Carbon offsets, can take many different forms, but in the traditional definition, a carbon offset is a bond ensuring that 1 metric ton (20205 lbs) of Carbon Dioxide, which is the principle cause of climate change, is prevented from entering the atmosphere. There are three main sources that generate these offsets, and prevent carbon from being emitted. 

  1. Carbon capture - Where gasses that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere are captured and retained, an example would be setting up a methane capture program at a landfill. At times you might even see flames flying into the air off the side of the highway, and this is usually methane being burned off and turned into carbon dioxide (a less potent greenhouse gas) which is a good thing. 

  2. Energy production - that would otherwise have been produced using fossil fuels which emit more greenhouse gasses, and example would be a coal power plant shutting down, and constructing a solar farm, then selling carbon offsets to make up for their loss of funds during the switch

  3. Sequestering carbon - and fixating it into plants and soils that will absorb carbon dioxide instead of releasing it, an example wold be something like a reforestation project, or  converting a farm to practice no-till soil management. 

These are all great methods of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and should be encouraged, and more widely practiced throughout the world, though some of these offset programs have gotten into hot water, and brought skepticism into the industry as a whole when individual offset vendors were selling their offsets, then not keeping their word. If someone had promised to plant trees - then didn’t, if a business committed to switching to green energy - then didn’t, if windmills were built - then not brought online provide their generated power, if a forest was planted and the offsets were sold over and over agin essentially protecting the same forest again and again (this is why only about 1% of offset programs in major cap and trade systems are forestry based), that is not  okay. There were even certification programs which came and went with practices just as shady as the vendors they worked with. These practices gave the carbon offset programs, and even other practices like  carbon taxes, a bad wrap, mostly a result of individuals doing the purchasing from offset vendors themselves. 

Today, many of these problems have been solved as official governmental organizations like the California Air and Resources Board (CARB)are now responsible, by law,  for the certification of offset projects. There are still third party verifications like SGS global Services, and the American Carbon Registry , and sometimes CARB relies on programs like these to check their offset contributors. Fortunately CARB has now become a nationwide standard for carbon offsets, and is held to a high standard. 

However, similar to other mitigation practices, carbon offsets are not perfect. For example, a coal fired power plant causing local pollution simply has to purchase carbon offsets from another location to continue doing what they’re doing. Offsets do not solve the problems of local pollution, though they do indeed have an impact on global greenhouse gas mitigation. 

In California where Lighthearted Humans is based, there are laws that mandate, and limit, the states total emissions into the atmosphere, and contribute to the larger goals of reduction to 1990 levels of CO2 by 2020, and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. This is why California has implemented a “Cap and Trade” style program which applies to large electric power plants, industrial plants, and fuel distribution plants, these are the main emitters of CO2 in California, and other areas which have joined the program including Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. This is the first multi-sector cap and trade program in North America. Only 450 businesses are responsible for about 85% of California’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and all sources that emit at least 25,000 metric tons of CO2 per year are subject to regulation. These businesses are mandated by law to either limit their total emissions that they release into the air, or purchase what are called carbon credits from other businesses who will not use all of their credits. 

The California Air Resources Board enforces the program, and they ensure that the program’s participants as a whole reduce emissions by at least 3% annually between the years of 2015, and 2020 after which reductions will increase. Businesses are allotted carbon allowances through both free allocation which varies by sector, and quarterly auctions. These quarterly auctions which any business can participate in provide Lighthearted Humans, and other concerned corporations with the ability to purchase offsets, and ultimately impact the price of these carbon offsets. Even slight increases in price ensure that companies are constantly reevaluating what it costs them to emit CO2 into the atmosphere. It makes a difference for companies purchasing hundreds, or thousands of offsets. This price comparison, when combined with the declining costs of renewable energies not only allows, but encourages businesses to make the switch to green energy faster than they otherwise would have, as it costs them more money to pollute. 

California’s Carbon Emission Cap and trade program performance (Bars) & Business as usual projections (Red line)

To offset our carbon footprint, Lighthearted Humans has registered to become a licensed participant in the California Air And Resources Board carbon offset auctions, you may see detailed records of our participation in the program, and the calculations which we use to do so here, we offset our organizations footprint as well as any offset funds we have received from our product sales. Product sales are solely designed to encourage public participation, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they do not provide us with any funds whatsoever,