Why I agree with Greenpeace but still believe in Carbon Offsetting

I agree with recent comments made by Greenpeace UK. They are right to highlight that carbon offsets cannot be used by companies as an alternative to direct action around carbon emissions. This is a concern I share when thinking about the large volume of high quality carbon credits my company Treehouse is working towards bringing to the market. I have raised it with my co-founders many times. Are we not just creating a way for corporates to avoid tackling the pollution they generate? Are we not just helping businesses avoid doing the right thing by giving them an easy out?

Greenpeace are right to be concerned about this. I remain concerned too, but here’s the flip side to this important issue. As I wrote in my last blog, even if a business sprints like record-breaking athlete, powered by millions of dollars it can dedicate solely to achieving carbon neutrality, it is going to take an awful long time to get to a true net zero.

Whilst I share Greenpeace’s concerns and encourage them to continue to shine a light on these issues, I do not wholly agree with remarks that plans being discussed to create a carbon offset regulator, by the Mark Carney-initiated Taskforce for Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets, are “a traders charter written by and for companies that want to buy and sell pollution”. I understand this perspective and share their underlying concerns, yes. But I do not concur with this particular conclusion.

Threats to nature are stark and mounting at quite the clip. Deforestation continues to surge all over the world. Biodiversity is under enormous dangers from the destructive behaviours of humanity. This concerns me gravely. Accordingly, this is why I believe in the concept of forest-backed carbon offsets.

I agree, they are not the solution. I am not condoning the actions of any corporate which buys carbon offsets, promotes their business as Net Zero and says they are an incredibly green company as a result. Erstwhile doing absolutely nothing to drastically shrink their actual carbon footprint. This is intolerable and leaves a bitter taste. It’s greenwashing, disingenuous and needs to be called out as unethical business behaviours.

Carbon offsets can, however, play an important role in accelerating change in the world if they are utilised in the right way. For example, they are a way for corporates to contribute to the bigger climate picture by investing in forest-backed financial instruments that take real action to stem the tide of deforestation, protect biodiversity and support local communities who live there.

It is very important, of course, that the projects these carbon offsets claim to support are real and can prove they add value. Sustainable forest management is important. It needs to consider all ecological, social and economic aspects on an equal footing. It also should not mean that the planned deforestation is “moved” to a different part of a forest that was not originally at risk prior to the creation of a carbon offsetproject. It’s a complex and highly nuanced topic, riddled with risks which corporates need to understand in order to make well-informed investment decisions.

In order for us all to trust the voluntary carbon market moving forward, things need to change. Data transparency of forest-backed carbon offsets is, of course, vital. That is one of many reasons why climate activists and other sceptics are so against the concept of a carbon offset. Where is the proof it is actually helping the forest? I ask this question too. Prove it to me.

Yes, there are some which are better than others and no, I’m not saying all carbon offsets on the market are not doing what they say they are. But sadly, the market has been tainted by bad actors who have spotted an opportunity to make a quick buck. It’s these that cast a shadow over the entire voluntary carbon market and make it so controversial.

How can those corporates who are genuinely trying to do the right thing and invest in carbon offsets as part of a broader roadmap to achieving Net Zero, stand up and defend themselves when they cannot, hand on heart, say with utmost confidence that the offsets they have bought are as impactful as they claim? They can’t, that’s the elephant in the room here, and that’s a problem as it could deter corporates from including carbon offsets as part of their ESG strategies for fear of coming under attack from sceptics.

This is why Treehouse Markets has joined the Taskforce for Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets and is one of the first companies to sign its declaration to support organisations in their mission to achieve a real Net Zero. It is our mission to accelerate the creation of trusted standards and governance within the voluntary carbon market so that corporates that do choose to invest in forest-back carbon offsets as part of their Net Zero roadmaps, can do so with utmost confidence.

We support calls for the creation of a regulator for the voluntary carbon market. We support calls for a substantial strengthening of agreed global standards and transparency of all financial products which claim to support carbon reductions too. It is our mission to collaborate with the new voluntary carbon markets community to accelerate positive change in all these areas.

Looking further into the future, it is our hope that investing in carbon offsets will become intrinsic to the DNA of all businesses long past achieving real Net Zero. Moving into carbon negative territory as we, as a society, transform our cultural behaviours into a climate-first mentality. In time, it is my personal hope that “carbon offset credits” will lose this controversial label too. Instead, that they simply become part of an asset class possibly known as “Climate Defence Investing”. With a portfolio of say, forest-backed carbon, ocean-backed carbon, peat-backed carbon… Some whizzy marketeer will come up with a strong name no doubt!

An investment strategy which is considered not a “nice to have” because it makes a company look good, but because it is expected by society to take a climate-first approach to all things.

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Louisa Bartoszek

Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer of Treehouse. A London-based ESG-focused fintech. Trying to reverse climate change. One tree at a time 🌳