A decisive footprint on the green road

When you have reduced the carbon footprint of a building as far as possible with good engineering practice, what can you do about the remaining carbon emissions? The answer is carbon offsetting, as MARK NORTHCOTT explains.Every person on the planet has an impact on its environment in one way or another. A few of the influences we have are positive, but the overwhelming majority are harmful. It is now generally accepted that the biggest negative impact we have on the environment occurs as a result of producing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide by burning energy when, for example, we drive a car, fly or heat and cool our homes. It is, of course, possible to reduce some of these emissions by using less energy. For example, we can insulate our homes to reduce fuel consumption or, perhaps, travel by train instead of by air. Carbon offsetting However, there are emissions we simply cannot cut, especially on a corporate level, and that is where carbon offsetting has a role to play. Offsetting is a way to compensate for the emissions we produce with an equivalent carbon-dioxide saving. The Department for the Environment & Rural Affair (Defra) puts it this way: ‘Carbon offsetting involves calculating your emissions and then purchasing “credits” from emission-reduction projects. These projects have prevented or removed an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide elsewhere. ‘Due to the fact that greenhouse gases have a long lifespan and tend to mix evenly in the atmosphere it doesn’t matter where gases are emitted in the world: the effect on climate change is the same. To make up for unavoidable emissions increases, e.g. heating your home, equivalent emissions reductions can be made elsewhere, meaning that the overall effect is zero.’ So, offsetting means paying somebody to the reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the same amount that your activities add. In this way you effectively ‘neutralise’ the carbon dioxide added by your activities. Carbon offsetting is certainly no cure for climate change because it does not prevent harmful emissions, but it can help raise awareness and reduce the effect of our actions, in other words, the size of our carbon footprint. The carbon footprint is a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. It is made up of two parts. • The direct footprint measures emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, including domestic energy consumption and transport.
• The indirect footprint measures carbon-dioxide emissions from the lifecycle of products, those associated with manufacture, transport and disposal.
• Using carbon offsetting within your business can offer a range of benefits. Examples include the following.
• Demonstrate your corporate and social responsibility credentials.
• Enhance your reputation as an enlightened and progressive organisation.
• Act as a marketing tool. • Engage your customers in the environmental benefits of your products.
• Alert your customers and employees to climate change and the need for action. Voluntary code To boost confidence in the carbon-offsetting process, Defra has published a consultation paper with a view to developing a voluntary code of best practice for the provision of carbon offsetting to UK customers. Defra explains: ‘The purpose of establishing a code is to ensure consumer confidence in an emerging market and continued growth of that market through that confidence.’ The consultation ends on 13 April 2007 and the Government intends to have the code operating by Autumn 2007. However, as a company with a conscience, Broag has taken a pioneering approach to addressing the problem of climate change by becoming the first company in the heating sector to engage in carbon offsetting and introducing the idea of voluntary carbon offsetting to its customers. We are also talking to national house builders and local authorities about working with us to offset their carbon emissions. The Climatecare scheme We have joined Climatecare’s offsetting scheme. This involves us effectively paying the company (through the purchase of ‘offsets’) to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the same amount that our activities add. In this way, we can neutralise or balance the carbon dioxide added by our activities. Climatecare offsets our carbon-dioxide emissions by funding a range of projects around the world. • Renewable energy: replacing non-renewable fuel such as coal.
• Energy efficiency: reducing the amount of fuel needed.
• Forest restoration: absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as the trees grow. Climatecare only funds a project if it can be confident that it would not have gone ahead without its assistance. This means that all the emissions reductions that we pay for go over and above what would have happened without Climatecare’s intervention. We hope to encourage others to follow our lead in helping to protect our precious planet. It is, after all, the only one we have. Mark Northcott is national sales manager (commercial) with Broag. CLIMATECARE EXPLAINED
Climatecare was founded in 1998. One of the world’s leading ‘carbon-offsetting’ organisations, it makes reductions of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) on behalf of individuals and companies through its portfolio of projects around the world which avoid, reduce or absorb greenhouse gases. So, as well as taking steps to reduce your carbon footprint, the organisation will help you offset what remains, helping to promote low-carbon technologies where they make the most impact. CARBON OFFSETS OR CARBON-DIOXIED OFFSETS?
The term ‘carbon’ is, according to Climatecare, often used as shorthand for carbon dioxide, as in ‘carbon footprint’ and the ‘carbon market’. Care must be taken when referring to what has been offset, however. There is a whole basket of gases that are contributing to climate change, and these are collectively referred to as greenhouse gases. The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, and this has become the standard measure of emissions. Other greenhouse gases are converted into carbon-dioxide equivalents* to provide a common currency when discussing emissions. Climatecare follows this practice. Its calculators work out the quantity of greenhouse gases, and express them as tonnes of carbon dioxide. Its projects also reduce emissions of other greenhouse gases and convert these to carbon dioxide equivalents. (*The HFC refrigerant R134a, for example, has a global-warming potential 1300 times greater than carbon dioxide.)
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