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Have you started tracking your Carbon Footprint? My Spin on Carbon Offsets


My wife and I are trying to reduce our carbon footprint by 26% by 2025.  The carbon calculator that I discussed in the first few posts was very useful because it provided us with our annual carbon footprint in Metric Tons.  However, it also gave us an idea of how much Carbon Offset credits might cost.  In this post, I will be discussing Carbon Offsets, what they are, and why I prefer a certain sub-category of carbon offsets.

What are Carbon Offsets?

A Carbon Offset is intended to represent the cost to remove 1 Metric Ton of Carbon out of the atmosphere.  While this is a very simple concept, deploying carbon offset money can be a bit less straightforward.  What is the best way to remove carbon from the atmosphere?  Turns out, there are plenty of carbon offset portfolios out there that will offer you a variety of solutions.  You can buy into these portfolios and in return you get carbon offset credits that can be used to buy down your emissions tonnage.  When I was looking at carbon offsets for my family, I found that most options cost between $7.50-$17.00 per Metric Ton.  So for my household to offset the 30 tonnes of carbon that we emitted in 2019, it would cost $225-$510.   I’ll get back to this point in a bit.

Most portfolios offer you Carbon Offset credit that fall into one of two general categories:

  1. Direct Capture



  2. Avoiding Future Emissions



    •  Investment in renewables
    • clean cookstoves in the developing world
    • solar lanterns for students in the developing world

These are all great ways to get carbon out of the atmosphere.  As we were reviewing the options for our household, a few things stuck out to me:

  1. $225-$500 doesn’t seem like that much money.  How can saving the world cost less than a new set of tires?  Maybe I am just paying too much for tires…
  2. The idea of simply writing a check to a carbon offset portfolio leaves me feeling empty.  I’d feel like I didn’t actually improve the world.
  3. If I did this, how would I know that the money is being put to good use? Many Carbon Offset portfolios are for tree planting initiatives.  Planting trees is great, but how do I know that the trees won’t get cut down later?  I want my carbon offset money to go towards something that will last.
  4. This may be selfish, but I want to be able to see the world get better around me.  Simply hearing about improvements made somewhere else is not as compelling to me as making positive changes that I can see and feel around me.
My Spin on Carbon Offsets:

After thinking about this for a while, I came up with an idea that fits the definition of a Carbon Offset but also addresses many of the concerns that I just listed.  I’m calling this sub-category of Carbon Offsets “Carbon Penance”.  Take your $7.50-$17.00 per Metric Ton and invest it into a climate solution for your family that you would not have otherwise purchased.   Here are the criteria for a good Carbon Penance Project:

  • Something that you have always thought was a good idea, but just a little too expensive.
Something that you can experience in your life.  It’s OK if the project makes your daily life better too.
  • Something that you would not have otherwise purchased.
  • Something that helps you achieve your household carbon footprint reduction goal.
  • Something that supports local business and/or the community that you are in.

Kellie and I have actually selected a Carbon Penance Project that will be installed this Summer.  Before we landed on a specific project we put a lot of thought into what our options were.  Here are the penance projects that we considered, and the reasons why we chose not to move forward with them.

  • Electric Vehicle for Kellie – This would be a great project because it would reduce our annual Carbon Footprint by 15% !!!  An electric vehicle is a great way to take a big bit out of your Carbon Footprint.  We ended up not choosing this project because we are pretty confident that her next car would be an EV anyway.  An EV is an easy sell to us and a good Penance Project is something that you would not have done otherwise.
  • New AC Unit – This got some serious consideration!  Our current unit is 20 years old and is going to die any day now.  A standard-efficiency new AC unit is going to be a big improvement over an AC unit that old.  While getting a new AC unit is something that we are probably going to do in the next 18 months anyway, we probably won’t spend the extra money on a super high-efficiency unit.  If we chose this as our Penance Project, we would use our carbon offset money to pay for the difference between a standard unit and a high-efficiency unit.  We may choose this as a Penance Project in the future, but we chose to hold off for a few reasons. 1) I’d be more willing to do the upgrade if geothermal was an option at our house.  But for various reasons that I won’t get into, Geothermal is not a good option at our house  2) a new AC unit is going to be a big improvement regardless.  We felt that we could use the money to make another big improvement somewhere else.

After much consideration, we ended up choosing a Deep Energy Efficiency Retrofit as our penance project. You may be wondering “What’s included in a Deep Energy Efficiency Retrofit”?  First, all of the old insulation is vacuumed out of my attic and crawl space.  Next, my building envelope is sealed which will help the cool air from escaping my house in the Summer, thus reducing my AC bill.  Finally, new insulation is put in place.  It is very common for homes to be under-insulated. There are some moisture control elements to the project also, but generally speaking, my house will become much more efficient and comfortable.

Here is why a Deep Energy Efficiency Retrofit is a great Carbon Penance Project for us:

  1. It seems like Energy Efficiency is always the bridesmaid and never the bride despite being a very impactful climate solution.  Energy Efficiency finally gets the attention it deserves!
  2. This project will help us achieve our goal of hitting a 26% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025.  We think that this upgrade, combined with a new AC unit next year can greatly reduce our energy usage annually.  If you recall, we currently produce ~30% of our electricity from the solar panels on our roof.  We are hoping to reduce our usage enough that the solar panels produce ~70%+ of our electricity usage.  Wouldn’t that be cool!
  3. My investment in energy efficiency helps to drive up volume and reduce costs for the next homeowner that wants to become more energy efficient.   If the local energy efficiency company is doing well, hopefully, more will start to pop up.  We need more companies that deploy climate solutions!
  4. Professional Interest.  I’m curious to see just how big of an impact the upgrade will have.
  5. This upgrade will make our home more comfortable.  We have rooms that are consistently too hot and others that are too cold.  A better building envelope should help keep the temperatures more consistent throughout the house.
  6. The project cost a little more than we want it too.  The above-mentioned benefits are great, but they were not enough to justify the cost for us.  Assigning a dollar value to the climate impact helps tip the scales in favor of proceeding with the project.  Doing this upgrade as a Carbon Penance Project was the final nudge that we needed.
  7. The impacts of an energy efficiency upgrade will be passed onto the next owner.  This project will have lasting effects.

Closing Words
Again, I hope that this was helpful.  While an Electric Vehicle, new AC unit, and an Energy Efficiency upgrade were good options for us to consider, they might not be the perfect Carbon Penance Project for you.  Here are some examples of other Penance Projects to consider:

  • Covering the cost difference between a standard appliance and the high efficiency or energy star model.
  • Getting reusable containers that seemed too expensive before
  • Getting solar on your home
  • Buying a compost bin

Share your carbon footprint journey on social media. Tag us on Facebook and hashtag #CarbonFootprint.