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Why carbon offsetting alone can’t save the planet

While climate change and climate action are identified as key concerns by businesses of all sizes, if the UK is to realistically reach its goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, every industry in the economy must drastically reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

Carbon offsetting is proving a popular way for businesses to neutralise the emissions generated by their activities and their supply chain.

The basic principle is that a business that produces carbon – however big or small they might be – also invests in activity that absorbs carbon, in order to cancel out the negative environmental impact of its operations, reducing its overall carbon footprint.

There are many ways to approach carbon offsetting, which often means joining forces with a partner that can help you transition to net zero through offset projects.

Commonly, a small business might provide financial support for projects that help clean up the atmosphere by absorbing carbon, such as planting trees, or emission reductions, perhaps by installing solar panels or windfarms for communities in developing countries.

More and more organisations are offsetting their carbon emissions voluntarily, because they realise it’s the right thing to do for the planet, their investors and customers.

In 2019 alone, more than 100 million metric tonnes of CO2 were voluntarily offset by businesses around the world1.

But is it enough?

Offsetting plays its part in helping small businesses be more sustainable, but it’s not the whole picture.

Businesses that want to be truly carbon neutral need to approach the issue in a more holistic way, employing strategies to cut harmful greenhouse gases from every internal process and throughout their supply chain too.

This means looking at everything from product design and manufacturing, right through to logistics and end-of-life recycling and reuse.

Ultimately, it will always be better to avoid doing the damage in the first place if possible, rather than looking for ways to offset it or clean it up later.

In the shorter term, not all small businesses have the resources to be able to do this effectively, and this can be a particular challenge for smaller companies.

That is where carbon offsetting can be useful, but it’s not a substitute for a long-term net zero strategy.

The bigger picture

Responsible procurement plays a key role here, and choosing to work with suppliers that operate on circular economy models to support their carbon neutral goals can make a big difference.

This can be a challenge, so it makes sense to focus your efforts where they can have the most impact.

Concentrate on metrics that are measurable and relevant to your business, such as energy use (including using renewable energy where you can), waste produced or miles travelled.

For example, at Brother we have achieved our target of being 100% zero waste to landfill across our UK operation for the past 11 years.

This has allowed us to step up our CO2 reporting to customers that recycle with us, so that the information can be fed into their own sustainability data.

While carbon offsetting can help small businesses along their sustainability journey, achieving net zero will ultimately mean firms at all stages of the supply chain working together to do the right thing to reduce their carbon emissions.

Discover how a Brother EcoPro subscription could help you print more sustainably.


1. Vox Media: 'Can you really negate your carbon emissions? Carbon offsets, explained.'

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