Monday, 30 June 2008

Who is certifying the certifiers?

Guest blog by the World Land Trust's Special Projects Consultant, Mark Gruin

A recent article on the BBC News website (Carbon standard 'to renew trust') described a new Carbon Standard certification scheme launched by the Carbon Trust. While interesting, and arguably newsworthy, this news is more than a little frustrating and disconcerting. I have a basic mistrust of certification schemes, especially ones like this that make sweeping statements like this one that smear with a very broad brush, "...the new benchmark was in response to the public's growing mistrust of companies' claims to be cutting their greenhouse gas emissions."

The underlying motivation could be seen as noble, if it was not so limiting and frankly, blatantly self-serving. This new scheme specifically eliminates from ranking consideration companies that use a 'third party' to offset emissions on their behalf, in a supposed attempt to claim that only on in-house measures to reduce a company's emissions are worth certifying. (In the interest of full disclosure -- World Land Trust (WLT) does provide 'third party' offsets to businesses, but only if the company agrees to also pursue in-house emissions reduction programmes.

Mind you, making the effort to reduce emissions and putting in place systems to measure and account for the emissions reduction efforts is certainly a good thing. But why eliminate from consideration other sound and proven approaches? And, by not considering for this scheme companies that use a 'third party' - like WLT - to offset emissions on their behalf Carbon Trust could be seen to be aiming sideways criticism at not only those companies who do, but the providers as well.

What gnaws at me most is that the 'certifiers' often introduce schemes like this to try and scramble their way back into the picture. The field of emissions offsetting is maturing rapidly, is eminently verifiable, and recognised and both scientifically sound and beneficial. Furthermore, and this is always the icing on the cake, when the 'certifiers' start charging exorbitant prices just for the privilege of being certified that's where, in my mind, they really cross the line. It's bad enough that a small company, with annual energy expenditure of less than £50k, would need to spend £1,000 to submit an assessment form to be considered for certification; why would they have to, or want to pay an additional £700 to have Carbon Trust 'assist' them in completing the certification materials, then be evaluated by that same Carbon Trust to see if they met the standards? To be fully legitimate and transparent, certification should be prepared and submitted independent from the evaluator and grantor of the certification. How much faith in the standard is generated if the certifier is assisting in the preparation of the application, and is being paid to do so? That money could be much better spent applied to initiatives that prevent even more CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

Eliminating from consideration for this 'Standard' companies that pursue dedicated in-house programmes to reduce their emissions and choose to offset their emissions with legitimate initiatives that provide credits for reforestation, assisted natural regeneration and avoided deforestation is at best counter-productive. Take for example Nikwax, one of WLT's carbon balanced companies: they do a stringent internal carbon reduction assessment and action plan, they offset their calculated current emissions with WLT, and they match that offset in order to offset what they've emitted 10 years back. Isn't this not only a sound approach, but one that seeks to mitigate the negative effects of greenhouse gas emissions by any legitimate means possible? Why should they be discounted from consideration, and not be properly recognised for their efforts and their leadership? Even worse, why remove the motivation to not only reduce but mitigate?

Certainly, businesses and consumers want to know that claims about emissions offsetting are valid. But they are not stupid, and should not be patronised or mislead by yet another supposedly authoritative certification standard. The information is out there, the public and the media are watching closely, and they are making their own informed decisions. (See Which? Magazine's April 2008 issue, highlighted on WLT's website.)

Maybe we should be asking who is certifying the certifiers, but we would rather spend our energy getting on with the hard work of providing legitimate and verifiable offsets that also benefit biodiversity conservation.

No comments:

Post a Comment