Cleantech Group Dives First-hand into the World of Carbon Offsets

Are Offsetting Emissions Really Working?

San Francisco, CA – 21 December 2022 — In the race to reaching carbon neutrality, offsets are all the rage amongst corporates who really want to SPRINT to net-zero.  But how difficult is it and can you really reverse your carbon emissions?  Such was the task that Cleantech Group set out to determine by offsetting Cleantech Group Forums in Singapore and Brussels.  These were some highlights learned:

  • Calculating Emissions:  Innovative tools now exist but they were too expensive, often too high-tech, and inappropriate for our ‘one off’ event emissions.  Providers have yet to reach economies of scale to offer the low prices SMEs need.

Additionally, a major driver for emissions monitoring technologies is mandatory disclosure regulations, which would require large companies (generally over 500 employees) that track and disclose companywide emissions data. The tools which exist today are mostly catered to these large companies.

  • Choosing ‘Good’ Offsets:  Some offsets don’t work, or only work for a short period of time. There is a magnitude of challenges to navigate when choosing where to buy offsets and what projects are effective and high-quality.

As Cleantech Group strives to be impartial, as diverse of a portfolio of projects as possible was picked to not favour any specific provider.  But there weren’t many sellers to buy from without signing up to a program, subscription, or whom we contacted but did not get back to us.  Finally, very few project producers allowed us to buy directly from them.

  • Selecting the ‘Correct’ Offset Projects:  Selecting the ‘correct’ offset projects was more of an art than a science, with our initial rules sometimes being thrown out in favour of an interesting project which was innovative and in the location of the event but was carbon avoidance.

As impartial and advantageous our project selection approach had been, it made checking on these projects difficult. With only 1 tonne in some cases, across multiple projects it would be an administrative nightmare to check up on all of these — to check for permanence, co-benefits, or if they even exist.

“This journey has enabled us to – maybe — neutralize Cleantech Group’s Forum emissions, and certainly learn about emissions monitoring and offsetting industries in the process,” said Holly Stower, Sr. Associate, Resources & Environment at Cleantech Group.

“A lot of this market is currently built on trust, which is in some spaces improving, but in others, transparency is being diluted. For example, when Qatar was awarded to host the FIFA World Cup, they promised the event would be carbon neutral. As of November, Qatar still needs to purchase 3.6 million tonnes of offsets, having only purchased 15% of their goal,” Stower added.

Projects are mostly avoidance renewable energy credits with questionable additionality.  In Qatar, for example, instead of purchasing via established registries, offsets were verified by the recently formed Qatari ‘Global Carbon Council’, leading many to question their legitimacy and transparency as well as the precedent to verify poor quality offsets being sold.

For more details on the Cleantech Group carbon offset initiative, see We’ve Offset Our Events – Or At Least We Think We Have…

About Cleantech Group

Cleantech® Group provides research, consulting and events to catalyze opportunities for sustainable growth powered by innovation.  At every stage from initial strategy to final deals, we bring corporate change makers, investors, governments and stakeholders from across the ecosystem the access and customized support they need to thrive in a more digitized, de-carbonized and resource-efficient future.