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The Oxford Offsetting Principles: a framework to maximise the impact of business carbon offsetting
The Oxford Offsetting Principles: a framework to maximise the impact of business carbon offsetting
The Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting can be used as guidelines to ensure that business offsetting is credible and always aligns with the key goal for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
April 25, 2022

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We need carbon offsetting.

There’s no two ways about it. It’s a powerful tool to reduce emissions and remove existing carbon from the atmosphere.

But offsetting must be approached right – purchasing credible, high impact offsets and avoiding greenwashing. This is where the Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting – known as the Oxford Offsetting Principles for short – come in.

They provide a framework for approaching business offsetting in the right way and supporting the growth of the carbon market: balancing immediate action with long-term impact whilst keeping costs feasible and taking into account how purchases should change over time to maintain the maximum possible impact.

What are the Oxford Offsetting Principles?

There are four Oxford Offsetting Principles:

Principle 1: Cut emissions, use high quality offsets, and regularly revise offsetting strategy as best practice evolves

The first priority should be reducing your own emissions. Quality offsets can then be purchased to address the remaining, unavoidable emissions – using the other 3 Principles to ensure they are always high impact.

Principle 2: Shift to carbon removal offsetting

There are two types of carbon offsets: emissions reduction (also known as emissions avoidance) and carbon removal. Today most available offsets are emissions avoidance, but we need to see investment and scaling in carbon removal offsets to take carbon out of the atmosphere and reach net zero. Carbon offset buyers should increase the portion of offsets that come from carbon removals and aim to reach 100% carbon removal by 2050.

Principle 3: Shift to long-lived storage

We also need solutions that store carbon with low risk of reversal, known as long-lived storage e.g. mineralisation which stores carbon in a stable, solid form. Again, to reach net zero we need investment in this now to improve and scale up the technologies that enable long-lived storage. So buyers should also aim to increase the portion of long-lived offsets and aim to reach 100% by 2050.

This diagram (Oxford Offsetting Principles, p.7) shows the types of carbon offsets: carbon removal or emissions reduction, and no storage, short-lived storage, or long-lived storage.

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Principle 4: Support the development of net zero aligned offsetting

The market for high-quality carbon offsets is in the early stages of development. It needs early adopters to both provide funding to project developers through the purchase of credits, and by spreading the word about high impact offsetting so that others follow suit.

Aligning your offset purchases with the Oxford Offsetting Principles – a portfolio approach

As you can see, the long-term aim is to shift purchases away from emissions reduction towards carbon removal and away from no or short-lived storage towards long-lived storage. But the authors also acknowledge that this currently isn't feasible for most buyers, due to availability and cost. 

Plus, although this long-lived removal will be the most impactful in the long-run, it’s still years out in terms of having the technology, construction etc in place – so, for instance, if you buy offset credits in Direct Air Capture now, the carbon won’t actually be removed and stored until 2024-27. So there’s also the need to balance future permanent carbon removal with immediate action on climate now, which is where it can be beneficial to also support emissions avoidance projects that are already up and running now.

They suggest the best action now is to build a portfolio of offset projects with a combination of offsets (emissions avoidance and carbon removal, short-lived and long-lived storage), and shift this combination towards those higher impact offsets as time goes on and the market develops.

This is the example given for building a portfolio which becomes 100% carbon removal with long-lived storage by 2050 to align with net zero goals (Oxford Offsetting Principles, p. 9):

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For instance, in the short-term you build an offsetting portfolio supporting project types as follows:

  • 50% wind turbine farms (Type 1/2)
  • 40% reforestation (Type 4)
  • 5% concrete mineralisation (Type 3)
  • 5% enhanced weathering (Type 5)

Over time, as the price of higher impact offsets come down, you would then shift more spend into the concrete mineralisation and enhanced weathering to maximise your impact.

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This approach is great for business offsetting, enabling you to balance cost with maximising climate impact by combining purchases of lower cost but lower impact offset credits with higher cost but higher impact ones. 

How Lune’s customer IDEO puts the Oxford Principles to practice

Global design firm IDEO, for instance, wanted to ensure their offsets were high-impact and even better value for money.

They didn’t have the internal expertise in offsetting to know how to best approach this. Discovering the Oxford Offsetting Principles offered them a framework to affordably support net zero goals.

And by working with Lune as a trusted partner for carbon offsetting they could easily build a portfolio to do just this – take a look at IDEO's offsetting report so far.

Via our API or dashboard you can build a portfolio that aligns with the Oxford Offsetting Principles with just one click, by choosing a bundle ready-made using the approach of the Principles outlined above. In this way you maximise climate impact (principles 1, 2, & 3) and support the development of the market for high-quality carbon offsetting (principle 4).

Plus, by working with us you access messaging frameworks, templates, and best practices to communicate your actions – so you’ll also be spreading the word with customers, employees, stakeholders, and others in your industry (principle 4). It’s win-win!

“Lune’s diverse and high-quality project bundles allowed us to significantly de-risk our climate strategy in line with the Oxford Offsetting Principles. We assessed a number of providers and we are pleased to be working with Lune.” – Dean Malmgren, Partner at IDEO

Next steps

Want to know more about building a portfolio of high-quality, Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting aligned offsets like IDEO's?

Get in touch for an initial scoping chat – or request access to our dashboard to get a demo and start exploring. 

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