Digging deeper into carbon offsets

Dig Deeper articles share highlights and source links from recent reporting. Topics for this series focus on the environment, workplace wellness, sustainability, and smart technologies.

What is a carbon offset?

Tree planting for carbon offsets

Many carbon offset projects involve forestry, renewable energy, or energy efficiency

Carbon trading, described as emissions trading by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is designed to offset the Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions, often caused by use of fossil fuels.  The trading quantifies and exchanges investments in projects that conserve energy, reduce emissions, or grow plants and trees. A carbon footprint (impact) is then mediated with an equivalent investment, a carbon offset.

According to the UNFCCC’s Climate Neutral Now website, carbon offsets are not an initial step. They are third in this sequence:

  1. Measure the climate footprints.
  2. Reduce as much as possible.
  3. Offset the rest with emission reductions that have been certified by the UN.

How is a carbon footprint measured?

Carbon footprint from air travel

Air traffic produces 4 or 5% of global CO2 emissions. That’s about a third of the amount produced by road traffic.

The online magazine, TakePart, defines a carbon footprint as the amount of  GhG produced by a particular human activity. It can be an individual’s footprints or an organization’s footprints.

Just as there are many types of human activity, there are many ways GhG could be produced and measured. Fortunately, free online tools simplify the calculations. Consider these from relevant, reliable sources:

  • The Nature Conservancy estimates that the average individual carbon footprint in the U.S. is 16 tons. Reducing that to under 2 tons by 2050 would substantially help avoid a 2℃ rise in global temperatures. A detailed online calculator identifies what goes into an individual’s carbon footprint and what might be reduced.
  • A website published by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a highly-rated nonprofit, includes a calculator that focuses on air travel.
  • To estimate your household’s carbon footprint, head to EPA.gov, where you will find their carbon footprint calculator.

Where should carbon offsets be invested?

Wind energy in Mongolia

Carbon offset investments may be made in renewable energy projects like this one in Mongolia

The Center for Resource Solutions has developed a certification program for projects that offset carbon emission. Currently, four Green-e® Climate Endorsed Programs provide online catalogs of certified projects:

If you have a written or seen an article to feature in a future edition of Dig Deeper, please leave a note on this website’s Contact page. Thank you!

Alexa Stone
LEED AP, Sustainable Facility Professional, Envision Sustainability Professional - - Alexa has more than 25 years of experience in sustainable operations, decarbonization, and occupant wellness. Her strategic planning work has served local, state, and federal government, higher education, and private industry. Alexa founded ecoPreserve in 2009 as a team of three and has grown the company to over 20 of the brightest sustainability and project management professionals in the industry.
Alexa Stone


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Here's how to request further information. Thank you for reaching out!

Facility Condition Report

The report is prepared in accordance with the recommendations of ASTM E2018-15, Standard Guide for Property Condition Assessments. This is a partial list of contents:

    • General condition of the building, grounds, and appurtenances
    • Physical deficiencies, their significance, and suggested remedies
    • Photographs
    • Safety issues observed
    • Potential operating efficiencies
    • Electricity and water use reductions
    • High-efficiency interior and exterior lighting
    • Recommended interior finishes
    • Construction costs

Risk Mitigation Improvements

  • IAQ
    • Airflow
    • Temperature and humidity
    • Vertical transportation (escalators and elevators)
    • Settings
    • Conditions
    • Capability
    • Filtration
    • Traffic patterns
    • Placement for social distancing
    • Clear barriers where social distancing is not possible

Interior Elements

  • Foundation
  • Building frame and roof
  • Structural elements
    • Floors, walls, ceilings
    • Access and egress
    • Vertical transportation (escalators and elevators)
  • HVAC equipment and ductwork
  • Utilities
    • Electrical
    • Plumbing
  • Safety and fire protection

Grounds and Appurtenances

  • Façades or curtainwall
  • Topography
  • Storm water drainage
  • Paving, curbing, and parking
  • Flatwork
  • Landscaping
  • Recreational facilities
Here's how to request further information. Thank you for reaching out!

AWARE of CDC and NIH guidelines

The Baseline Property Condition Assessments described in ASTM E2018-15 do not specify consideration of infectious disease transmission concerns. In a pandemic and post-pandemic environment, that inspection and documentation is essential.

Buildings open to the public must comply with local regulations. For best results and greatest public acceptance, any planning for building repairs and maintenance should not overlook current CDC and NIH guidelines.

Optionally, ecoPreserve's can assist with a comprehensive GBAC STAR™ Accreditation which extends beyond the building to include the goals, actions, equipment, and supplies needed to implement best practices for outbreak prevention, response, and recovery.

An OPTIMIZED Assessment

Certified Sustainability Consultants on a facility assessment team can discover ways to lower energy costs. Their understanding of HVAC equipment suitability and condition along with the specifics of LED lighting retrofits can provide offsets for needed investments in upgrades and replacements.

Knowledge of water systems can bring further savings while averting water waste. It can all be part of an assessment which might otherwise overlook water fixtures and irrigation schedules.

How should a facility be ASSESSED?

A thorough facility assessment finds the issues - on the surface or below - which have a potential negative impact on the building. That brings the facility to meet building codes. Beyond that, the assessment proactively addresses the deficiencies not covered by code.

The occupants of a building benefit as the assessment reveals conditions having a potential impact on their health or safety. The assessment must not overlook those conditions, nor fail to consider the frequency and duration of occupant visits.