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The Glossary: What is Carbon Accounting and How Does Carbon Offsetting Work?

  • Glossary
The Glossary: Carbon Accounting and Carbon Offsetting

In a world where climate change is increasingly on the agenda and awareness of greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, people are looking to businesses and each other to act responsibly.

The truth is that every organisation and individual has a carbon footprint. Even with the most determined efforts to cut emissions, we are all still responsible for some carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere, perpetuating global climate change.

The process of measuring the amount of greenhouse gas that is emitted by an entity – whether it be a country, corporation or individual – is referred to as carbon accounting. The practice of carbon accounting involves translating greenhouse gas emission into an internationally recognized measurement of CO2 equivalents.

Carbon accounting allows for consistency, comparability, and transparency when measuring the impact of emissions across a variety of sources.  Like all accounting methods, it will not be perfect but the aim is to be as complete and accurate as possible. The government and energy sector already have regulations in place that mandate carbon accounting. Individuals can calculate their own CO2 emissions using the UN’s carbon footprint calculator.

So, how can we utilise carbon accounting to tackle climate change?

To reiterate – every business and every person has a carbon footprint. We can choose to measure our emissions, accept their consequences as unavoidable and neglect taking action to mitigate them. Or, we can take responsibility for our impact and balance it by ensuring that an equivalent amount of carbon is either absorbed or avoids ever being emitted elsewhere. This is known as carbon offsetting.

In simple terms, offsetting one tonne of carbon means there will be one less tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there would otherwise have been. It is the quickest way to achieve emissions reductions and the only way to achieve carbon neutrality. While businesses can adopt a climate strategy that includes offsetting, individuals can also take steps to compensate for their emissions, most often from transportation and household energy, through voluntary carbon offsetting programs as well.

There are a variety of options available for carbon offsetting from planting a large number of trees in the Amazon to investing in a renewable energy project elsewhere. Choosing a verified, high impact and cost-effective carbon offset programme is made easy by organisations such as Gold Standard which is widely supported by a variety of social and environmental groups.  The UN also has a carbon offset platform where companies, organisations, governments and individuals can find a certified emissions reduction project to support. Both the UN and Gold Standard require projects to benefit the local population as well as cut carbon to deliver more value to people and the environment.










Written by - Alex Lilienfeld

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