From Viral Tree Planting to Carbon Offsetting: The Source’s Quest for a Genuine Green Impact

If you spend (too much) time on Tik Tok like me chances are you've come across the virally famous tree planter, Leslie Dart, who's been known to plant an astounding 4,500 trees in a single day in Canada. Dart gives us a glimpse into her summer job through videos of her traipsing through the forest, planting a tree every few seconds. The spectacle is nothing short of riveting, and it's no surprise that she's blown up in the comments section. Cue the flurry of questions – how much is she paid? What type of trees is she planting? What's the survival rate of these trees? How does one get such a job? And, oh, how's her back holding up?

As a business committed to making a positive ecological impact, we're always on the lookout for opportunities to support initiatives that echo our values. Back in March, we partnered with Ecologi to plant over 10,000 trees. Seeing Dart and her colleagues in action is a testament to what can be accomplished with adequate resources funnelled towards reforestation. But this led me down a rabbit hole, delving into the criticism that carbon offsetting is just a greenwashing tool for corporations. Much to my disappointment, I found that some environmental scientists believe that carbon offsetting projects might do more harm than good.

This year, The Guardian conducted an investigation into Verra – the world's leading carbon standard for the £1.6bn voluntary offsets market. This market thrives thanks to people like you and me, who when booking our summer holiday flights, don't hesitate to tick the "carbon offset your flight" option. It's also fuelled by large corporations such as Gucci, Salesforce, BHP, and Shell looking to offset their company’s carbon emissions to achieve their corporate sustainability goals.

So, what's Verra all about? It administers the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) programme, which allows certified projects to transform their greenhouse gas reductions and removals into tradable carbon credits. Companies and individuals looking to offset their carbon footprints can purchase these credits.

The Guardian's investigation revealed that only a few of the rain forest projects certified by Verra demonstrated any substantial reduction in deforestation, and an alarming 94% of the credits had zero climate benefits. Additionally, there were human rights concerns associated with some projects. The majority of projects scrutinised shouldn't have been granted credits, according to their analysis. You can read the full article here.

The offset market clearly calls for stricter regulations and standardisation, especially given the growing demand for these credits and the looming threat of climate change. Companies need to focus on re configuring their systems and processes to reduce emissions as a priority. As consumers, it's crucial for us to comprehend the drivers behind deforestation. Trees are felled in the Amazon to clear land for soya crops, primarily used for livestock feed. Switching to a meat-free or reduced-meat diet could lessen the demand for such land, allowing nature to reclaim its space. Maintaining our existing forests and cultivating new ones is critical for balancing out the carbon emissions our societies generate.

So, where does this leave Leslie Dart and her phenomenal tree-planting prowess? And what about the 10,000 trees The Source helped plant through Ecologi, verified by VCS? The fact is, these trees were indeed planted, and that's not under dispute. However, the investigation indicates that the carbon offset calculation is grossly inflated. This creates an issue when businesses use carbon offsets to make net-zero claims. Without proper standardisation and regulation, VCS still has a long way to go. So, when we offset our flights, we're not entirely achieving our aim. Unfortunately, the trees planted don't sufficiently offset our flights. In many ways, carbon offsetting is like recycling – we wish it were the ultimate solution, but it's only a small part of the puzzle.

Reflecting on this experience, as a company striving to make a positive planetary impact, it's clear that reforestation remains vital. We'll continue supporting tree-planting projects across the UK and worldwide, but we won't claim that these initiatives offset our carbon footprint. Instead, we'll keep directing resources to initiatives that demonstrate tangible outcomes. A tree planted is indeed a tree planted, and I'm pretty sure Dart would echo that sentiment.

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