Carbon offsetting recommedations?

Last year I did quite a lot of travel, both air and road, and I’ve been looking into carbon offsetting schemes to compensate for this. According to the Bulb calculator, my carbon footprint for last year is around £116.

I am naturally drawn towards tree planting schemes, but some commentators are very critical of these for various reasons and suggest that investment in renewables is the way to go.

I wonder if Bulb has a more favoured approach for their green gas offsetting?

Firstly the best thing you can do is make yourself more aware of the impact of your travel and lifestyle and reduce your impact going forward.

I’m aware of the issues with offsetting via tree planting but personally that is something that I do. But I physically volunteer my time and go and plant trees with local organisations which mitigates the issues mentioned in that article.

The Bulb offsetting page that you linked lists Bulb’s favoured approach though so I’m not totally sure what you’re asking.

I guess I’m just looking for preferred alternatives to tree planting schemes.

According to Bulb’s carbon calculator, I generate 7.2 tonnes of carbon per year. Bulb say I can offset a carbon footprint of 7.2 tonnes for £50.66, which I find a bit too cheap to believe. If it really is this cheap then for the entire UK carbon offsetting would cost a mere £6 billion/yr. I just don’t believe this can be right – maybe the problem is that there’s not enough carbon offsetting to go round, and this is the low-hanging fruit. It can’t be down to planting trees - I’d need a massive 3661 trees per year, all to myself. Looking at this another way, it would cost an unbelievable £52.66/3661 trees = 1 p to plant a tree!

Can anyone please comment on this conundrum?

All carbon offsetting is based on the whole lifespan of the product/scheme and it’s often very optimistic (such as some tree planting considering every single tree for >40 years) which can make it cheaper, but I still can’t think of anything that cheap.

I can at least say that planting trees can be very cheap in certain areas of the world, but there are far more costs than just planting trees. One of the things that is often rather overlooked is the ongoing maintenance required, and that one tree planted does not equal one tree offsetting carbon. A percentage will die, and then a significant percentage will be thinned out before they reach an age that they have done anything particularly useful as far as carbon absorbtion goes.

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To add to this, trees planted en-mass (>1000 trees per day per person) are planted by workers paid somewhere in the region of 7p/tree.
Adding on additional costs of employment, tools and materials, the trees themselves, the fact they get thinned out and some die and there may be some land cost, I’d guess you’re looking at somewhere between 50p and £1 per useful tree in a few decades.

We’ve done a lot of research in the area of carbon offsetting:

  • 1 tree absorbs about 26-34kg of carbon in 1 year. Source: Institute of Terrestrial Ecology.

  • The average person in the UK uses about 9.3 tonnes (including central usage - e.g. NHS). Source: ONS.

  • So you need 310 tree-years, on average to offset your annual carbon footprint.

But a conifer tends to mature after 35 years, and a broadleaf (hardwood) closer to 80-100 years. So, you could plant 3-4 broadleaves each year, as long as you guarantee they are still around at maturity.

Depending on the cost of land and maintenance, you could offset for under £100/year…which is precisely what we do for our donors at the not-for-profit My Carbon Plan: offsetting carbon footprints for £5/month per person.

Please bear in mind: we all can’t endlessly offset to reach carbon zero, we need to reduce our carbon footprints as well.

DISCLOSURE: I represent My Carbon Plan:

What’s interesting is that the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology paper (1999 - lists those figures for trees that are 8-12.6m apart, which is not even close to the spacing that trees are typically planted at, even when you account for thinning out in a managed forest.

The figures are also for the lifetime of the tree, so if one can only guarantee a tree for half of its life, the per-year carbon sequestration figures will be significantly lower.

I’m unsure how you’re offering to offset for £5/month right now when you haven’t planted anything yet though. Consider me pessimistic but it doesn’t seem like you can guarantee the tree lifetime required to offset at that price.

Honestly anyone who wants to offset would be best off trying to get involved with a local well established tree planting group as one person can easily plant a few dozen trees in a day and the most expensive part (in the UK especially) is the labour of actually planting the trees.

I found this article really useful in working out the range of different schemes and what the hang-ups were around offsetting

Bulb seem to offer a couple of different methods like providing clean stoves and rainforest tree planting. Hard to find what all their offsetting projects are anywhere though