Unfortunately, even when an entity does its utmost to cut down on energy consumption and the related CO2 emissions, it is impossible to push back these emissions to an absolute zero. A (small) remaining CO2 footprint (e.g. unavoidable flight travels, material use, etc.) is inevitable. In order to reach full CO2 neutrality, these unavoidable emissions have to be offset.
The most common way to offset CO2 emissions is to use carbon credits, which are bought by the emitter and invested in projects in a developing country. These projects reduce CO2 emissions that would normally continue to exist without an intervention (the principle of additionality). This can be achieved by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy (e.g. wind farms, solar energy, biomass energy), reducing the use of fossil fuels through energy efficiency (e.g. fuel efficient stoves), or capturing and storing already released carbon in trees and other plants. The destruction of landfill methane is another option that does not fall within these three categories.
The principle of CO2 offsetting is based on the idea that it does not matter where greenhouse gas reductions occur, as an emission reduction always has the same positive global effect, regardless of where it is achieved.
The benefits of offsetting has been widely debated in recent years, with opponents arguing that offsetting diverts the attention of companies from their real responsibilities, and that several offsetting projects have completely failed to deliver their promised results, or were already in progress without the extra support.
There are consequently two very important caveats regarding offsetting in order to avoid misuse and gain credibility:
1. Offsetting is not intended as a way to buy a clear conscience without changing behaviour. It should not remove the focus from reduction measures, but should be seen as the final action after all reasonable efforts to reduce internal emissions have been made
2.The quality of the offsets is extremely important in order to ensure that the acquired offsets do indeed lead to the promised emission reductions, and that they are additional. Several standards have been set up to ensure the quality of offsets.