Many corporations are announcing they’ll be carbon neutral – or even carbon negative – by using schemes that offset their emissions. There are many such schemes, perhaps the most popular being those that save areas from deforestation. For every tree not cut down, a company can offset the benefit against their own emissions.
These schemes are often controversial. Microsoft reportedly looked into using such schemes, and found the reality was far short of the promise. By their own rating system, Microsoft ranked more than two thirds of schemes as having just one star out of five. Like I said, controversial.
If these schemes work, and it’s a big if, could there be other ways to avoid emissions, other than saving forests?
I’m working on a small project to encourage people to cycle when it’s rainy. For every person cycling, we improve traffic, health and lots of other metrics. And this got me thinking.
What if we can use cyclists as a carbon offset?
Existing carbon offset schemes avoid emissions by not cutting down trees. With a new scheme, for every person we encourage to cycle, and for every kilometre cycled, this avoids emissions by other modes of transport. It sounds a bit strange, but so does paying people to not cut down trees, so let’s explore the idea further.
Most journeys are by private car. For every kilometer driven, the average car emits 122g of CO2, or 0.122 KG.
The current price of carbon is €49 per KG
This means driving causes emissions that cost 0.122 x €49 per kilometre, or €5.94
If this calculation is right, it seems viable for businesses buy carbon offsets for cycling.
The money could go to the people cycling, as an added incentive, while businesses get to offset their emissions. For someone cycling a 5km round trip to work each day, this would mean almost €30 per week – not bad!
Of course, offsets only work when there’s a behaviour change. For someone who is already cycling, they’ve already reduced emissions, so you can’t count them again. For this to work, you’d need a large population of people who currently travel by car.
Sounds interesting, but how big is this? I mean, rainforests are huge.
In County Meath, we drove 1,583,000,000 km in 2016, according to the CSO.
Let’s say we managed to reduce just 1% of those journeys, at a rate of €5.94 per kilometre we’re talking €94m per year. And that’s just County Meath.
I’ve heard worse business plans tbh.
Inspired by the “Planet Money” podcast, episode “Emission Impossible”