RECs and Carbon Offsets: A Viable Way to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

(Read our introduction to the benefits of renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets, then read Part I of this blog series on other sources for purchasing RECs and carbon offsets.)

Did you know that businesses can power their operations with renewable energy even without directly installing solar panels on their building? Our last blog covered Dominion Energy’s Green Power Program and Dominion’s Community Solar Program, both of which allow you to purchase “Renewable Energy Certificates.”  

Here, in Part II, we outline two more options: buying REC’s from a different source and purchasing carbon offsets. Lena Lewis, C3’s former Program Manager and graduate of UVA’s Batten School of Public Policy, did some in-depth research on this topic.   

Option 3: Buy RECs Through a Broker    

Have you seen stickers in windows that say “This business is powered by wind energy"? That business likely bought RECs.  

This is a nice option for tenants who do not pay their own electricity bill. This option allows you to buy RECs through a broker, rather than through Dominion.   

This enables you to tout that your business supports renewable energy. Buying RECs provides a source of income for renewable energy generators like wind turbines and solar farms, making them a more financially attractive option to build. It also shows the demand for renewable energy is growing, which could lead to more renewable energy being built.  

We recommend that you only buy from brokers who are certified by a third-party auditor. You can go through the Green-e website to find them.   

We went ahead and did that and found a broker we like, Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF).  We like them because they make it easy to buy RECs in small increments.  Also, they are a non-profit, have transparency, customer support, and calculators to help you figure out how many RECs you want to purchase. 

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BEF sell RECs for $8 apiece. (That’s cheaper than either Dominion option.)  

A caveat with buying REC’s in Virginia: In general, Virginia is restrictive about renewable energy options. If you buy RECs from a third-party broker, and not through Dominion, you CANNOT legally claim that your business runs on renewable energy.  

Option 4: Buy Carbon Offsets   

The fourth option is purchasing carbon offsets. While not technically renewable energy, carbon offsets are a mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere. This option is available to anyone, whether you pay your electricity bill or not.  

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Let’s say you have done everything you can to reduce your electricity consumption and the amount you drive, but you still emit carbon dioxide as a part of running your business (especially delivery-type businesses). Buying carbon offsets could support a project somewhere else in the world that either reduces greenhouse gas emissions or removes carbon dioxide from the air.    

An example is a project that plants trees. Your business can pay money to help fund this project. The trees funded by the project absorb an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide to the amount that your business emits. This allows you to say that you are carbon neutral.   

Another less picturesque example of a carbon offset project is a landfill. Landfills give off methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If a landfill has enough money, this methane can be captured and burned for energy. You can buy carbon offsets to fund this methane capture, which is important in the fight against climate change.   

BEF sells carbon offsets at $10 to $12 per metric ton of CO2. You can choose which project you want to support. Some projects may fit with your business’s supply chain or customers better than others.   

Need a calculator to help you figure out your carbon footprint? BEF has a great tool for businesses and for homes.  

We should note that figuring out exactly how much carbon a particular project offsets is hard to calculate accurately, even with the most stringent methods. If you want to claim that you are buying enough carbon offsets that your business, or part of your business, is truly “carbon neutral,” we recommend purchasing more than you think you need to buffer for that uncertainty. 

Next Steps   

We’ve created a (downloadable) summary chart of each of the four options so you can compare them and figure out what you want to pursue. Get your creative juices flowing to figure out how you can use RECs and carbon offsets to boost your business! 

One more tool: If you want to calculate how much it would cost for your business to go 30 percent renewable energy or to make your deliveries carbon neutral, download this handy worksheet. 

(Article co-authored by Lena Lewis and Teri Kent)