A 5-step guide to buying RECs and carbon offsets

McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) recently went through the process of reviewing its own purchases of renewable energy certificates (RECs) and carbon offsets, and learned some lessons along the way. As it can be an involved process, we'd like to share what we took away from the process -- and hope you will benefit from our experience in the marketplace.

Buying environmental commodities such as RECs and carbon offsets has been an increasingly important strategy for corporate environmental performance. For stakeholders seeking to grow the clean energy economy, RECs have become increasingly important. For those looking to create a carbon-neutral company, event, or personal lifestyle, carbon offsets are commonplace.

Supporting renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are linked concepts that often get confused. RECs can reduce emissions if they displace emissions that would have been created otherwise from electricity produced by a fossil fuel source such as a coal-fired power plant. However, there are other benefits to clean energy such as energy independence, energy security and jobs. RECs can also be used as a carbon management strategy, in some instances.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol segments emissions into three categories: Scope 1 (direct), Scope 2 (indirect, such as purchased electricity) and Scope 3 (other indirect sources). Because RECs represent offsets of purchased electricity, it only makes sense for RECs to offset Scope 2 emissions. Carbon offsets can come in many types and typically are used as a proxy for a GHG emissions reduction of one ton. They can be used to offset Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. 

What’s a sustainability officer to do when evaluating their options? MBDC has developed a 5-step guide to walk you through navigating the voluntary environmental product space.

Photo of tree growing out of pile of coins provided by Arkady via Shutterstock

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