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Carbon offsets in perspective part 3: Stick to the facts when it comes to scope

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Our second major concern is with the way the purchasing company presents the offsets. By defining narrow boundaries for the impact being offset and indulging in creative communications, many are exaggerating the value of what has been purchased. The phrase ‘carbon neutral’ is almost universally misused.

Companies should start with full life-cycle assessment (LCA) of their products and a serious assessment of their sustainability issues. It is ridiculous for a public affairs or law firm to be carbon neutral while lobbying on behalf of the coal industry.

Also, it is all too easy for a car manufacturer to be carbon neutral based solely on its manufacturing energy footprint. The major carbon footprint of companies is frequently embodied in the raw materials or related to the product use phase. Interface’s manufacturing carbon footprint represents less than 10% of a carpet tile’s full LCA impact. We calculate all the carbon emissions of our products from the extraction of raw materials, through their production, transportation, use and end of life. And then we purchase offsets equal to that amount.

Carbon neutrality claims based on manufacturing alone should be viewed with scepticism. Companies need to face the elephant in the room, and reputable offset providers should not be complicit in supporting misleading claims.

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