Carbon Credits for Individuals: 2 Easy Steps to Offset Your Carbon

By Jazmin Murphy | Updated on September 16, 2021

Just 20 countries release one-third (about 529 billion tons) of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.2 Since such a small group is responsible for a large sum of global climate change, many people turn away from carbon credits for individuals because they believe those companies should mitigate the consequences.

While this is undoubtedly just, individual action is still critical to progressing in the climate fight. People like you — who can’t always avoid emissions from commuting to work or eating from grocery stores and restaurants — can slow the coming environmental devastation by supporting carbon offset projects

All it takes is two easy steps: calculating your carbon footprint and finding the perfect project to neutralize your emissions. 

Tree saplings in rows in a Brazil nursery, getting ready for reforestation, with an 8 Billion Trees watermark.

Why Do So Many Companies Purchase Carbon Offsets? 

The voluntary carbon marketplace (VCM), where companies and individuals buy and sell “carbon credits,” or documents indicating an emissions allowance or offset certification, has exploded in popularity in recent years. 

As climate change consequences worsen, international organizations, local governments, and businesses join the VCM to mitigate their environmental impacts. 

Widespread involvement in and support for carbon offset programs through the VCM is ideal for improving human’s chances of slowing global habitat degradation. The VCM has enhanced public knowledge and participation in projects like reforestation and sustainable energy production, primarily. These are some of the most effective initiatives for restoring and sustaining the health and safety of all life on Earth. 

For example, studies show that “forest growth rate is the most important determinant of cumulative mitigation” of greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation for the next century.1

A team of researchers from Bangor University in the United Kingdom (UK) and the Government of British Columbia reported that a planting strategy throughout the UK could mitigate 1.64 Pg CO2e (petagrams of carbon dioxide equivalent) by 2120, depending on the tree species. This exceeds estimations for planting only conservation forests: 0.54-1.72 Pg CO2e.1

 

Since large corporations are responsible for a large portion of the world’s harmful GHG emissions, it makes sense for them to take responsibility for the resulting environmental damage by buying carbon credits through the VCM. 

For instance, just 20 companies worldwide have released 480 billion tonnes (529 billion tons) of CO2e into the atmosphere since 1965. Some of the worst offenders include:2

  • Saudi Aramco: 59.26 billion tonnes (65.32 billion tons) 
  • Chevron: 43.35 billion tonnes (47.79 billion tons) 
  • Gazprom: 43.23 billion tonnes (47.65 billion tons) 
  • ExxonMobil: 41.90 billion tonnes (46.19 billion tons) 
  • National Iranian Oil Co: 35.66 billion tonnes (39.31 billion tons) 

All this considered, it’s not only ideal but essential that large corporations shoulder most of the burden of climate change mitigation. 

Matthew Taylor and Jonathan Watts of The Guardian write, “The great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and a half billion people must pay the price – in the form of a degraded planet – so that a couple of dozen polluting interests can continue to make record profits.”2

Although more corporate accountability is growing, the world needs more. Plus, many of the big emitters don’t do enough to either offset their environmental harm or improve their practices in terms of sustainability. Because of this, individuals like you must step up and mitigate your own GHG emissions. 

Offsetting Your Individual Carbon Footprint with Carbon Credits for Individuals 

The most recent climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has discouraged millions of people worldwide. This is understandable, as the findings are beyond devastating. 

The report revealed that humans have likely caused the global surface temperature to increase from 0.8֯C to 1.3֯C between 1850-1900 to 2010-2019. The scientists’ best overall estimate is about 1.07֯C rise – dangerously close to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, widely considered to be the point at which countless disastrous ecological changes will become irreversible.3,4

In sum, the IPCC report showed a damning truth: “Human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.”3

Unfortunately, many people have taken this to mean that individual action is meaningless in the greater scheme of things. 

After all, global corporations are responsible for one-third of the entire world’s carbon emissions. Small lifestyle changes between individuals seem like a hopeless, last-ditch effort to save the planet.2

Some environmentalists would beg to differ. 

Jason Mark, magazine editor for one of the United States’ oldest, largest grassroots environmental groups, the Sierra Club, discussed the fragility of the balance between recognizing the responsibility of big business and individuals. 

Mark states that societies should not dismiss how much of an impact corporations have had on the climate. At the same time, people should not give in to the “knee-jerk reaction against discussing our individual responsibility for climate change risks becoming an obstacle to the sweeping changes required to achieve a carbon drawdown economy.”5

The time for individual action is now. Fortunately, it’s never been easier to get started – all it takes is two steps! 

1. Calculate Your Carbon Emissions 

Almost everything in modern life can be detrimental to the environment in one way or another. Many societies – especially Western ones – and the activities within them are designed for humans alone, with little to no consideration for other forms of life. 

