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06 Mar 2023

Blog: To offset or not to offset - carbon offsetting that provides local social value

In this brand-new blog our Sustainability & ESG Director, Jo Holden, talks about expanding the number of Net Zero Carbon buildings in Peel L&P’s portfolio, offsetting emissions responsibly and boosting social value for local communities in the process. Take a look below to find out more!

Recently, we announced a further two additions to our Net Zero Carbon portfolio (congratulations, Quayside MediaCity and Gloucester Quays!), bringing our total to eighteen sites verified this year against the UK Green Building Council’s (UKGBC’s) framework as Net Zero Carbon in operation.

Originally launched in 2019, the UKGBC’s framework is a technical standard (1), the release of which was exciting for us as it set a well-regarded definition of Net Zero Carbon for the UK property sector which we were able to align to.

For a building to be verified as Net Zero Carbon in operation, the UKGBC states that, “the amount of carbon emissions associated with the building’s operational energy on an annual basis [must be] zero or negative. A Net Zero Carbon building is highly energy efficient and powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources, with any remaining carbon balance offset”.

For us, this means continually monitoring our buildings and creating action plans to make them as energy efficient as possible. Next, it’s about using the UKGBC’s Renewable Energy Procurement and Carbon Offsetting Guidance for Net Zero Carbon Buildings to procure responsible green energy tariffs and consider on-site and off-site renewables, before looking at offsetting the residual carbon emissions as a last resort.

  • What is carbon offsetting? 

Offsetting your carbon emissions broadly refers to the act of compensating for any emissions you are responsible for by reducing greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere (2).  This can be done through direct action or participation in global schemes. 

In line with the UKGBC’s guidance, carbon offsets should only be used to compensate unavoidable emissions in a timeframe aligned to the point of pollution: annually for operational energy, and at the point of completion for construction. Encouraging a net reduction in carbon emissions from project initiation is, of course, the main objective here. 

Many people view carbon offsetting as ‘greenwashing’, as it doesn’t tackle the problem of carbon emissions at its root, and it can be seen as ‘plastering over’ the emissions. But the hard truth is that despite our best efforts, some emissions are beyond our control right here and right now, so we must reduce the impacts over time and compensate for emissions as locally as possible. 

Frustratingly, it’s difficult to meet the UKGBC guidelines for offsetting through local projects in the UK at the moment, so there is no way to officially combine carbon offsetting with the creation of local social value. The UKGBC requires businesses to meet standards such as VERRA (3), the Verified Carbon Standard, as proof of responsible offsetting. UK Woodland Carbon Code Credits (4) are also acceptable but scarce, so international options, like projects to support lower energy solutions in developing countries, or reforestation in places such as the Amazon rainforest, are usually the only suitable schemes that can be verified by a third party. 

  • The importance of creating local social value through offsetting 

Without offsetting, we would not be able to meet the UKGBC’s definition of Net Zero Carbon in operation. And without the prize of the Net Zero Carbon badge, it would be much more difficult to inspire our Energy Champions and encourage other people across the business to take action to reduce carbon emissions on a daily basis. 

In the ideal carbon offsetting world, we would be able to offset our emissions through schemes run by local partners in the district where the carbon emissions originated. The audit trail for this would be verified by a third party and acceptable to the UKGBC. 

Due to the lack of verifiable schemes in the UK, Peel L&P chooses to purchase carbon credits that meet the UKGBC’s requirements, but in addition we ‘bundle’ these with support to local charities to add social impact. This year, we will be supporting the City of Trees (5) Citizen Forester programme and the Mersey Forest (6) schools programme in the North West of England, which are both aiming to sequester more carbon as part of the wider Northern Forest (7). Both charities provide volunteering opportunities which support physical and mental health and wellbeing, life-long learning, green job skills and schools education, amongst many other benefits to the environment and local community. The organisations can use their funds in multiple ways, either as direct action or as a match to other funding applications, so our offsetting contribution helps their existing funding to go further and deeper, and to build longer-term collaborations. 

  • How will the pathway to net zero affect our social value contributions? 

We are thrilled about the additional impact our partner organisations can provide as a result of our contributions. Inevitably our offsetting contributions linked to social value will reduce incrementally as we continue to reduce our emissions, but along the way we will be building better relationships and making future plans together. Each year, we reverify our buildings against the UKGBC framework and it is our responsibility to account for the residual emissions and act accordingly. We choose to boost social value in local communities in association with our carbon offsetting, and we’re proud to be supporting this on our road to net zero. 

Read more about sustainability at Peel L&P here.