A recent front page article in the Washington Post caught our eye because it tackled the sticky and oh-so-trendy issue of the carbon offset, calling it "among the most unusual of commodities":
Its substance is intangible, the absence of something. Some pollution would have existed, somewhere, sometime, the seller says, but now it won't.
This booming, unregulated market trades in outcomes that are hard to measure and, in some cases, generates profits for companies while providing no real benefit to the environment. IT was troubled to learn that some consumers who purchased offsets were paying for nothing other than a "renewable energy certificate": i.e. a piece of paper claiming that their purchase led to the creation of clean energy. IT would condone this practice (especially if the certificate were delivered as a paper-saving PDF) if the certificate actually reflected positive change. However, since many such certificates are purchased after the energy is produced, many environmentalists fear the consumer is buying something that would have been produced anyway.
So, what's a traveler to do? The Post hints that more FTC regulation is coming. But for now, when offsetting your lifestyle or your next trip, think twice before investing in a company. Don't get out your checkbook for the first hit that comes up on a Google search. Ask the company if their results have been scientifically proven to create quality renewable energy, and make sure you know exactly where your money is going. It also helps if the company is certified by an independent organization. According to the folks at Sustainable Travel International, two of the most respected carbon offset certification groups include Green-e for domestic offsets and the CDM Gold Standard for international offset projects. Happy shopping!