CO2 reduction credits (achieved by other companies through efficiency gains or carbon sequestration — e.g. tree planting, land use management) can be purchased to “neutralize” one’s own emissions. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force in February 2005. Even though the US has not ratified the treaty, CO2 trading systems will become more and more common. Already there are trading systems established in the US.
Tufts was a founding member of the Chicago Climate Exchange and Tufts received carbon credits in 2004 from International Paper.
At the Office of Sustainability: TCI, we see buying carbon credits to offset our emissions as a last resort, since it does not really move the university any closer to operating sustainably. Buying credits remains a paper transaction that does not facilitate change at the institution. Also, issues of double counting are difficult to address. In addition, credits that come from carbon sequestration remain questionable because the science of carbon sequestration is marred with many uncertainties when calculating carbon savings through land management and forestation.
Having said that, we do feel that voluntary carbon offsets are valuable for those emissions that cannot otherwise be reduced, such as faculty and staff air travel. Anja Kollmuss of TCI did extensive research on voluntary carbon offsets in 2007. She is now doing similar work at the Stockholm Environment Institute and maintains a Carbon Offset Research & Education page.
At Tufts, students, faculty, staff and community members are able to purchase green energy (not a carbon credit per se, but it is a way to reduce one’s personal carbon emissions) through the program Get Clean! Power It Green!