This means that much of what you do – from your commute to work to your online shopping habits – affects the wild animals and plants around you. For this reason, calculate your carbon emissions to keep a close eye on your climate impacts. From there, you can formulate a plan to make your lifestyle more sustainable and reduce your carbon footprint

Some of the most carbon-intensive activities to include in your calculations are as follows:6

  • Eating habits: Food makes up 10-30 percent of your entire household’s carbon footprint. This is especially the case for relatively low-income households. Agricultural practices emit carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, some of the most destructive GHGs. Changes to your diet (e.g., eating less meat, which accounts for almost 57 percent of your diet’s GHGs) can minimize the damage wrought from your dining habits. 
  • Home energy use: American power plants release nearly one pound of CO2e for every kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. Of course, the main culprits behind this issue are coal, petroleum, and natural gas. In general, household appliances, such as refrigerators and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and cooling) systems, are heavy residential energy consumers. 
  • Transportation: If there’s anything in your life that contributes to a hefty carbon footprint, it’s your driving habits. Cars and light trucks are some of the leading emitters, accounting for 1.1 billion metric tons CO2e in 2018, the equivalent of 17 percent of the entire US GHGs that year. Even electric vehicles contribute to global warming at some point in their lifespan, especially the manufacturing stage. 

These are only a few of your carbon footprint factors. An assessment of these elements will give you a strong introductory look at how you might be affecting local and global ecosystems. 

However, a personalized calculation that accounts for these facets and more, like your geographic location, travel habits, and shopping patterns, will provide a more practical foundation for building a greener lifestyle. 

2. Support Ecological Carbon Offset Projects to Shrink Your Footprint 

Offsetting your contributions to global climate change doesn’t stop with a few calculations. Once you know how your individual actions have affected local ecosystems, you must work to reverse those changes. The best way to do this is through a trusted carbon offset company

Experts from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) state, “We must continue to plant trees and protect forests and peatlands… Offset schemes play an important role in funding and upscaling [offset projects].”7

Studies show that forests are a critical source of nature-based climate solutions (NCS). Some of the most promising initiatives include:8

  • Reforestation 
  • Stopping forest conversions (e.g., deforestation to create farmland)
  • Natural forest management 
  • Better fire management practices 

Burnt trees in Brazil as the result of a wildfire, with an 8 Billion Trees watermark.

In total, NCS offers 37 percent of “cost-effective CO2 mitigation” the world desperately needs by 2030. Such solutions would give the world more than a 66 percent chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Fahrenheit.8

For this reason, individual and corporate purchases of forestry carbon offsets can make a world of difference for the planet. 

On your own, you could support efforts to protect and plant trees in the world’s most vulnerable yet vital habitats, including: 

These regions represent some of the world’s most heavily impacted habitats. They are home to some of the world’s largest, most important concentrations of biodiversity. The world cannot afford to lose them. 

Mitigating your carbon emissions via forestry offset programs ensures that we can not only remove existing GHGs from the atmosphere, but that wild animals retain their homes and resources. This way, both human and non-human life can persevere through some of the world’s most destructive climate fluctuations in recent history. 

Do Your Part to Fight Climate Change 

It’s undeniable that large companies bear most of the burden for the current state of Earth’s climate. For this reason, many understandably want to see them take the lead in mitigating emissions.

Such perspectives are justifiable, but they shouldn’t overshadow the need for individual action. There are many emissions sources you can’t avoid in everyday life, such as those from household energy use and driving. 

The best way to address inevitable emissions is by supporting offset projects and investing in carbon credits for individuals. These help eliminate and prevent harmful GHG emissions by protecting and restoring forests, among other initiatives. Calculate your carbon footprint now to learn which afforestation project is best for mitigating your environmental impacts.

Read More About Carbon Offsets:


References

1Forster, E. J., Healey, J. R., Dymond, C., & Styles, D. (2021). Commercial afforestation can deliver effective climate change mitigation under multiple decarbonisation pathways. Nature Communications, 12(1). Retrieved August 27, 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-24084-x

2Taylor, M., & Watts, J. (2019, October 9). Revealed: The 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions. The Guardian. Retrieved August 27, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/revealed-20-firms-third-carbon-emissions

3Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2021). Climate change 2021: The Physical Science Basis | Summary for Policymakers (IPCC AR6 WGI). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved August 27, 2021, from https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf

4Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2021). Chapter 3: Impacts of 1.5C global warming on natural and human systems (IPCC AR6 WGI). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved August 27, 2021, from  https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

5Mark, J. (2019, November 26). Yes, actually, individual responsibility is essential to solving the climate crisis. Sierra Club. Retrieved August 27, 2021, from https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/yes-actually-individual-responsibility-essential-solving-climate-crisis

6Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan. (2020). Carbon footprint factsheet.Retrieved August 27, 2021, from  https://css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon-footprint-factsheet

7United Nations Environment Programme. (2019, June 10). Carbon offsets are not our get-out-of-jail free card. Retrieved August 27, 2021, from https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/carbon-offsets-are-not-our-get-out-jail-free-card

8Griscom, B. (2021, May 6). Why we can’t afford to dismiss carbon offsetting. The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved August 27, 2021, from https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-insights/perspectives/carbon-offsetting-moral-imperative/