The Journey to Offsetting – Understanding the “Standards”

Make sure your carbon credits have been verified by ones of these bodies

Shaun Mattingley


4 mins

The voluntary carbon market really doesn’t make it easy for those embarking on their offsetting journey. Having made the decision to do the right thing by planning how to reduce your carbon emissions, you are left with the option to offset those remaining emissions by buying carbon credits. So now, you feel pretty good and ready to buy those voluntary carbon credits, but of course, you owe it to yourself to do some research first – not difficult, right?

As you embark upon your research, suddenly life gets a whole lot more complicated – do you buy VERs? VCUs? CRTs? ERTs? – the list goes on. All these units represent a reduction of one tonne of carbon emissions, so how are they all different and why are there so many? Maybe you start thinking there just aren’t enough hours in the day….

However, it really isn’t so difficult to get your head around and to filter out the “noise”. Let’s look at a few initial points to consider:

  1. To be sure you are doing the “right thing” you need to have confidence in the credits you will buy. There are a bunch of internationally recognized “standards” – this means that certain bodies demand a thorough process of verifying and validating projects that result in a reduction of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Once the project has fully satisfied all the conditions, then that body allows credits to be issued with its full certification – endorsement if you like.
  2. So, who are these bodies? Well, the majority of voluntary credits you will be given the option to purchase to achieve your offsetting goals will be certified by one of two bodies:

    Gold Standard – check out their website for a good and concise introduction to their voluntary carbon offset programme – credits issued under this programme are called Voluntary Emission Reductions (VERs). In their own words “Gold Standard was established in 2003 by WWF and other international NGOs to ensure projects that reduced carbon emissions featured the highest levels of environmental integrity and also contributed to sustainable development.” Many people believe their very name is a true reflection of the projects they certify.

    Verra – the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) programme from Verra is the world’s most widely used voluntary credit programme. Once projects have been certified against the VCS Programme’s rigorous set of rules and requirements, Verified Carbon Units (VCUs) are issued. Another informative and concise introduction can be found here:
  3. There are other internationally recognized and respected certification programmes and whilst you won’t come across them as often as Gold Standard and Verra, it’s worth listing some of them here in case you do:

    American Carbon Registry (ACR) issues Emission Reduction Tons (ERTs) -

    Climate Action Reserve (CAR) issues Climate Reserve Tonnes (CRTs) –

    Global Carbon Council (GCC) issues Approved Carbon Credits (ACCs) -

    Plan Vivo issues Plan Vivo Certificates (PVCs) -

So, now you are a little wiser and starting to make sense of this tangle, maybe it’s time to continue on your path of buying offsets to do your bit for a greener planet!

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