Carbon Offsetting – cheating or part of the solution to Net Zero?

With more investors and occupiers considering the practicalities of Net Zero in real estate, and how to get to a genuine zero carbon position, carbon offsetting is rising up the agenda. It is seen as a part of the jigsaw of pieces that we need to fit together to move along the pathway ahead. Admittedly though, for most of us it is one of the lesser priorities that will need to be actioned.

The role of carbon offsetting
Instead, the preferred focus is to do all we can to reduce our carbon emissions to an absolute minimum through technology, behavioral change and significantly increasing our ability to generate renewable energy on site. To ignore these fundamental steps or even rush them and use offsetting to meet our Net Zero target instead, is where the perception of ‘cheating’ comes in.

While the need to offset should decline as we develop our awareness of our carbon impact, it is generally acknowledged that we need to buy ourselves some time. Enter: carbon offsetting.

Onsite v remote opportunities
The question then is what offset strategy to adopt. The approach to date has been either a direct investment opportunity or investing through online market places in remote schemes. Even those in the UK, which we tend to advocate, are still generally remote to the asset. Whilst these certainly have their place, and to our mind will be fundamental as a short-term strategy, an alternative approach should be to create onsite projects that absorb or ’sink’ the carbon produced by an asset.

Biodiversity initiatives as a solution
For example, a particularly demonstrable way of offsetting would be to use either landscaping, walls or roofs (with careful consideration on how it also fits with potential solar projects), as a biodiversity programme to create a small carbon sink project. This will require specialist advice and careful planning of changes, with significant planting of trees and shrubs to maximize carbon absorption. This approach is relatively new and in our experience not widely measured.

Don’t overlook the opportunity
The property industry has a massive opportunity here. Not only are we actively removing carbon on site, we are also expanding biodiversity, creating natural habitats and bringing nature into our working environments that promote significant health and wellbeing opportunities.

So is offsetting actually the new ‘win-win’ of net zero strategy?

by Vicky Cotton