Code green

The Woodland Carbon Code presents an opportunity for organisations to offset their carbon emissions in a way that engages the public, says Julia Goodfellow-Smith. 

The need to tackle global warming and consequent climate breakdown is growing in urgency. We know that we need to take drastic action by 2030, which is just over 10 years away. 

The first thing any organisation must do is reduce energy consumption – but even after the most rigorous energy reduction programme, there will be some residual carbon emissions. These can be offset by supporting projects that combat deforestation, create woodland, generate renewable energy and improve energy efficiency. This ‘charismatic’ brand of carbon offsetting has additional benefits, such as community development, recreation and habitat improvements. As well as the social and environmental benefits, organisations that do this benefit from an enhanced reputation, and can engage customers by offering the option of carbon neutral products. 

Some local authorities have made commitments for their jurisdictions to become carbon neutral. By offsetting residual carbon emissions, your organisation would be supporting these local ambitions as well as national targets. This could keep you one step ahead of any fiscal or regulatory changes implemented to support such targets.

Many carbon offsetting projects take place in developing countries, but there is an option closer to home. The UK government’s standard for woodland carbon projects – the Woodland Carbon Code (WCC) – now has verified credits available to purchase. All projects are validated and verified by UKAS-accredited third parties, giving confidence that they really are sequestering carbon. Every project relates to the creation and management of new woodland that wouldn’t have been able to go ahead without this additional funding stream. Only 80% of the sequestered carbon is sold, creating a contingency to cover any unexpected carbon losses.

Most organisations that offset via a WCC project don’t simply want to tick a box so that they can claim to be carbon neutral. They want to be a part of a story of regeneration in the UK, with benefits that are far wider than just the carbon capture. During the lifetime of an average WCC project, the social and ecological benefits include £70 of recreational benefit per tonne of carbon captured, almost £10 of air quality improvements and more than £20 of biodiversity improvements. These projects also contribute £7 per tonne to GVA (Gross Value Added). This is an order of magnitude higher than the sale price of units, which makes carbon offsetting through the WCC great value for money. 

WCC projects are also tangible to the participants. As they are UK-based, stakeholders can relate to them, and possibly even visit them. It gives a real sense of satisfaction to be able to walk in a woodland or watch it grow and know that you helped to make it happen. This makes staff tree-planting days particularly popular. 

It might be reasonable to expect that a scheme like this in the UK would cost more per tonne of carbon sequestered than those overseas, but costs are broadly comparable with those for Gold Standard carbon offsets – a verified charismatic carbon offsetting scheme set up by WWF for developing countries.

In practice

Most organisations taking part are SMEs, although there are some larger organisations involved. Slough Borough Council, for example, planted a new woodland on its own land and uses the WCC to validate and verify the value for its greenhouse gas reporting, rather than selling the units to others.

Fuel card company Allstar, meanwhile, offers carbon offset fuel. This gives it a great story to tell customers, which it does via an animated video on its website. It also simplifies matters for customers, who don’t need to participate in the offsetting market directly. To date, Allstar has bought from 44 WCC projects and supported the planting of more than a million trees.

Waitrose offsets the emissions from home deliveries, and is working with the Woodland Trust to create a 50-hectare woodland in Cumbria. The company feels that this has given it a strong marketing message for all of its stakeholders, and improved staff engagement through popular tree-planting days. 

Julia Goodfellow-Smith MIEMA CEnv is a director of Quest for Future Solutions, a woodland owner and a freelance writer

Image credit | iStock

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