Octopus Energy Carbon Offset Review: A Good Choice for Sustainable Power?

By Jazmin Murphy | Updated on September 2, 2021

Energy production and consumption are some of the most carbon-intensive human activities worldwide and Octopus Energy is one company trying to make a difference by making energy with carbon offsets more widely available. 

But as you will see, while they are making an impact it is limited and not available for most. Regardless, before using any offset provider you should first calculate your carbon footprint–a necessary step before offsetting. 

Since the Industrial Revolution, human civilizations have heavily relied on fossil fuels, incessantly pumping toxic gases into the atmosphere and surrounding environments. Though the problem persists today, energy producers are transitioning to sustainable alternatives, such as hydropower and wind. 

Octopus has already got a great start, having removed over 300,270 tons of carbon so far. At the same time, there are a few things the company can improve on to enhance its success. 

Image showing the three available Octopus Energy Carbon Offset plans available to customers in Britain.

While their plans are carbon neutral, they are quite limited in scope and don’t provide any way to select the best offset types.

What is Octopus Energy? 

Octopus energy is an environmentally conscious energy producer based in Britain. The company was conceived out of displeasure with the “handful of complacent dinosaurs peddling fossil fuels,” as Octopus officials put it. To mitigate the damage dealt by this industry and “disrupt the status quo,” the company emerged in 2016. 

Businesses that partner with Octopus get access to affordable, renewable energy, thanks to the company’s 100% green energy tariffs. These match the “non-green” tariffs price, so prospective partners don’t have to bear too much of a financial burden when switching from other energy providers. Additionally, businesses can offset their carbon emissions with Octopus’s help. 

These two opportunities culminate in the “Super Green” Tariff. Super Green is a key facet in Octopus Energy’s carbon mitigation program, allowing business owners, investors, and homeowners to achieve carbon neutrality. For these customers, Octopus calculates the year’s total emissions from their gas-powered energy use and purchases the equivalent value of offsetting credits via projects selected by Renewable World.1

So far, Super Green has worked quite well. During 2018-2020, Octopus helped businesses offset 272,408 tonnes (about 300,278 tons) of carbon emissions. Reportedly, each customer will offset 2.2 tonnes (roughly 2.43 tons) of carbon in a single year. That’s the equivalent of three one-way flights from London to New York.2

At first glance, it seems that Octopus Energy’s carbon offsetting program is highly effective. Still, among its many positive attributes, there is space for a few improvements that could shrink participants’ carbon footprints even more. 

Octopus Energy’s Partnership with Renewable World: Good for the Planet? 

Renewable World is a critical component of Octopus’s carbon offset model. Without this organization, Octopus would be unable to secure offset credits for their customers, rendering the whole operation useless in the voluntary carbon marketplace (VCM).3

A carbon offset credit is a tradeable unit that generally has either of these two functions:3 

  • A permit allowing the credit holder to emit a specific amount of carbon dioxide or equivalent greenhouse gases (GHGs). 
  • A certificate representing the amount of carbon dioxide you’ve removed from the atmosphere through an offsetting project. 

Carbon credits are vital to the success of the VCM. They help keep companies and individuals accountable for their environmental damage by periodically tracking emissions and reductions and using third-party verification. 

Such an accountability system is especially critical in the VCM, as opposed to the compliance market (e.g., cap-and-trade systems). As eco-friendly business models become mainstream, experts fear the prevalence of “greenwashing” will only grow. (“Greenwashing” is a dishonest branding practice that makes companies appear eco-friendlier than they are.) 

The VCM lacks the same legal mandates characterizing the compliance market. So, documenting GHG emissions and reductions through credits is essential to maintain transparency and prevent greenwashing. 

Such assurance is more important than ever before. In September 2020, Forest Trends reported that the volume of corporations pledging carbon neutrality hit historic highs, achieving a minimum carbon credit transaction value of 104 MtCO2-equivalent in 2019 (about 114 million tons).4

At the same time, recent reports about overestimating credits in carbon mitigation systems, such as the world’s leading cap-and-trade program in California, may worry those new to the VCM. 

Fortunately, Renewable World, known initially as the Koru Foundation, operates with integrity. Alongside Octopus Energy, this organization aims to make “sustainable and transformative energy solutions” more accessible worldwide with their customers’ carbon purchases, for which they earn Gold Verified carbon credits. 

Not only this, but Renewable World seeks to empower marginalized communities through access to sustainable technologies, which its staff regard as “critical to the longevity” of green tech. So far, they’ve helped the following get access to renewable energy:5

  • 39,361 people 
  • 3,420 households 
  • 222 institutions 
  • Small businesses and smallholders in 84 communities 

The collaboration between Renewable World and Octopus Energy ensures that people in both privileged and impoverished communities get access to clean power, working toward a greener, more equal future for all. 

