directed to policymakers, who are often too accepting of these short-term wins and not adamant enough about long-term progress.

Equally concerning is the possibility that some carbon offset programs aren’t doing what they claim, or even making things worse. Recent studies of some of the largest offset programs suggested that the majority of their so-called offsetting wasn’t actually valid. And examples exist of carbon-offset projects that damaged local communities and ecosystems.

Credits: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor via Getty ImagesCredits: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images
The Dhule Wind Project by Indian energy giant Suzlon erected wind turbines in this rural area of Western India, displacing farmers and cutting down trees to sell carbon offsets to foreigners.

How We Think About Carbon Offsetting

While we wish there was a piece-of-cake solution for our monumental worldwide carbon emissions problem, we at MODHER are lucky to have realized long ago that doing things the right way is rarely easy. Starting this business with our specifications for respecting people, animals, and the planet has been a (worthwhile!) challenge since Day 1.

We believe that the important work of analyzing our systems, identifying where they’re creating harm, and enacting change warrants being done — by everybody, but especially by those who are responsible for the most people, outputs, and potential harm. We believe that the first step to solving any problem is to get to the root of it. That’s the only way to create lasting change.

Our support of carbon offsetting is only as a supplement to greater efforts. Everything we do as humans on this planet creates an environmental footprint of some size. Because MODHER is unable to completely remove our environmental footprint through better business practices, we supplement with carbon offsets credits.

MODHER uses carbon offsets to cover the emissions that result from the entire production of each product using a company that we researched heavily called EcoCart. The offsets we purchase specifically support Northern California’s Garcia River Forest Project, which is close to our homes and hearts.

Credits: ©Matt Gerhart - https://www.conservationfund.org/ The Garcia River Forest projectCredits: © Matt Gerhart - https://www.conservationfund.org/
The Garcia River Forest project is located on California’s North coast in Mendocino County. See more

We’re continually encouraged by the hard work of our network of sustainable organizations that are making tough choices and working against the grain to reimagine the future of business with loads of ingenuity — and very few shortcuts.