How Community Friends Defines Carbon Offsets

Carbon Offsets are not always easy to understand partly because offsets can take many forms. It is important to understand the quality of the offset being offered as low-quality offsets can sometimes cause more harm than good by displacing villagers or promoting unhealthy mono-crops to maximize offset revenue. Regardless of the offset quality, it is important to understand that offsets are not a solution and certainly not an excuse to fly or drive. Conservation by lowering our carbon footprint is critical.

What exactly is a carbon offset?

A carbon offset is a financial instrument representing a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Although there are six primary categories of greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas reductions are measured in terms of carbon dioxide. One carbon offset represents one metric ton of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases (CO2e).

Carbon offsets are generated from emissions-reducing projects, most commonly renewable energy projects like wind farms, biomass energy, or hydroelectric dams. They can also be created from energy efficiency projects, the destruction of industrial pollutants or agricultural byproducts, destruction of landfill methane, or, forestry projects.

Who buys carbon offsets?

There are two primary markets for carbon offsets, the compliance market and the voluntary market. We are selling to the voluntary market. The compliance market, governed by the Kyoto Protocol, is where large organizations and governments buy carbon offsets to comply with greenhouse gas emissions caps. For the compliance market, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), validates and measures projects to ensure they produce authentic benefits and are genuinely “additional” activities that would not otherwise have been undertaken.

The voluntary market is much smaller, although growing rapidly. The voluntary carbon market can be divided into two distinct components: the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) and the over-the-counter (OTC) market. The CCX is a structured and closely-monitored cap-and-trade system that organizations join voluntarily. The OTC market consists of the deal-by-deal, highly fragmented voluntary transactions not under an emissions cap. The OTC market and its reputation have suffered because some offset provider’s carbon reduction claims were judged to be exaggerated or misleading. A variety of verification standards have since cropped up, including the Voluntary Carbon Standard, Green-e Climate, Chicago Climate Exchange and the CDM Gold Standard.

Why would I buy a carbon offset on the voluntary market?

Individuals, companies, or governments purchase carbon offsets to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use, and other sources. For example, an individual might purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions caused by their personal air travel, work commute, or personal consumption to live a “carbon neutral” lifestyle. Community Friends’ carbon offsets are for people who want to buy offsets on the voluntary non-compliance market while supporting our humanitarian programs.

There are tax advantages to purchasing offsets through Community Friends. Community Friends is a non-profit organization in the USA and these purchases fund our charitable work. Individuals may take a tax deduction as allowable by law.

Trees and Carbon

Sequestering carbon by planting trees uses photosynthesis to remove carbon from the atmosphere by incorporating it into biomass and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. The carbon will eventually return to the atmosphere when the trees die, but at a much later date. In a healthy forest it is assumed that as trees die, they are naturally replaced. To insure that the new trees we plant are not cut down, we share the carbon offset revenue with the local communities as well as using profits to finance the humanitarian programs to serve the communities.

Many tree-planting carbon offset projects have the controversial side-effect of introducing fast-growing invasive foreign species that end up damaging native forests and reducing biodiversity. But unlike those tree-planting operations, we are moving the land away from mono-culture by planting some ten different varieties of trees as well as understory plants and ground covers which promote the soil, water, and biodiversity improvements that are needed in a healthy environment. Using agro-forestry principles to the selection of tree and plant species, we are opting for fruit bearing trees such as Jack, Mango, and Avocado, which provide for nutritional and medicinal improvements to the community as well as economic stimulation.

A key principle of our program is partnering with the local community to benefit the local community. We are using local expertise from both the villagers who have worked on the land for four generations and the local university. Sri Lankans design and implement all of our programs with some consultation from the USA. Unlike many other carbon offset programs, our program is designed to make sure that both the local and global community benefit.

We have also established a Mi (also known as mahwa or mahua) tree nursery in a rural Sri Lankan village. Mi trees were once an important part of rice cultivation because Mi tree fruit attracts bats, which fertilize rice crops. Oil from its seeds can be sold for skincare, soap or detergents, vegetable butter and fuel. After oil extraction, the seed remains can be used as a natural fertilizer. With the introduction of chemical fertilizers, farmers were told they could cut down the Mi trees. Soon farmers were dependent on the chemicals. Reintroducing Mi trees to farmers and educating them on the value of natural fertilizer will reduce the need of oil-based synthetic fertilizer and keep money circulating in the community.

What’s my personal carbon footprint?

The carbon footprint of the average American is roughly 20.4 metric tons. Try to get an estimate of your individual carbon footprint.

For example, you can calculate your total carbon travel emissions using some rules of thumb:

* Car Miles: Multiply the miles you drive by $0.011 (10,000 car miles = $110.00)
* Air Miles: Multiply the total number of miles by $0.0184. (10,000 air miles = $184.00)

Some people buy twice the amount or even ten times the amount to recognize that there are other tailpipe emissions besides carbon and with the understanding that there are many support services to get a plane in the air. Buying offsets for friends and relatives is an educational gift idea to help people learn how easy it is to offset emissions.

How much will a voluntary carbon offset from Community Friends cost?

We are pricing each carbon offset at $27. This includes the cost of project design and management of the land. Most importantly our carbon offset revenue funds our humanitarian program work and employs local villagers. There are less expensive offsets sold on the market; however, the quality may be less as well. As mentioned earlier, some offsets actually can cause more harm than good by displacing indigenous people and using mono-crops to maximize offset profits. Other offsets simply benefit the organization creating the program, without regard to the local population. Community Friends’ offset program not only reduces the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it builds the local indigenous community in a social just and environmentally healthy manner.

How do I know what I’m buying actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions?

Recent years have been called the “wild west” period of the voluntary carbon markets. There have been widespread allegations that the projects underlying many carbon offsets do not yield any actual reductions in carbon emissions. The quality of an offset is important. In the voluntary retail market, there is no one standard and buyers can be easily confused because offsets can be complicated. Some carbon offsets have no additionality and no certification and sell for as little as $3 per metric ton. Some organizations buy these low quality offsets and then resell them at a higher price to unsuspecting buyers. Higher quality offsets are verified or certified to a trusted third-party standard.

Community Friends is selling the offsets it produces, rather than reselling someone else’s offsets. This means we personally monitor the amount of carbon we are sequestering or offsetting. To measure the greenhouse gases our projects reduce, we have partnered with a local naturalist and university to audit the project and verify that our numbers are accurate, like a store doing inventory of its products on the shelf.

Transparency is very important to the integrity of offsets. We believe that buyers should be able to judge the quality of the offsets they purchase. To ensure that all of our buyers can understand and trust our offsets, we disclose everything about our process and invite buyers to be our guests and tour our land to meet the villagers who are benefitting from this economic development model. If you have plans to visit Sri Lanka, we invite you to tour the projects.

What are “co-benefits”?

While the primary goal of carbon offsets is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, offset projects can also lead to improvements in the quality of life for a local community. These additional improvements are termed community co-benefits, are considered when evaluating and comparing carbon offset projects. Co-benefits of emissions-reducing projects include serving and engaging the local community through economic development projects that produce a revenue stream to help with poverty. The co-benefits of Community Friends’ projects are at the heart of our mission to help alleviate suffering for the most economically-disadvantaged people.