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Developers that fail to scrutinise their carbon offsetting method may not be able to claim their developments are net zero carbon. Offsetting is an accepted part of a zero-carbon strategy and can be effective for displacing hard-to-decarbonise sources. However, it is incumbent on developers to ensure that contributions are made to verifiable schemes and that efforts are made to track and record how funds are used.

The UKGBC have identified a series of tests which an offsetting strategy must meet. This includes checks that offsetting projects are real (that planned activities are proven to have been delivered), measurable (reductions must be robustly quantifiable), independently verifiable (by an accredited 3rd party), and unique (offsetting credits should be viewable on a pubic register to avoid double-counting). Organisations such as the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA) have assembled a register of accredited offsetting providers.

The most robust zero carbon strategy remains for a development to retain control of as much of its carbon reductions as possible. In practice, once energy efficiency measures have been maximised attaining a standard of zero carbon is entirely dependent on a site’s capacity to install large contributions of renewable power. Where whole life carbon emissions are considered, it is likely to be very difficult on some sites, even with the inclusion of a large capacity of renewables, for a zero carbon strategy to be deliverable without the use of offsetting.

Strategies should nonetheless look to deliver the largest possible carbon reductions on site, with the benefits of international offsetting projects potentially being diminished through oversubscription to offsetting schemes. This may also increase the cost of offsetting on a £/tonne basis as organisations compete for credits, making on-site solutions more attractive than initially thought.

We have recently launched a zero carbon buildings service which can assist developments and organisations in navigating these challenges.