Carbon Offsetting Options from Octopus Energy and Renewable World 

Octopus Energy works closely with Renewable World to carefully select projects with the highest potential for GHG mitigation and sustainable power accessibility. Due to the two organizations’ goals – achieving carbon neutrality and empowering marginalized communities –the available best carbon offset projects including:2

  • Cookstoves in Nepal & Tanzania: Millions of people worldwide lack access to clean cooking equipment. Instead, they must turn to cookstoves, exposing them to harmful smoke that cause respiratory complications, heart issues, and lung problems.6 Wood-fueled cookstoves also release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. This project provides communities with clean stoves and fuel to mitigate wood fires’ damaging health and environmental impacts. 
  • Bhadla Solar India: Despite India’s heavy dependence on fossil fuels, the country has a high potential for harvesting solar power. This carbon offsetting program seeks to bring that to fruition by replacing approximately 694,471 tonnes (about 765,523 tons) of carbon with clean energy annually. 
  • Biogas in China: Livestock manure has always played an essential role in agricultural success. Now, this offsetting project is empowering farmers, helping them make the most of their animal waste with “biogas digesters.” This technology improves sanitation standards in agricultural communities and reduces exposure to harmful gases emitted by traditional open-pit latrines. 

How to Improve the Octopus Energy’s Carbon Offsetting Program  

Although the Octopus Energy and Renewable World partnership has worked well so far, a few key adjustments can significantly strengthen the offsetting projects’ effectiveness and appeal. 

When reading the program description, two issues that are immediately apparent are the exclusivity and indirect action. The only customers who can support the available projects are those enrolled in the Super Green program. 

Furthermore, only those who use gas can participate. This cuts out a large number of people and will continue to exclude even more, considering the United Kingdom’s energy supply is increasingly supplemented by “low-carbon sources,” including:7

  • Nuclear 
  • Wind 
  • Solar 
  • Hydropower 
  • Bioenergy 

These and other sources comprise over 19% of the UK’s primary energy. As more homeowners and business owners transition to cleaner power, they will be barred from participating in offsetting programs as long as Octopus Energy restricts partnerships to Super Green customers. 

Secondly, Octopus states that the company – not the individual customers – is responsible for calculating and purchasing carbon emissions and offsets. On the one hand, this is convenient for busy members. They’ll never have to worry about crunching the numbers themselves and potentially making mistakes, compromising their ability to neutralize their GHGs properly. 

On the other hand, Octopus taking on the responsibility without the customer may make some participants uncomfortable. Why can’t they calculate and purchase their credits for themselves? 

This minimizes member agency, preventing them from selecting the specific projects they wish to support, and potentially disconnecting them from the value of the environmental benefits. In the end, the “we’ll take care of it for you” system discourages personal connections and inspiration from backing environmentally friendly initiatives. 

Octopus Energy’s offsetting programs’ issues are few and slight. In its present form, it’s done wonders for global communities, connecting people with clean energy, even in less industrialized nations. Yet, by incorporating these few adjustments, the organization’s impact could be significantly greater. 

Offset Your Energy Consumption Now 

Consuming energy is pretty inevitable – so you must be smart about how you do it to avoid adding to existing environmental burdens. Octopus Energy is an excellent alternative for people looking to minimize their energy use impacts. 

Still, their offsetting program is currently exclusive to Super Green members. So, if you’re not in the UK or don’t qualify for the Octopus offsets, you’ll need to take matters into your own hands. Calculate your carbon footprint now and support an afforestation project to progress toward carbon neutrality. 


References

1Octopus Energy. (n.d.). Octopus Super Green. <https://octopus.energy/supergreen/>

2Octopus Energy. (n.d.). Carbon neutral gas with Renewable World. <https://octopus.energy/blog/renewableworld/>

3Climate Care. (2017). An introduction to carbon markets. In International Air Transport Association and International Emissions Trading Association Workshop, Nairobi. IETA. <https://www.ieta.org/resources/Aviation/IETA%20IATA%20Workshops/Nairobi/What%20is%20a%20carbon%20credit%20-%20ClimateCare%20(NBO).pdf>

4Donofrio, S., Maguire, P., Zwick, S., & Merry, W. (2020, September 21). State of the voluntary carbon markets 2020. Forest Trends. <https://www.forest-trends.org/publications/state-of-the-voluntary-carbon-markets-2020-2/>

5Renewable World. (2021, March 10). Reports: Tracking our success. <https://renewable-world.org/about-us/reporting/>

6American Lung Association. (2018, April 16). What you need to know about your wood-burning stove and heater. American Lung Association | American Lung Association. Retrieved August 10, 2021, from <https://www.lung.org/blog/wood-burning-stoves-and-heaters>

7United Kingdom Department for Business. (2020). UK energy in brief. <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/904503/UK_Energy_in_Brief_2020.pdf>