Frequently asked questions
Q: What is an offset?
A: Offset means "neutralize," "balance," or "cancel out." A carbon offset represents the reduction, removal, or avoidance of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from a specific project that is used to compensate for GHG emissions occurring elsewhere. One offset credit represents one metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent.
When we burn fossil fuels to heat buildings, ship goods, or operate appliances, we emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Carbon offsets counteract these activities by financing specific projects that reduce, remove, or avoid the release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming.
Offsets are different from on-site reductions because they mitigate the emissions of one source (e.g., a power plant) by reducing emissions at another location (e.g., an energy efficiency project). Funding flows from the original source to the offset project in exchange for the mitigated emissions. Because greenhouse gas levels are global, the physical location of emission reductions does not matter so long as it achieves a real and permanent reduction in the overall greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.
Q: How do you know an offset is high quality?
A: There are two key principles The Climate Trust considers essential to the assurance of an offset's ability to deliver on its promise of real and permanent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions: additionality and monitoring and verification.
Additionality is one of the most important factors in assessing project quality. Additionality is an assessment of whether a project's emissions reductions are in addition to a business-as-usual scenario. The Climate Trust utilizes a project-by-project additionality assessment, in which a project proponent must demonstrate that it faces barriers to implementation that can be overcome through carbon financing. Such barriers can be institutional, political, technological or financial.
Projects must also have a monitoring plan that defines how, when, and by whom the quantification of emission reductions will be done. All emissions reductions must be verified by an independent third party.
Q: Do offsets let other people pollute more?
A: No. Offsets, by definition, cancel out emissions, thereby causing an overall reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions. Offsets are typically one part of a comprehensive emission-reduction program, in which organizations or individuals reduce their energy use, use renewable energy, and offset the rest.
Q: How much does it cost per ton to purchase an offset?
A: Cost varies widely depending upon market conditions and the unique circumstances of each project. We seek to cover our program costs, not to make a profit. Programs costs include the cost of finding projects, negotiating contracts, buying the offsets, monitoring and verifying project performance, and offset delivery and registration. We have a good reputation for buying high quality, cost-effective offsets.
Q: Who owns the offsets?
A: The Climate Trust buys and retires the offsets, so they cannot be traded or sold again. We retire the offsets for the benefit of the environment.
Q: What is double counting? What do you do to prevent it?
A: Renewable energy facilities provide emission reductions at an emission source elsewhere on the grid, not at their own site. For this reason renewable energy projects are said to result in "indirect" emission reductions because the reductions take place at sources owned or controlled by other entities. This could lead to both the renewable energy project developers and the other entities taking credit for the same emission reductions, which would be double counting.
In order to avoid double counting, the seller of emission reductions must have a clear and uncontested claim to them, established by contract or government recognition of ownership. We prevent double counting by only financing projects with direct emission reductions and by using Emission Reduction Purchase Agreements that give us clear and uncontested ownership of the offsets.
Q: Do you sell Green Tags/RECs/VERs? How do these differ from offsets?
A: We do not sell Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), Green Tags, or Verified Emission Reductions (VERs). A REC is a certificate that is issued when one megawatt-hour of electricity is generated and delivered to the grid from a qualifying renewable energy source, such as wind, solar, or biomass.
Both RECs and offsets lead to emission reductions. However, they are not equivalent. The main difference between RECs and quality offsets is that offsets have to meet a rigorous additionality test and have clear and uncontested ownership. Offset projects must prove that emissions reductions are in addition to a business-as-usual scenario, meaning carbon finance helps overcome institutional, political, technological, or financial barriers. Also, quality offset projects have clear and uncontested ownership of direct emission reductions. (See "What is double counting?")
Q: Is my donation tax deductible?
A: Yes! The Climate Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and your donation is 100 percent tax deductible. We are in the top tier of nonprofits in organization efficiency, with 91 percent of funds going to programs and only 9 percent for administration and fundraising. That means that your donation is going a long ways to reducing greenhouse gases.
Q: Where does my donation money go?
A: Since 1997 91 percent of all funds received by The Climate Trust have gone to offset projects or programs. Donations mostly cover direct payments to project owners, sponsors, and developers. Actual costs vary from project-to-project, and high-quality offsets from our projects may cost more than some alternatives available in the market today. In these cases, our higher cost is not a result of taking a higher "margin," but rather because of our focus on quality and environmental integrity at the project level. With very few exceptions, our offsets come from projects we have ourselves solicited, assessed, and negotiated, and whose performance we continue to monitor and verify. Exceptions include offsets from providers with whom we have longstanding partnerships and who adhere to our principles of quality and integrity. Any remaining funds cover the costs of managing this site and further development of programs for voluntary and mandatory buyers.
Q: Where do you get your funding from?
A: We receive our money from three primary sources:
Q: How does The Climate Trust ensure projects are reducing emissions?
A: We verify emission reductions through two steps: determining conservative baselines and ongoing monitoring and verification. First, before receiving our support, projects must undertake rigorous third-party validation of the baseline emission against which performance is measured, as well as of the project case for performance above and beyond that baseline. Second, after a project or program has begun operating under our contract, it is required to undergo ongoing third-party monitoring and verification of actual performance and delivery of the offsets, usually on an annual basis.
Q: How much carbon dioxide is emitted through shipping processes? The manufacture of a paper cup? Forest fires?
A: The Climate Trust specializes in greenhouse gas accounting for offset projects, not carbon footprinting of specific materials or activities. These questions are best answered by organizations that focus on footprinting. To estimate your personal or household carbon footprint, we recommend The Nature Conservancy's Carbon Footprint Calculator or Redefining Progress's Ecological Footprint Quiz. If you are an organization interested in assessing, tracking, and comparing your footprint, check out the free tools available at OpenEco.
The Climate Trust works with organizations that emit more than 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year and are interested in setting up voluntary offset programs. If you are interested in learning more about these programs, contact Dick Kempka, 503.238.1915 x204. LEARN MORE »
Q: I own land with trees that are storing carbon. Can you pay me for my carbon credits? If not, where should I go to do this?
A: Forest owners interested in reforesting currently degraded land or changing management practices to sequester additional carbon may be eligible for carbon funding. However, projects need to be large in order to qualify. The transaction costs associated with offset projects make it very hard for small projects to qualify for offset funding. That is because each carbon offset project requires a separate contract, monitoring over its lifetime, and third-party verification of the monitoring. These transaction costs are expensive for all projects, but tend to be a smaller portion of the overall cost of larger projects.
Due to these economies of scale, The Climate Trust only enters into contracts with projects that reduce, avoid, or sequester at least 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over their lifetime. While a forest's ability to sequester carbon varies drastically, at least 150 acres of forest land is needed to sequester this quantity of CO2.
If your land alone is not enough to sequester this quantity of carbon, there are some forestry aggregators who aggregate the carbon sequestered in small tracts of land into large projects. Woodlands Carbon, established by the Oregon Small Woodlands Association, is one example.
For general inquiries:
For business inquiries:
Dick Kempka, Vice President of Business Development
t: 503.238.1915 x204
For offset funding inquiries:
Peter Weisberg, Senior Project Analyst
t: 503.238.1915 x207
For media, marketing, and speaking inquiries:
Kasey Krifka, Marketing & Communications Manager
t: 503.238.1915 x211