Insights 5th April 2022 Carbon Reduction

Is carbon offsetting in buildings greenwashing?

Carbon offsetting is not greenwashing as long as property owners and managers first reduce carbon in construction, increase energy efficiency, and commit to renewables. Going straight to carbon offsetting without taking other action to meet a Net Zero target is where the perception of cheating – or greenwashing – comes in.

According to the UKGBC, 25% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to buildings and infrastructure. With the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy to decarbonise the UK economy by 2050, the built environment will have to do its part.

However, using carbon offsetting as a strategy to avoid the hard work involved in making buildings green will lead to accusations of greenwashing.

Our ESG consultants can help you navigate the complexities of moving to a Net Zero future.

What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is achieved by determining the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released by an activity then mitigating that action with schemes which either capture or reduce carbon elsewhere.

The kinds of projects used for carbon offsetting include:

  • tree planting and reforestation;
  • investing in renewable energy particularly in developing nations;
  • methane avoidance in waste management; and
  • converting waste to energy.

Carbon offsetting is most effective when it bridges a gap in a Net Zero strategy. For example, if installing the technology to significantly reduce a carbon footprint will take years, offsetting can be a tool in the early stages to reduce impact before it is completed.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing occurs when a company puts more effort into marketing their green credentials than they do on reducing their carbon footprint. Greenwashing is more about how an organisation is perceived rather than how much impact it makes on improving the environment. Greenwashing is marketing over substance.

Some organisations make false claims that they are meeting emission targets by engaging in offsetting schemes. The reality is that these claims are just another form of greenwashing.

A property portfolio owner can avoid accusations of greenwashing by examining the true impact of their carbon reduction strategies. If it is primarily about mitigation and PR, greenwashing accusations will follow.

So when is carbon offsetting not greenwashing?

Basic carbon reduction measures are the undisputed first step on the path to net zero. Once they have been achieved, the UK Green Building Council says any remaining carbon can legitimately be offset to compensate for residual emissions:

As an interim measure towards Net Zero 2050, carbon offsetting should be seen as the last step in a proactive approach to; reduce construction carbon, reduce operational energy and increase renewable energy supplies.”


The bottom line is that carbon offsetting is effective when it works in tandem with an ambitious internal carbon reduction strategy.

When you have taken all possible steps to reduce your carbon emissions as part of your Net Zero Asset Plan, then offsetting is acceptable and will be a legitimate contribution towards your Net Zero targets.