Carbon Offsets, Consumer Protection, and the FTC (Part 2)

Written by astern


Following TerraPass’ participation at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) workshop on carbon offsets held in Washington on January 8, we have now submitted our written comments. You can download them here (pdf).

Preparing these comments gave us the chance to summarize our views on what it takes to deliver high-quality, independently verified offsets to consumers and businesses. We described our rigorous procedures for selecting offset projects that balance out the carbon emissions from daily activities such as driving, flying, and home energy use.

Full Disclosure

Disclosure and transparency are the hallmarks of TerraPass’ approach to consumer protection. We back up our claims with a published list of supported projects. That list includes:

The TerraPass Product Content Label

  • location
  • project type and details
  • offset standard used
  • names of validator and/or verifier
  • verified emission reductions in tons

These figures are included in our annual verification report. We also engage an independent audit firm to confirm that consumer purchases are matched by an equivalent amount of carbon reductions (pdf). Finally, we include a Product Content Label (pdf) with every TerraPass.

Independent Standards

In our written statement, we highlighted two independent carbon offset standards that can help protect consumers: the Green-e Climate program and the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS).

Both Green-e Climate and VCS were reviewed by hundreds of stakeholders (e.g., carbon experts, industry participants, and environmental and consumer groups) and went through several versions before final release.

It is too early to assess the impact of these standards, but TerraPass and other offset providers are moving towards adopting them in 2008. We believe that the voluntary market will coalesce around Green-e Climate and VCS — an outcome that will strengthen consumer confidence in carbon offsets.

Next Steps

The FTC will analyze the dozens of formal comments it received and make recommendations. Among the agency’s options are to update the federal Green Marketing Guides.

Whatever the FTC decides to do, the dialogue inspired by the in-person workshop and the public comment process will further clarify what’s necessary to ensure that offsets are credible and lead to actual carbon reductions. That’s a positive development for everyone who wants to participate in solutions to global warming.

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  1. Erik

    You mentioned that you thought the industry would coalesce around VCS and Green-e. Is there any reason why you didn’t include Gold Standard in that list? From my experience, institutional offset buyers regularly request Gold Standard offsets by name, which is helping to drive the market for that standard.

  2. Tom Arnold

    We’re not alone in thinking that VCS will be the predominant standard. You may be aware of the New Carbon Finance survey showing very low expectations for adoption of the Gold Standard. We’re concerned that joining an isolated niche standard would not keep us in the major flow of carbon policy discussions.
    There are some more technical reasons that Gold Standard is a tough match for a US portfolio, which I’ll try to blog in the coming weeks.