Carbon offsetting schemes 'very confusing'Which? finds no consistency between schemes

19 March 2008

Climate calculator

Schemes which help you offset your ‘carbon footprint’ are often inconsistent and confusing for consumers, according to Which? Money.

We found there are big variations in how carbon offsetting schemes calculate people’s ‘carbon footprints’ and how much they charge to offset them.

Researchers used an example of a couple living in a two-bedroom semi in West London to compare the 13 UK-based carbon offset companies.

The couple spent £500 a year on gas and £300 a year on electricity, drove a petrol-engined Ford Focus 8,000 miles a year and took one return flight each a year from London Heathrow to Barcelona.

Carbon calculators

But emissions calculated varied from 1.15 tonnes with a company called Carbon Footprint, to 7.1 tonnes with The Carbon Neutral Company. 

The government calculator gave an emissions figure of 4.31 tonnes.

To add to the confusion, the cost to offset a tonne of carbon dioxide varied from £7 a tonne to almost £23 a tonne depending on the website and project selected.

The overall cost to offset carbon produced by the test couple ranged from £25 to almost £160.

Admin fees

Which? Money was concerned that many websites failed to give sufficient information about where donations go.

For example, few revealed the proportion of donations that reach the offset project and how much goes on administration fees.

Climate Care was the most transparent, with Blue Ventures Carbon Offset, Pure and the World Land Trust also highly rated.

The government plans to introduce a voluntary code of practice this spring to cover carbon offsetting projects that comply with the Kyoto treaty on climate change, but it will not apply to voluntary schemes.

Footprint

Which? Money Editor Martyn Hocking said: ‘Carbon offsetting schemes offer to ease your conscience, but choosing which company to use can be very confusing as there’s no consistency in how they calculate your "carbon footprint" or how much they charge.

‘The new code of practice will help indicate which schemes meet standards of transparency and quality.

‘As voluntary schemes are not covered, we'd like to see the industry develop its own code of conduct so that people can donate with confidence and know that their payment is being used for a verifiable project.’