Choosing the Best Carbon Offset Programs of 2021
Carbon offset programs provide a real opportunity to be part of the climate change solution. In 2021, there are a number of impactful carbon offset programs to choose from. The question is, which one allows you to make the biggest difference? Our review will provide an overview of carbon offset programs and recommend the best ones to help reduce and counterbalance your greenhouse gas emissions.
Our Picks for the Best Carbon Offset Programs
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best for E-Commerce - Shopify
- Best Online Calculator - NativeEnergy
- Best for Travel and Tourism - Sustainable Travel International
- Most Transparent - myclimate
- Easiest to Use - TerraPass
- Best for Certified Projects - Clear
- Best for Air Travel - atmosfair
- Best for Businesses - 3Degrees
What is a Carbon Offset Program?
What is a carbon offset program?
Every day, you engage in activities that leave behind an environmental footprint. You add to the world's carbon dioxide pollution every time you drive your car, purchase goods from a major manufacturer, and so forth.
When you purchase a membership in a carbon offset program, also offered as carbon credits, you invest in clean energy and carbon reduction efforts elsewhere in the world. The goal is basically for this environmental activity to offset your own carbon footprint. The ultimate objective is to become as close to carbon neutral as possible.
Both individuals and corporations can invest in carbon offset programs. While there are a number of options to choose from, many of them involve investment in eco-friendly initiatives in developing countries. Others help to offset the travel, shipping, or production that are part of other industries. The idea is to create an infrastructure that will allow these companies to work towards sustainability and emissions reductions well into the future, while effectively canceling out their carbon emissions in the meantime.
Historically, carbon offset programs have been fairly simple. For example, in some programs, your investment essentially goes to planting trees in reforestation efforts. More advanced carbon offset programs, however, allow you to help fund the development of important sustainability technologies, like efficient cookstoves in developing countries or methane capture at landfills.
How We Chose the Best Climate Offset Programs
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There are concerns among some activists that carbon offset programs allow certain countries or industries to pay to appear eco-friendly while avoiding actual efforts to reduce the amount of of carbon they produce. When used properly, however, carbon offsets can be a legitimate tool to help encourage sustainable development and reduce the use of fossil fuels.
We vetted a number of climate offset programs to find options making the biggest impact in our world. A number of factors have gone into our choices.
First, we looked for carbon offset programs that came with the endorsement of prestigious environmental stewardship groups. These organizations thoroughly vet all carbon offset projects for transparency, impact, and additionality. The carbon offset programs on our list are endorsed by prominent third-party organizations, including:
- The Gold Standard
- Climate Action Reserve
- American Carbon Registry
- Verified Carbon Standard
- Plan Vivo
- Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance
- Clean Development Mechanism
Additionally, we have been intentional about choosing programs that represent many different types of projects. And, we have considered factors such as the presence of easy-to-use online calculators; the convenience of making a transaction; and the total number of options that each carbon offset program presents.
The 8 Best Carbon Offset Programs
While Shopify is not a carbon offset program, they do provide a platform to help more merchants and buyers offset the carbon emissions of their e-commerce deliveries. For merchants and businesses, they developed an app called Offset that allows them to opt in and offset all of their deliveries. For customers, there is the Shop app, and for every order purchased using Shop Pay, Shopify will offset all of the emissions from the delivery. All Shopify carbon offsets are purchased from Pachama, a company that seeks to use technology and A.I. to help drive carbon capture and protect global forests. Shopify notes that "offsets are not a perfect solution—but they're a necessary tool." We appreciate that they are making it easier for more and more people to use this necessary tool to reduce carbon emissions with every purchase.
You can visit the Shopify site to learn more about their carbon offsets strategy.
NativeEnergy does a lot of pioneering work to reduce carbon emissions, promote biodiversity in ecosystems, and invest in regenerative agriculture across the world. We like them because they make it easy to get involved, either as an individual or as a corporation, via an intuitive online carbon calculator and a range of investment options. We'll also note that they have been around for more than 20 years, and in that time have taken on some high-level corporate partners, including Ben & Jerry's.
Learn more about NativeEnergy by checking out their website.
This organization made our list because their underlying premise makes so much sense: One of the best ways to support sustainability developments in ecologically vulnerable areas is to invest in their travel and tourism industries in local communities. Sustainable Travel International works with premier destinations, helping them develop their tourist trades while also enacting important environmental protections.
