News & Media Opinion Pieces Carbon Offsetting Your Personal Footprint- A Guide

Carbon Offsetting Your Personal Footprint- A Guide

Many members of Doctors for the Environment have asked us whether they should offset their travel and how should they do it. They have expressed concern about how they choose a scheme and how they assess whether the planted trees will be kept alive and have the prospect of living for 100 years and indeed whether they will be relaced if they die.

Offsetting can be done through mechanisms other than forestry with renewable technologies and energy efficiency projects. Critics of these mechanisms argue that they would be done anyway without your support. By contrast forestry has additional tangible benefits in rural support, payments to farmers for stewardship etc

Others argue that the fundamental flaw in offsetting is that it is a guilt free pass to carry on as normal (George Monbiot of The Guardian) or the worst form of “get out of jail free card” (Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace)

I confess that i havent offset my travel so I determined to look into the schemes and report to members. I went to see Leonard Cohen, Director, Design and Innovations, Canopy one of the offsetting companies which is based in Adelaide. This company is featured in the article at,22049,23013750-36437,00.html which will answer many of your questions.

In your quest for information you should first go to to look at the Carbon Offset Guide Australia a report from RMIT University in partnership with the Victorian EPA and Global Sustainability. There you will find a summary of providers and particularly details of which guidelines they adhere to, for example those issued by the Australian Greenhouse office (now the Climate Change Office) The steps to calculate your footprint are described in the Daily Telegraph Article

I suggest that those who want to offset digest this information before coming to a decision. My view is that offsetting is worthwhile if you do your homework.

Please describe your experiences and problems through the blog so that others may benefit from them
David Shearman

Carbon offsets– discussion
Submitted by fionaforpeace on Thu, 21/02/2008 – 12:59.

I agree with David, the offset guide referred to above ( is essential reading before making any decision on whether or how to offset those aspects of one’s life which create emissions and cannot be avoided. Just as in medical research, we need a degree of understanding about the issue before we can even frame the question of why and how to offset.

The most important thing to remember though, is that offsets come AFTER taking action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Thus the process is:

1. Educate ourselves about climate change and environmental issues
2. Audit energy in/out at home, work and play
3. Take action to reduce waste generated, environmental degradation and emissions caused by our activities – by this I mean increasing efficiency (carpool or take public transport for instance), reducing power and water consumption, re-using and recycling where possible. The audit process will highlight where the problems lie
4. Invest in waste and greenhouse gas reduction measures (such as solar hot water, a master “OFF” switch for all circuits except the vaccine fridge, phones and alarm in our surgeries, energy efficient appliances/lights etc), once again driven by the findings of our audit
5. Carefully offset what cannot be reduced – I emphasise carefully, as we need to revisit point one and learn about the relative value of offsets and their “additionality” (see the RMIT guide as an introduction to this step)
6. Spread the word

….thus offsets are not mere “indulgences” as suggested by George Monbiot, rather they can drive investment in renewable energy schemes and thereby help us to achieve the greenhouse cuts our planet so desperately needs. I myself have offset the 7 unavoidable tonnes of CO2 equivalent I produce each year by investing with “Climate Friendly”, an organisation which has been accredited to Kyoto gold standard level and invests in new wind farms on behalf of offset purchasers. Their price per tonne offset is substantially higher than organisations investing in cessation of land clearing, methane flaring, efficiency projects or tree planting schemes, and this reflects the value of the immediacy of the additional CO2 offset by their activities. When considering which offsets to buy it is important to remember that we need to cut emissions now, and it is my opinion that renewable energy schemes need all the funding they can get as possible as quickly as possible, because 50% of all emissions in Australia are due to fossil fuel powered electricity generation (Australian Greenhouse Office, 2005).

Revisiting point three, when it comes to conference travel always ask if there is a video/web link and see if you can organise a group of colleagues in your area to attend a satellite event linked to the main conference: this is the way of the future and we can progress this technology if we insist conference organisers provide it.
Fiona McCormick, GP and Climate Project presenter

from Ben Ticehurst Thu, 21/02/2008 –

Very much agree about webcasting/teleconferences etc.

On another related issue, people often misunderstand green electricity supply. When I was in Sydney, we used 100% wind power through Origin. Some might say – “yeah but you can’t be sure the power going to your house isn’t made from fossil fuels just like your neighbours. You don’t have a special green power cable connected to your place.”

After some thought, I guess a response by analogy might be:

If I attend a party and contribute a six-pack of organic beer to the shared esky and then progressively consume 6 random bottles of beer from the esky, it is true that I may drink some (majority probably) of non-organic beer. But the net effect of my contribution is that is lessens the group’s non-organic beer by 6 bottles. So in ethical terms, it has the same net effect as keeping the organic beer to myself and drinking it alone.