Marketing Your Actions: What You Can Claim From Carbon Offset Projects

One of the top reasons for buying carbon offsets is to strengthen your company’s environmental image.

The act of voluntarily paying for carbon reduction projects is often perceived favorably by green-minded consumers, and it’s easier to tell a good story about innovative projects in disadvantaged communities than to focus on dry subjects such as incremental energy efficiency improvements or waste reduction strategies.

But marketers beware! The US Federal Trade Commission’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims – the Green Guides – set out guidelines governing the claims you can make about carbon offsets, as well as other environmental claims.

Although the Green Guides themselves are not legally binding, action can be taken under the FTC Act if an organization makes environmental claims that are not consistent with the Guides, so it makes sense to familiarize yourself with the advice offered.

Guidance for carbon offsets claims

Despite the lack of mandated standards for voluntary carbon offsets, marketers should always avoid making false or misleading environmental claims.

This is a requirement of much government legislation around the world – often in trading standards or consumer protection law – as well as forming the basis of the Green Guides, so organizations with a global presence can apply the same principles to all of their reporting and environmental claims worldwide.

It’s worth noting that, although a claim might not be deliberately intended to mislead, it can be deemed unlawful if it is likely or liable to mislead the average consumer, so the utmost care should be taken to avoid inadvertently or carelessly making misleading claims.

Accurate, transparent and easily understood carbon claims will help consumers to make purchasing decisions. To clearly inform customers about exactly what is being offset and how it is being offset, all claims should be supported by reliable scientific evidence.   

A well-designed offset program will have built-in, third-party verification at every stage to guarantee that robust scientific and accounting methods are employed:

  1. To accurately measure claimed emissions reductions.
  2. To ensure that they do not sell the same offset more than once.

Reporting carbon offsets for emissions reductions that have not yet taken place may be judged to be misleading, so care must be taken to disclose any offsets that will not happen for two years or more.

There is a further risk of misreporting if the future reductions never materialize, whether due to cancellation, curtailment or underperformance of the project. 

The Green Guides also note that it is “deceptive to claim that a carbon offset represents an emission reduction if the activity that causes the reduction is already required by law”. A reputable offset program will not sell such offsets since they would not meet the test of additionality.

Environmental marketing claims you and your customers can rely on

When making environmental claims about carbon offsets, it’s clear that an organization must rely heavily on its chosen offset provider, since the emissions reduction calculations, verification procedures, offset registration and retirement are the provider’s responsibility.

NativeEnergy’s rigorous approach to designing its carbon offset program, includes independent registry listing and validation against international standards, guarantees that the carbon offsets you report are genuine.

Whether you buy offsets year-by-year from a project that’s already operating, or invest in long-term carbon reductions upfront (such as Help Build offsets), NativeEnergy manages all the financial risks and operational responsibilities and provides the evidence you need to backup your carbon offset claims.

Your standards count and should be met. Visit our Help BuildCarbon Offsets page or contact us for more information.

For more about how we can market your carbon offset initiative, see our Marketing Toolkit.