At their website, you can find a ton of information about the work Sustainable Travel International has done to minimize pollution and reduce carbon emissions. And of course, you can purchase carbon offsets to help subsidize their work.
There's a lot to appreciate about myclimate, but above all, we love this organization because of how easy they make it to purchase carbon offsets. When you go to their website, you will immediately see their carbon offset calculator, which will allow you to input information about recent travel (including flights and cruises), household activities, and more. Using this data, myclimate will provide you with an estimate of your total carbon footprint and show you some ways to invest in meaningful offsets.
If you truly want to offset your day-to-day carbon footprint in a calculated and precise way, head to myclimate and get going.
TerraPass is one of the leading names in carbon offsets, and it's not hard to see why. When you visit their website, you will find ways to get involved as an individual, as a small or mid-sized business, and even as a large enterprise. Not only do they provide a great carbon calculator, but they also have a lot of valuable information about embracing sustainability, both within your household and your business. Your investment with TerraPass can help fund energy efficiency through wind power, sustainable farming, and a range of other environmental projects.
You can explore some of the options by checking out the TerraPass website.
Clear is extremely well-regarded. Since 2005, this organization has developed a reputation for only supporting the highest quality projects, including sustainability measures that attain such standards as Certified Emission Reduction (CER) certification and Gold Standard VERs. This is actually the only organization where you can be sure that all carbon offsets are certified by the Quality Assurance Standard for Carbon Offsetting. Additional reasons to choose Clear include ultra-precise carbon offset calculators, fair and affordable pricing, and a range of opportunities for both individuals and businesses.
You can visit the Clear website to learn more about purchasing carbon offsets from them.
atmosfair is a non-profit organization based in Germany. The organization's stated goals are to offset carbon emissions, promote sustainable travel, and ultimately play a role in long-term energy transitions across the planet. They currently have projects in more than a dozen countries, and they rely entirely on carbon offsets purchased by individuals and by companies.
Their big emphasis is on offsetting the environmental impact of air travel, so if that's something that you're passionate about, we'd recommend taking a look at the atmosfair website.
Finally, we're really enthusiastic about all the good work being done by 3Degrees. This organization works with corporations across the world, helping them implement renewable energy sources, decarbonize their transportation, and more. Of course, they also have some options for you to support their work by purchasing carbon offsets. You can find out a lot more about what they do by visiting their website; they have a lot of detailed information about their different projects, including case studies.
Visit the 3Degrees site to find out more.
How to Find a Carbon Offset Program
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Clearly, there are plenty of ways to support green initiatives, and to counterbalance some of your own carbon emissions. As you seek to find the best carbon offset program for you, the primary factor to keep in mind is transparency. You want to make sure that the dollars you're donating actually go to high-quality projects that make a real-world difference in the amount of carbon produced each year.
That's one of the main reasons why we emphasize the importance of third-party verification. We mentioned a number of independent organizations above that do a lot of important work auditing and accrediting carbon offset programs. Their validation can give you confidence in selecting a carbon offset project to support.
The Benefits and Limits of Carbon Offset Programs
Before investing, it's worth pausing to consider just how much good a carbon offset program can do, and where these projects sometimes come up short.
To start with, here are some benefits to carbon offsetting:
- Carbon offset projects allow you to neutralize any negative impact you make on the environment, specifically in terms of the metric tons of carbon emissions, or CO2e, that contribute to global warming.
- Investments in developing nations can also help provide wages and other benefits to those who need them, while also preventing deforestation and supporting critical forestry projects.
- By backing carbon offset projects, you can incentivize companies to spend more money on sustainability and clean energy measures.
- Carbon offsets also help expedite the development of eco-friendly technology.
As for the potential limitations of carbon offset projects, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The effectiveness of carbon offsetting can fluctuate from one industry to the next.
- Sometimes, carbon offsetting can make it easy to excuse large or irresponsible carbon emissions.
- Without due diligence, it's all too easy to inadvertently back an unscrupulous or non-transparent carbon offset project.
Choose the Right Carbon Offset Program for You
The bottom line is that carbon offsetting, while imperfect, can nevertheless make a positive impact, especially if you choose your carbon offset program wisely. Purchasing carbon offsets shouldn't take the place of reducing your own carbon footprint, but they can make an impact.
Start your research with some of the options here and remember to augment your carbon offsets with other lifestyle changes at work or at home.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.