What are carbon offsets?

Not all carbon offsets are equal, that’s why we focus on verified carbon removal projects. But what are they?


Digital Carbon Online automatically measures and reports the carbon footprints of company websites. Our aim is to help businesses reduce the climate impact of their online presence.

Our technology also enables climate-conscious companies to sponsor carbon removal through carefully selected, verifiable projects. This process is more widely known as carbon offsetting.

In this article we will look to answer the question “what are carbon offsets”. We will look at why carbon offsetting has caused some controversy, why we focus on carbon removal and how our differs from the disreputed carbon offsetting.

We will then look at the high quality carbon removal projects we support on behalf of our clients.

What are carbon offsets?

Carbon offsets are technologies or projects used to counterbalance carbon emissions. They aim to neutralise an entity’s carbon footprint by investing in projects that reduce or remove an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Examples include reforestation efforts, renewable energy projects, and methane capture from landfills.

Why have carbon offsets become controversial?

Recently, carbon offsets have come under increasing scrutiny. While the backlash against carbon offsets isn’t new (as this 2021 article in The Guardian demonstrates), as more companies lean on them, they’ve fallen under even more scrutiny.

Critics argue that carbon offsets can enable carbon-intensive industries to continue polluting while offering a guilt-free solution. The quality and transparency of offset projects have also been questioned, as some may not effectively reduce emissions as claimed. Perhaps most importantly, the practice may divert attention from the crucial need to reduce emissions at the source.

Is there a genuine role for carbon offsetting?

In the pursuit of net-zero emissions, it is crucial to prioritise emission reduction over offsetting – and that is the primary objective of Digital Carbon Online, to help companies discover opportunities to reduce emissions.

There is a role for carbon offsets. When it comes to website carbon footprints, it is likely every website – no matter how highly optimised and how much green energy is used – will still have residual carbon emissions.

In this situation, the only way to completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions is to turn off the website. This is clearly not the solution, so carbon offsets still have a role in tackling these residual emissions.

It should be noted that they should not be a substitute for comprehensive efforts to mitigate emissions in the first place.

Carbon offsetting vs carbon removal.

The terms carbon offsets and carbon removal go hand in hand. We use the term carbon removal to highlight projects that are designed to capture and remove carbon dioxide (and equivalent) emissions from the atmosphere in the near, not distant future.

The projects we choose to support are verified, traceable and have “vintages” in within the next 36 months. A “vintage” is the year when the carbon allocated for removal will have actually been removed from the atmosphere.

Vintage is important because many of carbon offsetting or removal processes are nature based and can take significant time to reach the promised level of removal (or ‘sequestration”). The most commonly known example is “planting trees”. While each tree can sequester meaningful amounts of CO2, it can take 5 to 20 years to reach that.

By focusing on certified and near term carbon removal projects, our intention is to help remove carbon from the atmosphere, now, not in a decade or two.

What Carbon Removal projects do we support?

We review the projects that we support regularly, this list is correct at the time of writing.

Kelp Farming

Running Tide Ocean Carbon Removal

Running Tide’s project focuses on growing and sinking kelp forests, which can store up to 20 times more carbon per acre than land forests. We’re currently supporting their 2024 vintage.

Biochar

Carbo Culture Biochar

Carbo Culture takes biomass (carbon that’s been drawn down from the atmosphere by plants) and converts it into an ultra-stable material called biochar – meaning the carbon stays out of the atmosphere for a long time. We’re currently supporting a 2025 vintage.

Enhanced Weathering

UNDO Enhanced Weathering

UNDO’s solution focuses on accelerating the natural process of rock weathering, in which CO2 in rainwater is locked away for over 1,000 years. We’re currently supporting their 2024 vintage.

Direct Air Capture (DAC)

Holy Grail Moonstone Direct Air Capture

Holy Grail’s carbon storage solution is in a solid, above-ground form, which makes monitoring, reporting, and verification simple. The solution gives customers a high degree of certainty in the durability of Holy Grail’s carbon removal solution. We’re supporting their 2025 vintage.

Concrete Sequestration

Carbon Limit CO₂ Capturing Concrete

Carbon Limit’s CaptureCrete solution helps decarbonise concrete using a cement additive which enables concrete to actively capture and permanently store atmospheric CO2 as a solid carbonate in the concrete. We’re supporting their 2024 vintage.

In summary

Carbon offsetting is the practice of investing in projects and/or technologies that actively remove carbon from the atmosphere, then using that to “offset” against carbon dioxide emissions caused by other activities.

Carbon offsetting can be a powerful tool on the road to reducing a company’s climate impact, but has suffered reputational damage due to low quality, unverified projects being used as a ‘”get out of jail free card” by companies using them to justify (carbon-intensive) business as usual.

With that said, carbon offsetting can have a role in our journey to addressing climate change, but we must choose and use these projects conscientiously.

When building automated carbon removal into our tool we look for credible, traceable projects that remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere “now”, not in a decade or two.

Find out more

Get in touch to find out more about our service, and receive an initial assessment of the carbon impact of your website for free.

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