How to Minimize Your Carbon Footprint with Carbon Offsets

Conserving energy is just the tip of the iceberg these days. To really make a difference, you need to reduce your carbon footprint significantly—down to zero, if possible. But beyond giving more thought to things like travel and energy consumption, the path to carbon neutrality remains a mystery to most; some people buy hybrid cars, while others stop drinking bottled water. A select few who are truly committed to carbon neutrality choose to go completely off the grid, taking sustainable living to a whole new level. But if you’re not ready to disconnect from the energy grid and start growing your own food, what can you do to get closer to a zero-emission lifestyle?

We’ve got good news: you don’t have to give up driving or hot water to do the right thing. One of the most accessible and effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint is buying carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates (RECs). If that sentence just lost you in a sea of buzzwords, here comes the lifesaver—we’re going to delve into what carbon offsets and RECs are, why you should buy them, and how you can pick the right ones.

What Are Carbon Offsets?

The idea behind carbon offsets is that you can make up for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions you produce by purchasing “offsets”—investments that support projects to prevent an equal amount of GHG from being generated.

Let’s say you produce one metric ton of GHG emissions each year from driving your car. To offset those emissions, you can invest in a project to prevent deforestation in the Amazon. You’re effectively paying a third party to prevent or destroy emissions that would have otherwise been created.

The concept of carbon offsetting can be difficult to grasp at first because the funded projects generally happen somewhere else in the world. So while you’re still driving your car to work every day in Houston, Texas, for example, the anti-deforestation project in Brazil balances out your GHG output. The end result is that your environmental impact—on a worldwide scale—is smaller.

What Are RECs?

In contrast to carbon offsets, RECs usually make an impact closer to home. An REC verifies that someone on the grid is generating renewable energy. By purchasing an REC, you’re paying another party for generating 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of renewable energy. Purchasing an REC doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be using renewable energy in your home—once the renewable energy enters the grid, it’s mixed in with energy from fossil fuels and other sources. Instead, buying an REC ensures that renewable energy from solar, wind, and other sources is incorporated into the larger energy grid.

When you purchase an REC directly, you receive a certificate that represents the renewable power you’re funding. So even if you don’t live near a renewable energy source, you can still contribute to renewable energy production and use.  

What Are the Benefits of Buying Carbon Offsets or RECs?

There’s only so much you can do to reduce the emissions your daily life produces. From the way you travel and the energy you use at home to the food you eat and even the clothes you wear, every life choice you make influences your carbon footprint.

While that sounds like a lot of responsibility to bear, there’s no reason to beat yourself up if you’re not ready to zero-out your lifestyle and head off the grid just yet. After you’ve made all the changes you can, let carbon offsets and RECs help make up the difference.

When you purchase carbon offsets or RECs, you’re doing some—or all—of the following:
  • Taking full responsibility for your personal contribution to climate change.
  • Helping fund projects that reduce, avoid, prevent, or destroy GHG emissions around the world.
  • Reducing reliance on traditional energy sources like fossil fuels.
  • Pushing your city and state to expand use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
  • Setting an example for others to pursue GHG reduction options.

The most surprising thing of all is that you can do all of this without incurring another huge bill that you have to worry about every month—carbon offsets and RECs are very reasonably priced. Amigo Energy, for instance, will purchase renewable-energy credits on your behalf for just $5 more a month. In any case, remember: the more emissions you can reduce through other means, the less you’ll have to compensate for through offsets and RECs.  

How to Pick the Right Carbon Offsets or RECs

As with any investment, you’ll want to do your research before committing to a purchase. Fortunately, there are some ways you can verify the legitimacy of the offsets you’re thinking of buying.

First, look to groups like the Climate Action Reserve or Green-e, which set standards for carbon offset projects and RECs to ensure that projects comply with established rules and protocols. Further, make sure the organization you purchase your offsets or certificates from conducts transparent business. You shouldn’t have to dig for information or reporting to see exactly where your money is going.

Next, find out what REC or offset programs your local power utility or retail electric provider supports. Plenty of energy providers make an effort to source and purchase carbon offsets and RECs, allowing customers to support eco-friendly projects and energy sources. Your energy provider may also have other programs or energy-efficiency tips that could help you reduce your energy consumption every day, decreasing the amount you’ll have to offset to achieve neutrality. Amigo Energy, for example, offers renewable-energy credits, energy-efficiency tips, and green technology like the Ecobee Smart Thermostat to help you cut your carbon footprint.

Doing the right thing when it comes to your carbon footprint is important. Figure out what your current impact is, and then explore the carbon reduction, offset, and REC options that make the most sense to help you get closer to carbon-neutral living. And don’t forget to let Amigo Energy help you out along the way.  

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