The next time a company offers to plant trees to neutralize your CO2 travel related emissions, think again since the claim could be deceptive.
"Passengers and customers should always ask for wind, hydro, solar or bio-gas type offset projects since the reductions are real and have already taken place, unlike tree planting projects which will cut carbon emissions sometime into the future," suggests a carbon specialist from India.
Emission reduction offsets verified by the VCS (one of the preferred standards in the world for carbon offsets) offer the best assurance that these essential criteria are met. Offsets from tree-planting projects do not.
In fact, according to the FTC, any project that claims to cut carbon emissions over two years or more into the future (such as tree plantations etc) cannot be quantified as carbon offset projects.
The latest green guidelines issued by the FTC states:
(a) Given the complexities of carbon offsets, sellers should employ competent and reliable scientific and accounting methods to properly quantify claimed emission reductions and to ensure that they do not sell the same reduction more than one time.
(b) It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a carbon offset represents emission reductions that have already occurred or will occur in the immediate future. To avoid deception, marketers should clearly and prominently disclose if the carbon offset represents emission reductions that will not occur for two years or longer.
(c) It is deceptive to claim, directly or by implication, that a carbon offset represents an emission reduction if the reduction, or the activity that caused the reduction, was required by law.
Some travel portals in India suggest that tree planting carbon offsetting helps local farmers in earning a livelihood. "These portals should then market the initiative as rural poverty alleviation project development and not carbon offset services. These claims according to FTC guidelines are deceptive. Can these travel portals provide any proof that the trees will still be there 30 years into the future?" asked another carbon trader.
FTC Example 1: On its website, an online travel agency invites consumers to purchase offsets to “neutralize the carbon emissions from your flight.” The proceeds from the offset sales fund future projects that will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions for two years. The claim likely conveys that the emission reductions either already have occurred or will occur in the near future. Therefore, the advertisement is deceptive. It would not be deceptive if the agency’s website stated “Offset the carbon emissions from your flight by funding new projects that will begin reducing emissions in two years.”
FTC Example 2: An offset provider claims that its product “will offset your own ‘dirty’ driving habits.” The offset is based on methane capture at a landfill facility. State law requires this facility to capture all methane emitted from the landfill. The claim is deceptive because the emission reduction would have occurred regardless of whether consumers purchased the offsets.