August 4, 2022

Carbon offsets 101: All your carbon offset questions answered

Man and woman standing next to their vehicle as it charges

Climate change is here, leaving many of us wondering what to do about it.


Thankfully governments, companies, organizations, and environmentally-conscious people are already taking steps to curb their carbon emissions and contribute towards a greener tomorrow. Twenty percent of publicly listed corporations in the US voluntarily disclose carbon emissions, and 90% of Fortune 500 companies publish these figures in their corporate social responsibility reports. Many businesses and governments have pledged to achieve carbon neutrality, with Microsoft committing to be carbon negative by 2030, and Amazon promising to be net-zero emissions by 2040.


How is this possible? Some of these firms can directly cut their fossil fuel use and invest in cleaner energy solutions, but many have to find more comprehensive strategies to hit their sustainability targets, often through purchasing renewable energy certificates or carbon offsets. Individual consumers can also purchase both of these tools to cancel out their carbon emissions, achieve their climate goals, and help support clean technology and renewable energy.


If you’re interested in doing your part, you may want to consider taking advantage of the below options for reducing your carbon footprint.


What is my carbon footprint?

Think of your carbon footprint as your personal impact on earth, in terms of how many tons of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by your transportation, electricity use, and consumption of goods and services. For instance, driving a gas-powered car emits carbon, but so does buying a product which was made by carbon-intensive manufacturers then shipped across vast distances. Greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change, and it is beneficial to keep track of and curb these were possible.


There are many different ways of estimating your carbon footprint. For instance, at Net Zero Pledge, you can purchase carbon offsets based either on your specific consumption habits, or on average US household emission equivalents. Assumedly, the average four person household in this country produces about 64 tons worth of impact every year. Others estimate the per person average at anywhere from 16 to 20 tons each year in the United States, compared with an annual average of roughly 4 per person worldwide. This can vary further by state, lifestyle, age, household size, and more.


How can I calculate my carbon footprint?

One popular equation for approximating your annual pounds of carbon footprint is to multiply your monthly electric bill by 105, your monthly gas bill by 105, your monthly oil bill by 113, your total yearly car mileage by 0.79, the number of short flights you’ve taken in the past year by 1,100, the number of long flights you’ve taken in the past year by 4,400, add 350 if you don’t recycle, and then sum the total. This formula comes from Alexandra Shimo-Barry’s popular book “The Environment Equation.” You can simply divide by 2,000 to convert from pounds back to tons of emission equivalents.


There are plenty of other options to consider as well Here’s a calculator from The Nature Conservancy and here’s one from the EPA. Trying several of these options will help you get a sense of which behaviors have what impact, though none of them can tell you exactly what your footprint actually is. Keep in mind that if your yearly footprint looks like it’s below eight tons, then you’re doing pretty well! Whereas if it’s over twenty, perhaps it would behoove you to take some of these “living green” practices into consideration.


What specifically are carbon offsets?

A carbon offset is essentially a means by which a business, government, or individual pays another entity to remove a given quantity of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. Sometimes this involves planting a certain number of trees, or funding wind turbines and installing solar panels. Sometimes it involves more specific projects, such as capturing methane and carbon dioxide from the decomposition of solid waste that would have otherwise been released into the environment. Most carbon offset programs cost between three and six dollars per ton of emissions canceled, but you can find less reliable ones offered at under one dollar, and others for over fifty.


Are carbon offsets legitimate?

A carbon offset is usually measured in terms of metric tons of CO2, and can represent any act which reduces, avoids, destroys, or sequesters greenhouse gas emissions. Because there are so many different projects you can choose from, there’s no fixed price per unit on carbon offsets. Some of these may resonate more with you than others, and some may seem less impactful. Indeed, low quality offsets have become such a problem that many people worry about a “race to the bottom,” where the cheapest options outcompete more valuable climate solutions.


That’s why it’s crucial to purchase carbon offsets that are certified by third-party groups following best-practices, to be certain that you’re funding trustworthy and worthwhile carbon-reduction strategies. You can arrange these purchases through programs offered by companies like airlines, or by looking up specialty providers directly.


What are the alternatives?

For a more direct approach, consider Renewable Energy Credits (also called Renewable Energy Certificates). Whereas carbon offsets “cancel out” greenhouse gas emissions, RECs try to prevent them by purchasing the rights to clean energy directly. Even if you can’t install solar panels on your roof, or make your utility replace carbon emitting generators with wind turbines, purchasing a REC ensures that a megawatt-hour of renewable energy gets added to the grid.


What are renewable energy credits?

Whereas carbon offsets come in many essentially incomparable units, RECs come in a specific, measurable form: a certificate from a third party verifying that renewable energy has been generated on the purchaser’s behalf. Each such credit comes with a unique ID number, and cannot be resold by purchasers, to ensure that nobody’s REC is getting double-counted. Think of it like buying rights to the cleanliness of green power, if you live far away from regions like the Southwest which can most easily make use of wind and solar.


How can I purchase RECs?

Enel X Way is the only home EV charging provider that offers RECs. Our JuiceEco Green-e renewable certificates are administered by the non-profit Center for Resource Solutions, which transparently certifies that clean power is generated from new facilities and delivered without duplication to the final purchaser.


How much do they cost?

Purchasing a JuiceEco REC is as easy as visiting the Enel X Way online store. It only costs $30 for 10,000 miles worth of vehicle carbon emissions! Given that the average American drives about 15,000 miles per year, and given that about one third of the electric power in this country comes from green energy sources, that should be the typical price of averting a year’s worth of EV driving emissions. If you wish to cut back on more emissions we offer 2 additional tiers, $45 for 15,000 miles and $60 for 20,000 miles worth of vehicle emissions.

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