According to the IPCC, carbon offsetting is any action that reduces emissions elsewhere to compensate for CO2 or other greenhouse gas emissions (measured in CO2-equivalent). 

These emission reductions are accomplished through a variety of projects, including reforestation, blue carbon with mangroves, energy switching from thermal to geothermal heating, and so on. 

They reduce CO2e emissions by avoiding or sequestering carbon dioxide, so compensating for remaining carbon releases elsewhere.

How Could They Be Greenwashing?

In this instance, greenwashing occurs when businesses neglect to prioritize internal emissions reduction, double-count carbon credits, or invest in non-verified credits. 

These actions constitute greenwashing because they mislead the public into believing that these businesses are dedicated to decreasing carbon emissions.

Investing In Projects With Little Added Value

Carbon offset projects must not generate credits from emission reduction or removal programs that would have occurred regardless of the company’s expenditure if they are to be effective. 

When this occurs, the initiative has no practical effect on reducing emissions. 

MIT Technology Review and ProPublica uncovered, for instance, that an audubon society received carbon credits for preserving forests that were never in danger of being cut down; and when companies like Shell, purchased these credits as part of their carbon offset program. 

They were unable to offset their emissions due to this crucial factor.

When Credits Are Counted More Than Once

Greenwashing also occurs when a firm’s trade reduction is counted twice: by the company offsetting its emissions and by the project’s host country when reporting its nationally determined contributions or climate target. 

This contradicting double-counting is dubbed greenwashing since, in reality, only one reduction happened, yet it is tallied twice.

Not Prioritizing The Reduction Of Internal Emissions

When a corporation fails to prioritize the reduction of internal emissions, the value of its carbon offset programs is questioned. 

Because the corporation only offsets a portion of its emissions, this effort may be termed greenwashing. Moreover, assume that the carbon offsetting initiative is ephemeral. 

In such a circumstance, it becomes irrelevant because the previously sequestered GHGs are released into the atmosphere. Virgin Atlantic’s Oddar Meanchey program to offset carbon through afforestation projects in Cambodia is an illustration of this scenario. 

Fern revealed that ongoing deforestation actions negated the emissions that the trees had previously offset through the initiative.

Their Programs Are Difficult

A reliance on carbon offsets without the necessary emission reductions is detrimental to the achievement of net-zero commitments. When properly implemented, carbon offset programs can increase carbon storage or reduce carbon emissions. 

However, these projects are only short-term solutions because they do not address major sources of carbon emissions, such as the use of fossil fuels. 

Carbon offset schemes have been criticized by international non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth, on the grounds that they promote a culture of climate pollution.

Carbon offsets that rely on land usage in developing countries carry the risk of shifting the responsibility for lowering emissions from wealthier nations to those who are already experiencing the effects of the climate catastrophe

For instance, large-scale tree planting might increase soil degradation and introduce biosecurity hazards such as cross-contamination, so jeopardizing the anticipated environmental advantages.

Companies Entangled In Controversies

Investing in non-verified credits, not prioritizing in-house emission reductions, and double-counting carbon credits are all examples of greenwashing that mislead consumers into believing a company is doing more than it actually is to protect the environment. 

The following companies were detected greenwashing with carbon offsets:

Nature Conservation

The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit organization whose aim is to preserve the land and water upon which all life depends. 

They own or have helped create more than 20 projects on wooded land in the United States that generate carbon credits so that large firms (such as Walt Disney and JPMorgan) can claim their own reductions in carbon emissions. 

Virgin Atlantic Airways 

In 2017, the environmental and social justice organization “Fern” gave the offset credits for forest protection in Oddar Meanchey, Cambodia a poor grade. 

Virgin ceased purchasing credits after learning that the Cambodian military was systematically clearing the woods that were supposed to be preserved by the project. This deforestation rendered carbon offsets null and void.

Is This An Effective Ecological Strategy?

Carbon offsetting must be a means, not an aim in itself. To achieve worldwide net-zero emissions, additional measures are required. 

The first step in developing an effective environmental strategy is measuring and then reducing emissions. Carbon offsetting must account for emissions remaining after this entire process. 

The key to avoiding greenwashing is transparency. There are some crucial steps to avoiding greenwashing and ineffective climate action:

Before offsetting its remaining carbon emissions, a company must carefully select its projects. In order to do so, it can reach out to reputable and stringent middlemen like ClimateSeed. 

We assure the quality of projects and that the contributions of enterprises maximize good social and environmental consequences. Carbon credits facilitate environmental and social impacts. 

When a corporation contributes to a project, it is essential to choose projects with a positive influence on the local community and to verify the claims of the project’s developer.

Organizations must have clear communication rules during and after high-quality carbon offsetting. After implementing effective climate action, a business must pay particular attention to its communications while maximizing transparency. 

Consequently, an effective environmental strategy begins with goal-setting and concludes with effective and honest communication. 

As there is a need for a global effort to combat climate change, it is preferable to use phrases such as “global net-zero” and “global carbon neutrality.” 


Carbon offsetting is a contentious strategy for reducing carbon emissions because the projects must be both additional and permanent, and you must invest in verified credits, prioritize in-house emission reductions first, and only employ single-count carbon credits. 

This can be difficult since the VCM is fragmented and complex, resulting in uncertainty, inconsistencies, and a general lack of trust in the system. Greenwashing can be avoided by adhering to carbon offset project guidelines and meeting essential criteria.

Carbon offsets are a fantastic starting point for reducing carbon emissions, but for long-term success, we cannot rely only on them. 

The most effective method for reducing our carbon footprint and maximizing environmental benefits is to reduce emissions at the source and then offset the remaining.

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