Carbon Offset Explained: A Simple Guide to Achieving Carbon Neutrality

Science & Tech
April 19, 2021
Avely Pütsep

Each year, a massive 5.5 billion tons of carbon is released by burning fossil fuels. Of this, 3.3 billion tons stays in the atmosphere, heating our home planet.

What will happen if we don’t take serious action against climate warming?

Well, by 2050, we may lose every sixth species to extinction, COVID-19 will be the first of many pandemics, and 300 million people will struggle with annual floods and constant displacement. That’s to name just a few ‘inconveniences’.

One (at least, partial) solution is carbon offsetting. The popularization of the term ‘carbon offset’ started in the first decade of the 21st century when the growing concern about CO2 levels as a serious atmospheric pollutant grew.

What is carbon offset?

Carbon offsetting means compensating for the carbon dioxide pollution you make by either:

🌿 Preventing this amount of pollution occurring elsewhere

🌿 Pulling this amount of CO2 back out of the atmosphere and storing it in nature

Think of it like balancing out your harmful actions to the environment.

Put simply: carbon offset is any activity that compensates for the emission of CO2 or any other greenhouse gas emissions by providing for an emission reduction elsewhere.

Because greenhouse gases are widespread in Earth’s atmosphere, any reduction of carbon emissions helps, regardless of where it happens.

But how much CO2 is in the atmosphere? Carbon levels are the highest they’ve been at any point in the last 800 000 years. Some say it’s the worst it’s been anytime in the last 3 million years.

There’s 417 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, according to data from 2020. The global average in 2019 was 409.8 ppm.

carbon dioxide in greenhouse gas emissions

How can we offset carbon footprints?

Here’s how to offset carbon footprints like a boss.

Carbon offsets can be bought, sold, or traded on carbon markets.

One great example of a carbon offsetting marketplace is Single.Earth: people and organizations can compensate for their carbon footprint by financing the conservation or restoration of natural carbon sinks with tradable ecosystem service assets.

More and more people are waking up to the fact that nature is the most valuable asset on this planet. It’s literally the thing keeping humankind alive - and it’s the most efficient way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere! That’s why natural climate solutions are making their way to key economic indicators like the GDP.

The UN’s groundbreaking decision to add natural resources to economic reporting alongside Single.Earth’s work gives hope for a better future. 🌿 A future where land is worth more when left to nature to keep healthy ecosystems intact, rather than being farmed, forests cut down, or mines put into wetlands.

Other examples of carbon offset projects include:

Renewable energy projects: organizations turning to more sustainable investment options

Energy-efficiency improvements

  • Increasing insulation in buildings to reduce heat loss
  • Installing energy-efficient lighting

Using more efficient vehicles for transportation

Carbon sequestration

  • = removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it
  • However, to date, no artificial carbon sinks are able to remove enough carbon from the atmosphere to fight climate change

What is carbon neutrality?

Carbon neutral means that carbon reductions are equivalent to the total carbon footprint of an activity.

Wait, what? If you put carbon reductions on one end of the scale and the total carbon footprint on another and the scale sides were balanced -> that’s carbon neutrality!

So, what is a carbon neutral company? It doesn’t mean a business has zero carbon emissions, but there is perfect balance between emitting and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere in carbon sinks.

Why is carbon neutrality important for a business?

  • It means creating profitable, growing business models with net-positive environmental and social impact
  • ↑ And enabling your suppliers and customers to do the same

Is carbon neutrality good for the environment?

Yes. Whether you’re a business or an individual, using a carbon footprint calculator is highly important. It helps you to:

  • manage your carbon emissions efficiently
  • identify potential for reductions and savings
  • -> be more sustainable -> move towards carbon neutrality -> protect our planet

Who is working towards carbon neutrality?

Who isn’t? The businesses that don’t are behind and need to get on the sustainability train straight away.

trees offsetting carbon

How much carbon does one tree offset?

Are trees the answer to climate change?

Forests are immensely important when talking about carbon offsets:

It’s crucial to protect the forests we have left.

Furthermore, a study of forests around the world found that the older the tree, the greater its potential to store carbon and slow climate change.

As for how much carbon a tree offsets, there’s no easy answer. Trees are different in a pine forest and tropical rainforest. It also depends on the age of the tree.

A very rough approximation says an English oak of about 30cm diameter can contain 0.5 tonnes of carbon. To compare, a plane passenger from London to NY is responsible for emitting around 0.2 tonnes of carbon!

How do you carbon offset a flight?

The most effective way to fight climate change is to reduce emissions, which means avoiding a flight altogether. Find a more sustainable way; take a train or bus instead.

However, if the flight is happening and you want to know how to offset your flight (which you should, so good job!), there are a few things to keep in mind.

If you buy plane tickets and it’s not clear whether the tickets are offset, ask for their sustainability plan. Get answers to:

  1. Are they using Single.Earth’s carbon compensation programs for their emissions to offset all their flights themselves?
  2. Do they offer an option for you to add voluntary carbon offset to your tickets for an additional fee, putting the responsibility on you?
  3. If they’re not transparent about their actions, it’s important to show the demand for sustainability from the customer side.

Are you ...

  • a conservation group?
  • an institutional landowner?
  • a private landowner?

Great! We offer you an alternative for your land management: earn money by preserving forests and other natural resources and let’s keep healthy ecosystems intact.

Maarika or Kaspar would love to hear from you:

🌲 Maarika Truu, Head of Partnerships,

🌲 Kaspar Põder, Head of Growth,

Single.Earth is on a mission to help preserve and restore existing ecosystems.

Pre-register as a landowner through the registration link.
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