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What You Should Consider When Shopping for a Carbon Offset Provider

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Over the past six months I have noticed a significant increase in the number of lodging establishments that have announced carbon offsetting and Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) purchase initiatives. In case you do not understand what carbon offsetting means, or what a REC is, according to Wikipedia, carbon offsetting is “the process of reducing the net carbon emissions of an individual or organization, either by their own actions, or through arrangements with a carbon offset provider.”

According to San Francisco-based 3 Phases Energy Services, a REC represents one megawatt hour (MWh) of renewable electricity generated and delivered somewhere on the power grid. A REC represents the environmental benefits of replacing dirty power with clean power.

Carbon offsets and RECs are sold by nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Money generated from the sale of the two is used to support renewable energy projects such as wind and solar power, as well as reforestation. If you have replaced incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and done all of the other things possible in your hotel to reach maximum energy efficiency, you should consider participation in a carbon offset or Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) purchase program. That said, what questions should you be asking of potential offset and REC providers? I spoke with two experts to find out.

Look for Certified Vendors

John Friskel, Associate, Partnerships and Business Development, Green Certificates Division, 3 Phases Energy Services, says you first need to determine if the organization has been certified by Green-e, the United States’ leading independent renewable energy program certifier. Certified organizations are listed on the Green-e website.

At the international level, offset providers are certified by The Gold Standard in Basel, Switzerland, says Brian Mullis, President of Boulder, Colo.-based Sustainable Travel International.

Once you have determined the organization is properly certified, what else should you consider?

“I would also look at reputation,” Friskel says. “Look at a company’s background, track record, how long they have been in business, and with whom they have worked.”

Ask how much the company charges to offset a ton of carbon dioxide, Mullis adds. Is it a metric ton? A ton in U.S. measurement? Are volume discounts available? Also ask what percentage of the funds will go to the provider and to the actual projects. Nonprofit organizations tend to give 80 percent of funds to projects and use about 20 percent for overhead. For-profit companies may not divulge the percentages.

Be sure to ask whether or not the projects you are investing in already exist. If they are future offsets, you cannot legitimately claim that the activities you just tried to offset are carbon neutral. They may be at some point in the future but not today.

Both Friskel and Mullis concur that business support should also be an important consideration.

“Ask what kinds of additional services the organization provides,” Friskel says. “Do you need marketing support? We found that explaining offsets and RECs can take some time. We take it upon ourselves to help do that.”

Mullis says educational and training materials are also important, as well as whether or not the company provides an online calculator to allow one to measure one’s carbon footprint and what exactly one is offsetting.

The REC/Offset Difference

Keep in mind that RECs can be purchased to offset the amount of energy that your property draws off the grid. While they do have a carbon component, they cannot be used to offset activities such as corporate travel to and from your hotel—activities that have nothing to do with electricity generation. Carbon offsets can be used for activities such as corporate travel or, as one hotel recently announced, for the miles driven by its managers.

It can get confusing trying to understand how RECs and carbon offsets work. Don’t hesitate to chat with the experts. Visit their websites. Most importantly, before considering offsetting initiatives, take care of the things you need to be doing at your property to minimize your impact on the environment.

Earth Day Activities

As part of the Willard InterContinental’s sustainability effort entitled, “Willard InterContinental—The Next 100 Years,” the historic hotel will be celebrating Earth Day in Pershing Park across the street from the hotel. Co-sponsoring the green awareness event will be the National Park Service, whom the Willard has partnered with for cleanup and other park well-being efforts since the hotel “adopted” Pershing Park as a part of the National Park Services’ Adopt-a-Park Program. This program encourages employees of the hotel to donate their time once a month towards the cleaning, planting and general maintenance of the park to ensure that the community, visitors and hotel guests can enjoy the fresh air and beauty of the green space.

Also joining the environmental celebration will be the Earth Conservation Corps, the organization responsible for the Anacostia River Cleanup Project, another Willard-supported program. This program’s goal is to utilize hotel funds accrued from the conservation of water used during laundering services in order to directly support efforts to clean up the Anacostia River.

In honor of environmental awareness month, the Seaport Hotel in Boston is offering complimentary parking to any guest arriving in a hybrid vehicle during the month of April. It is what the property calls “Eco-CARma.”

As always, I can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com, or by calling (440) 243-2055. I look forward to hearing from you.

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