Can you buy a clean conscience? The carbon footprint debate

10th September 2019

Carbon offsetting

Two words which have caused controversy lately as public opinion divided over the use of simply throwing money at a problem. The term ‘carbon offsetting’ essentially means that a person or company donates money to a carbon-positive or greenhouse gas reducing project, with the money donated relevant to the amount of carbon used. In theory, this sounds great. But let’s rewind. The practice of carbon offsetting is not new, yet has gained vast coverage in the past few years as high-profile protests regarding climate change have dominated our media and terms such as flygskam (directly translated to ‘flight shame’) becoming increasingly frequent in our vocabulary. Airline carriers are faced with transparency urgency and proactive climate protection schemes, with websites such as SkyScanner highlighting lower emission flights as a standard. Carbon offsetting projects are gaining in popularity, and we ourselves ensure we offset all of our carbon usage and add a little extra to the pot to become carbon positive. In 2018 we offset five tonnes of CO2 by donating to a Ugandan Borehole Rehabilitation Project, and encourage our clients and partners to explore offsetting for themselves. We replaced one of our petrol cars with an electric vehicle, encouraged meat free Mondays and the use of video conferencing as opposed to travel where we could - plus many more actions. All in all, we proactively endeavoured to lower our carbon footprint in addition to offsetting via Carbon Footprint. But this week carbon offsetting has become a headline of scandalous proportions, as a high profile entertainer shrugged off the use of a private jet to fly a small family to his house abroad as he has paid to offset the carbon via Carbon Footprint. This private jet of which creates over seven times more carbon emissions than a commercial carrier, disrupting the authenticity of the eco warrior label self proclaimed by the family in question. As high security travel as they may need, their larger sibling family travelled in a commercial Flybe aircraft the very same week.

Which sparked the debate: are people simply throwing money at the problem?

The eco-conscious family - of whom cite Greta Thunberg as an inspiration and celebrate her activism and dedication - rode a total of four private jets in a matter of eleven days. Sharp accusations were in place for the hypocrisy, with only the one return flight being publicly stated as carbon neutral through offsetting. Has offsetting become a scapegoat to help the rich morally sleep at night without compromising their extreme carbon fervorous behaviours? While in principle carbon offsetting is a recommendable action, it doesn’t reverse the damage done directly. The world's resources are depleting at a dramatic rate, we can’t continue taking private jets and then throwing a few pounds into a charity pot and calling it even. The climate crisis doesn’t exactly work like that. Our next in line for the throne called for global leaders to act on the climate change crisis within eighteen months, yet behind not-so-closed doors his family’s business travel in the skies had doubled from the year prior. For a spot of perspective, this private jet flight currently in the headlines which was paid to be carbon neutral used an astounding 3 tonnes of CO2 - and as an agency of around 15 team members, our entire years worth of CO2 was 5 tonnes. In business travel alone according to the Sovereign Report, the Royal Family scaled up 3344 tonnes of carbon emissions - up from 1687 tonnes in 2017-18. Let that sink in for a moment.

Buying one’s own clean conscience isn’t the solution

Reducing your carbon footprint can be swift and simple. We suggest the following quick tips and tricks if you should actively wish to reduce your carbon usage:
  • Don’t overfill your kettle - boil what you need
  • Dry your clothes outside/on a drying horse as opposed to a tumble dryer
  • Shave a minute off your daily showers
  • Less meat and more fruit, vegetables, grains and beans
  • Don’t settle for standby - switch it firmly off
  • Shop second hand over fast fashion where possible
  • Switch to LED lights
  • Invest in an energy efficient condensing boiler and refrigerator/freezer
  • Ensure thermostat valves are on your radiators
  • Compost your waste food
  • Take public transport where possible, and walk short journeys
  • When flying, seek to have direct flights as the take off is carbon emission heavy
For further ideas we recommend the fuller list on easy and immediate carbon reducing actions. We know that nobody is perfect and we all have commitments and lives to lead - but working to actively reduce our carbon footprint is where our future lies.

Don’t throw money at the issue: act.