A carbon offset (also known as a carbon credit) is a way of quantifying activities that reduce emissions in the atmosphere. Most carbon offsets are equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) removed from the atmosphere.
Traditional carbon offsets are produced through reforestation or revegetating areas of land. When trees are planted they suck in CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in their wood - resulting in emissions reduction. There are also carbon offset methods involving regenerating soils and controlling the burning of grasslands that result in emissions reduction.
Buying carbon offsets helps to compensate for the emissions a business produces. If a business buys a quantity of offsets equal to their emissions then that business is said to be carbon neutral. Buying carbon offsets are just one way a business can help transition to a net zero economy. Switching to an electricity provider that uses renewables and reducing emissions from travel are two other ways of reducing a businesses carbon emissions.
Climate Active is the certifier for carbon neutral accreditation in Australia. You can read more about their certification process for businesses on their website.
There are many different organisations and frameworks that have methods for verifying carbon offsets. One of the most robust types of carbon offset units is the Australian Carbon Credit Unit (ACCU). An ACCU (pronounced ‘ack-you’) is accredited by the Australian Clean Energy Regulator (CER) as part of the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). ACCUs abide by strict methodologies for reducing carbon emissions. These methodologies are underpinned by the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011. Internationally, ACCUs are highly regarded as a premium carbon credit due to robust auditing requirements.
Carbon farmers sell their ACCUs for different prices depending on the methodology used and the ‘co-benefits’ that the offset produces above and beyond the tonne of CO2 that the offset has reduced from the atmosphere. Co-benefits describe the extra positive effects of developing offsets, including increasing species biodiversity and supporting employment in Indigenous communities.
Most businesses choose to report on emissions alongside their annual reports on a 12-month cycle. Due to new carbon credits being issued to suppliers everyday, we recommend buying ACCUs throughout the year rather than trying to purchase offsets in a single batch (e.g. on June 30).