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Carbon offsetting for businesses: do it right or lose your customers

When people talk about carbon offsetting, they don’t always understand how it impacts the environment and what a huge difference it can make. Offsetting has even been criticized as “putting lipstick on a pig.” The key for carbon offsetting for ethical business practices is not only to put offsets in place alongside other measures, but also to advertise that information to the customer and educate them about everything your company is doing to help the planet.

Everyone is in a race to go green. Big companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon are making strong pushes to reach net-zero emissions in a timely manner. It’s like a race, and as always, the big corporations have a huge lead.

The simple fact is that going net zero isn’t a simple three-step process that any business can do overnight. A potter can’t simply shut down their kiln and swap to room temperature curing by inventing new groundbreaking tech in a matter of weeks or even years, and they might be renting a studio with an owner that doesn’t want solar panels or windmills on the roof.

Reducing carbon emissions and doing it ethically isn’t always easy. How do the rest of us catch up without looking like sellouts for the newest fad in market trading (buying and selling carbon offsets)?

How do we assure our customers that we’re trying to make a difference and not just jumping on another bandwagon?

Customers Might Not Consider Carbon Offsets Ethical

“Is carbon offsetting for ethical businesses?” is the question they will ask.

Your customers have learned about carbon offsetting through the media. When funneled into easy to digest keywords, it looks like companies are simply buying forested areas on the cheap as an excuse not to clean up their own act.

That’s not the impression that we want our customers to have, so it’s important to inform them of precisely what is being done and why it is ethical, not only from a climate perspective, but in other areas as well.

At the same time, it is of equal importance to take other environmentally friendly steps to cement that impression in the customer’s mind and assure them that you as a green business owner are doing what you can to help the environment.

Education is the key.

Clean Up Your Store Front

Of course, the first step in offsetting your carbon emissions is to figure out how much you need to offset, and everyone in the business will tell you so.

While you are tallying up those numbers, take a look around your store, warehouse, or factory and see what could be done better. If you have expensive halogen lights that run up your electric bill, consider swapping them for LEDs that last longer, work better, and reduce your costs as well as your carbon footprint, and put a sign up somewhere about it for your customers to see.

Look at your water usage and low-efficiency machines. Anything that makes your company more efficient is a double-win. You save money for your business and your offsets will be cheaper as a bonus.

Consider automatic lights that shut themselves off, smart technology to control door locks and windows, better insulation to reduce heating and cooling costs.

Also, make an effort to display an outward symbol of your carbon offsets. If you are putting money into trees, start by planting a few in front of your building. Here are a few more ideas.

  • Put a garden planter in the window
  • Place recycling bins near the entrance
  • Reduce paper usage with apps on online forms
  • Put up a tiny windmill in your lobby or on the roof
  • Put an exercise bike in the waiting room attached to a small generator

There are hundreds of ideas that can both enrich your customer’s experience and show them how much you care.

More importantly, you can show them that carbon offsetting is for ethical business because it allows you to extend your environmental impact far beyond the walls of your building in a way you otherwise could not.

In other words, present the appearance of your carbon offsets as a bonus to other things you are doing around your business to help the environment, and make sure that your customers know how you feel about helping the environment.

Match Your Carbon Offsets to Your Businesses

If you have the option, opt for a carbon offset plan that matches your business goals and mission statement.

There are so many options out there, from community gardens to tree planting to plastics research, that you might consider a niche carbon offset program that is inline with the business you are already doing.

It always makes sense to help companies that are developing tech which can in turn help your business out in the future.

If you deal with forestry products, like wood flooring or carpentry, then invest in tree farms. They will not only sequester a ton of carbon, but it also means cheaper renewable raw materials for your business in the future.

Community projects can help your local customers directly, and the give the local environment a boost. This can be beneficial to small businesses who rely on local customers. You can directly impact their lives and grow your status in the community you depend on.

Converting waste into energy is one way to turn trash into cash, but it has a two-fold effect on the environment. Clean up the streets and aid wildlife while you are at it.

Renewable energy is always a winner, but depending on where your business is located, you might think about something more in-tune with your customer base rather than plain old solar energy. Make sure to look at wind, hydroelectric, or other forms of alternative energy first before investing.

New resources such as recycled plastics are constantly being innovated. Look at your own waste products and see if you can incorporate those into your strategy, thereby reducing not only your carbon footprint, but also ensuring a renewable way to take out your own trash in the future without filling landfills.

Thoughts on Carbon Offsetting for Businesses

Getting ahead on the net-zero goals of the future is important to your company, your growth, and our planet. Before your customers can ask, “is carbon offsetting ethical?” show them what you are doing and explain your efforts so that you can get out ahead of the naysayers.

Our future depends on you. Your customers know this. Carbon offsets combined with lean thinking and efficiency improvements can help reduce your carbon footprint. Explain these points to your customers and inform them of the benefits as well as your other activity, and instead of turning them off with carbon emissions, you can transform them into advocates for your brand.

Further reading:

Latest tips and advice for green businesses

Our fresh list of 100+ green business ideas

Interviews with green business owners.

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