The scoop on using green tags to offset your car or flight's CO2 emissions

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Q Where can you purchase carbon credits? Do you know if there is such a thing in Canada?

A It’s amazing how a concept can become so pervasive when half the planet is unsure what the hell it means. “Carbon-neutral” may be the best modern example of this. It’s tied to all sorts of hazy, confusing terms like “green tags,” “carbon credits” and “offsetting,” yet suddenly everyone’s doing it. The World Cup, Al Gore’s new movie, Pearl Jam’s latest tour – they’re all carbon-neutral, but what is it and how can you get your hands on some?

First off, let’s clear up what it’s not. The term “carbon credit” is generally tied to bigger-picture, high-roller stuff. Within the mysterious world of carbon trading programs, companies or countries that reduce their carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions get points for their good deeds and can sell those points to nations or corporations that have not reined in their pollution. This has yet to happen in Canada at the national level, so it’s sort of a non-issue for us.

But what rock stars, frequent flyers and tree-huggers are chatting about these days is calculating the CO2 emissions created by your tour bus, trip to Cuba or commute to work and offsetting those bad planet-warming gases with green tags, aka carbon offsets or renewable energy certificates.

The concept is huge in the UK, where government and people actually take climate change seriously . Firms like the Climate Neutral Company let you invest a few pounds in solar projects in Sri Lanka to offset a medium-haul flight or plant native trees in the UK to neutralize your driving.

For the longest time, Canadians had to buy green tags through British or American organizations or companies, but the idea has recently caught on here.

Some green tags come from for- profits like car-offsetting CoolDrivePass, which gives roughly 70 per cent of your purchase directly to emissions reduction projects like ground-source heat pumps, low-impact hydro, biogas and energy retrofits in the developing world (

Others are sold by orgs like the Calgary-based Pembina Institute, a non-profit NGO that use carbon offsets kind of like a fundraising tool. Half the cash from your purchase of green credits to offset your wedding, computer, meeting, film or cruise goes toward Pembina’s respected environmental research and half to the actual wind farm they buy from. (These can also be given out as gifts.)

Just know that not all green tags are created equal – or judged equally by environmentalists, for that matter. Planting a dozen trees to neutralize your air conditioner use might seem wonderfully idealistic, but eco-heads dis it as an impermanent solution (i.e., those trees may be chopped down), and trees take ages to mature to the point where they absorb significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.

That’s why tags that support renewable energy projects like wind or low-impact hydro are ideal. In fact, WWF has set just up the Gold Standard to verify the quality and sustainability of carbon offset projects. The org only certifies green energy and energy-efficiency programs (

Green My Flight, a for-profit offshoot of the Vancouver-based Uniglobe travel agency, worked closely with Environment Canada’s Environmental Choice program to make sure the wind power it purchases has Environmental Choice’s EcoLogo certification. Green My Flight is the first service to be certified by the green body. (The EcoLogo label is normally affixed to products.) And in this case, a minimum of 80 per cent of your cash will go toward turbines.

Still, you might wonder why some tag retailers charge you less than others to offset your flight. A standard price per carbon tonne is about $15 to $20. It could be more or less. Beware of super cheap ones and call the company if you have questions.

Of course, the best way to neutralize your carbon emissions is not to produce them at all.

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