Carbon Credits

Carbon credits are effectively permits that authorise owners to emit limited amounts of greenhouse gas.

The term carbon credit is a slight misnomer, as the permit can cover the production of various other substances too, but the name has stuck, as most greenhouse gasses are in the form of carbon dioxide. This certainly applies in construction, where over 90 per cent of emissions from buildings have that identity.

Each credit held allows the owner to emit a ton of carbon dioxide or an equivalent amount of other greenhouse gasses. According to respected non-profit making US organisation the Environmental Defense Fund, a ton of carbon dioxide is the amount your car would typically would emit if you drove for 2,400 miles…roughly the equivalent of three trips from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

Carbon credits are generated by projects taking active steps to enhance the environment.

So buying them might see you supporting tree-planting, mangrove swamps or re-wilding, for example. They’re therefore essentially a balancing act…you partly purge your carbon-emitting sins by backing initiatives doing far more virtuous things.

However, credits may be our bread and butter, and they’re certainly necessary, but we make no secret that they should not be the initial stage in tackling your building’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The ideal way to counter emissions is to avoid or reduce them in the first place, through substituting previously used construction materials, for example. Every relevant organisation should already be doing this to the maximum extent possible.

But the unfortunate reality is we won’t reach net zero anytime soon via this means alone.

As the technology to make 100 per cent emission avoidance even in new buildings possible is too expensive, decades away from general availability, or both.

For now, therefore, some embodied emissions are inevitable and the best way to neutralise these is to offset them. Carbon credits are the most common means of achieving this.

The carbon credit market has to expand rapidly. Leading accountancy firm Deloitte says even if all possible emissions are avoided or reduced, purchases would have to grow 15-fold by 2030 and 100 times if the UK’s net zero target is to be achieved by 2050. The organisation says the British market is currently valued at about £246m and could reach around £40bn in the near future.