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Why Bulb buys carbon offsets

By Shaunagh Duncan

You’ve probably heard about carbon offsetting as a way of balancing out your CO2 emissions. But what is a carbon offset? And how does offsetting work, exactly?

Illustration of someone balancing their carbon impact on an abacus.

What’s a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is shorthand for someone's impact on climate change. A lot of what we do releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, from jumping on a plane to eating a burger once in a while. The result of all these actions combined is your carbon footprint, measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e. This covers all greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, including star-of-the-show carbon dioxide (CO2), as well as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N20), and refrigerant gases like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Illustration of a train with a tape measure as its track.
An emissions factor tells you how much CO2e is created per ‘unit’ of a given activity. You can't estimate a carbon footprint without it. For example, the emissions factor of taking the train is 0.05945 of CO2e per mile. Multiplying that by how many miles you travel will give you the carbon footprint of that journey. If this all sounds like a lot of maths (it is), then we’ve created a Carbon Calculator to tot up your footprint for you.

Once you’ve taken action to reduce your carbon footprint, that’s when carbon offsetting really comes into its own. The emissions you can’t control directly are known as your ‘baseline’ footprint. This takes into account the things you buy, the services you use (everything from the NHS to public roads), and the production and distribution of the food you eat. It's not currently possible to have no carbon footprint. That’s because we all eat, work and generally interact with the world around us. But, once you’ve cut your footprint down as much as you can, individuals and organisations can offset any remaining emissions to become 'carbon neutral'.

What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is an internationally-recognised way to take responsibility for the carbon you emit. It lets people or companies invest in carbon reduction projects around the world to balance out their own carbon emissions.

Offsetting one tonne of carbon means there will be one less tonne of carbon in the atmosphere than there otherwise would’ve been.

Carbon reduction projects come in all shapes and sizes. Let’s take rainforest protection as an example. Conserving trees, which absorb and store CO2, helps to reduce the amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere. Projects like these support the conservation of forests by working to stop practices like logging, agriculture or mining in the world’s rainforests. Keeping the rainforest standing means tonnes of carbon remain stored in trees rather than being released into the atmosphere.

Each tonne of CO2e that’s avoided is sold as a carbon credit, which you can use to offset your own emissions.

What type of carbon offset projects does Bulb work with?

At Bulb, our gas is 100% carbon offset. A small percentage of our gas comes from renewable sources, like food or farm waste. And we offset the emissions from the rest of the gas we supply through our offsetting partner, EcoAct.

This helps to fund important carbon reduction projects around the world. The aims of these global projects include: 

  • Supporting the shift to a low carbon economy in India and Turkey, by generating renewable electricity at wind farm projects and supplying it to the state grid.

  • Protecting biodiversity and supporting sustainable economic growth in the rainforests of Borneo (Indonesia) and the Tsavo National Park in Kenya. 

  • Supporting the development of geothermal energy in Indonesia.

Between 2019 and 2021 we also partnered with ClimateCare to offset emissions. Projects funded during this time include:

  • Providing clean cooking stoves in Bangladesh. 

  • Reforesting 20,000 hectares of the Guanare rainforest in Uruguay.

  • Protecting the world's most threatened rainforest and supporting sustainable cocoa production in Gola, Sierra Leone.

How are carbon offsets verified?

Illustration of a carbon offset certificate with 3 green medals.
Every carbon offset certificate Bulb buys is verified through 1 of 3 internationally recognised standards: the Gold Standard, the Verified Carbon Standard or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)'s Clean Development Mechanism.

All standards ensure that:

  • there is a robust audit trail

  • carbon savings are additional to what would have happened anyway, known as ‘additionality’

  • carbon emissions are not just moved elsewhere, also known as ‘leakage’

  • carbon savings are sustained over time, preventing what we call ‘delayed emissions’

  • carbon reductions are only claimed once, preventing any double counting

Are carbon offsets just a get-out-of jail free card?

Carbon offsetting has occasionally hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. That’s because it gives some big, polluting companies a way to pay for a coveted “carbon-neutral” status. Many have been quick to include this in their advertising, and slow to invest in sustainable ways to actually reduce their carbon impact. Offsetting is not a silver bullet. But the UN agrees that carbon offsetting can help to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, the critical level of global warming before catastrophic climate impacts. It’s clear that offsetting should be part of a wider strategy to reduce emissions overall.

At Bulb, we’re on a mission to lower our members’ carbon impact. We supply 100% renewable electricity as standard. And we help people to actively reduce the amount of energy they use, by making products that are easy to understand and tools that are easy to engage with. For example, our app can show you how much energy you’re using, and when. This helps Bulb members (which includes businesses) to spot any spikes in their usage and identify new ways to save. Smart meters, Export payments and our EV Tariff are other ways we’re helping our members to lower their overall carbon impact.

We’re also one of the biggest buyers of green gas for homes in the UK. When Bulb launched back in 2015, we bought less than 1% of the green gas available in the market. From April 2019 to March 2020, we bought more than 20% of all the green gas available in the UK.

We think it’s a positive action to take responsibility for the carbon emitted by our non-green gas (emissions we currently can’t avoid) by funding carbon reduction projects across the world, alongside working towards a net zero future. We also offset all of our own operations, so Bulb HQ is totally carbon neutral.

We know that offsetting carbon emissions alone will not solve climate change. But the world doesn't have time for us to find a perfect answer before we start. At Bulb HQ, we’ll keep looking for opportunities to reduce the climate impact of our members and ourselves.

How can you be sure that rainforest projects aren’t doing more harm than good?

An illustration of people protecting a tree.
Our offsetting partners carefully select Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) projects to ensure they are implemented by experienced and culturally sensitive teams on the ground. Crucially, local communities are at the forefront of project planning and implementation.

The rights and inclusion of indigenous and local people are at the centre of successful project implementation, and our partner considers these aspects thoroughly during their due diligence process. REDD projects work with those in poorer communities with the goal of supporting them to live sustainably within their home environment and to provide them with opportunities for improving their livelihoods, while maintaining their forest’s resources.

REDD projects are built upon the principle that keeping the forest standing should be financially sustainable – for its value to local communities and the world in its entirety. In doing so it sets out to tackle the causes of deforestation, providing an alternative to activities such as logging, conversion to agriculture and mining.

How to offset your carbon footprint

Illustration of a pink squirrel using our carbon calculator.
Whether you’re a Bulb member or not, we’ve created a Carbon Calculator to help you work out and offset your carbon footprint. Answer a few easy questions about your habits, from the food you eat to the things you buy. Our calculator adds up all the emissions they produce to estimate your carbon footprint for the year.

You can set up a monthly Direct Debit to offset your CO2e through Bulb and our partnership with EcoAct. The average UK footprint costs about £6.20 a month to offset. Yours may be smaller if, say, you've switched to green energy. Or bigger, if you fly loads. Your money funds projects reducing carbon emissions around the world.