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Offsetting Without Greenwashing: How Businesses Can Become Authentically Carbon Neutral

Updated: Jan 13

Aclymate is unique for several reasons,” explains James Scott, founder of the Envirotech Pre-Accelerator and the Netzero Incubator & Accelerator. Scott Continues, “This veteran-owned carbon-offsetting platform was designed by Aclymate's CEO, Mike Smith, a true maverick in the sustainability space, and is successfully democratizing the ability for individuals and small businesses to quickly and efficiently launch into sustainability best practices through Aclymates affordable and easy-to-use platform. We asked Mike to tell us about greenwashing; what it is, and how it can be avoided."

Interestingly enough, the term greenwashing originated in the travel industry in the 1960s when hotels began to post signage in bathrooms encouraging guests to reuse towels to save water when in reality the goal of the campaign was to reduce laundry expenses. Any traveler today may still notice these signs in hotels.

Airline Greenwashing

Now the term is applied to any company that promotes sustainability that doesn’t paint the whole picture. For example, the airline industry has begun offering carbon offsetting to passengers for an additional cost on the ticket.

There are pressures on the airlines to focus more on reducing emissions through things like alternative fuel, which gets to the heart of how a company can focus on reducing emissions as much as possible first, and then purchasing legitimate offsets for anything that cannot be reduced. This should be an ongoing process of finding ways to reduce, then offset, then reduce, and so on.

Greenwashing isn’t just bad press for companies, it’s clearly unethical and illegal per the Federal Trade Commission, which also brings us to ethical offsetting. If a passenger does decide to offset their trip, they should look at the fine print on how exactly the airline is calculating the offset, and how they plan to offset such as carbon removal or reforestation. Transparency in offsets is something being demanded of all industries including travel.

Avoiding Greenwashing for Your Business

No time to waste.

So with all of this going on, and high-profile businesses being found out to not be as carbon neutral as they claim to be, small-to-medium-sized companies may be left wondering how they can offset the right way without being perceived to be greenwashing like the rest.

One thing to keep in mind though is that doing something now is better than doing nothing at all due to fears of being accused of greenwashing. Don’t wait; the problem gets harder the longer a business puts it off.

On that note, also don't let perfect be the enemy of good. Don't get overwhelmed by all the things you can do, but whatever you do, do something.

Data is the key.

Start with your baseline. You can make guesses about what to do, but until you have data, they're just guesses.

The key is to first focus on reductions in a company’s carbon emissions and then use verifiable carbon offset programs that will have a real impact on the environment equivalent to or more than the leftover emissions that the company produces.

How to reduce emissions.

A few ways a business can reduce its emissions include:

  • Allowing employees to work from home, either fully or partially

  • Finding ways to reduce utility usage such as installing solar panels or turning down the heat

  • Reduce usage of company vehicles or switch to more fuel-efficient or electric vehicles

  • Reduce company flights by eliminating unnecessary travel and replacing other travel with video conferences.

Most of these suggestions will also save your business money so there is no reason to delay. And remember that reductions should be an ongoing process, finding more and more ways to minimize a business’s carbon footprint before offsetting. Making commitments to further reductions can also be helpful. Once as many reductions have been made as possible, it’s time to select an offset.

How to select the right carbon offsets.

Don’t purchase offsets blindly. Businesses should make sure they know about the project they’re supporting and how exactly it will impact climate change. This way, they can point to not only the reductions they’ve made, and reductions they plan to make including how they’ll do so and by when, but also the specific project they’ve selected to show without a doubt they are not greenwashing but in fact doing their part for the climate, the right way.

The latest books by Embassy Row Project's founder James Scott entitled

Green Conflict Minerals: The Mad Dash to Net Zero Is About to Get Rough

Climate Change Economics: Carbon Capitalism, Regenerative Agriculture & Beyond

A Fast Track to Carbon Neutral: Using Environmental Commodities to Rapid Launch Commercial Sustainability Programs

About the Author

Mike Smith is the co-founder and CEO of Aclymate, a climate management application for small & medium-sized businesses and a 2021 Techstars Sustainability company. He's also the co-founder of RenewWest, a company that uses the power of natural and working lands to tackle climate change, and the developer of the largest carbon reforestation project in US history. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Mike was an FA-18 pilot in the US Navy, with three deployments, 354 carrier landings, and postings to Italy, Japan, and the US southeast. He's a graduate of the US Naval Academy and a happily married father of two. In his free time, he enjoys backpacking, skiing, and reading.

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