Carbon Offsets

We all create emissions that affect the climate - whether it's turning on a light or driving a car. That's where carbon offsets help.

While it’s essential that we all reduce our energy use to protect the atmosphere from greenhouse gases, it’s almost impossible for most of us to keep from causing some emissions that affect climate. So, over the years, a system of carbon offsets has emerged to help us reduce our overall impact on climate.

What are carbon offsets?

A carbon offset is what a buyer receives in exchange for supporting a project that reduces greenhouse gases in the environment. One “carbon offset” equals one ton of greenhouse gases.

The average NW Natural customer’s gas use generates about 3.7 tons of CO2 per year.

Purchase of a carbon offset balances out greenhouse gases released by the buyer’s activities, such as home heating and cooling, driving a car or manufacturing.

The money raised by selling carbon offsets generally makes innovative, start-up projects pencil out. For example, carbon offset funding might make it possible for a small dairy farm to afford a manure digester, providing the farmer with a way to capture methane from manure. Without the investment, the farmer would have to hold the manure on site, ultimately releasing a potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

Where do carbon offsets come from?

Offset projects are almost as varied as sources of greenhouse gases. They range from planting trees – which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – to sophisticated renewable energy and high-efficiency equipment projects.

Some projects currently funded by The Climate Trust (NW Natural's Smart Energy Partner) are:

  • A commercial building program that encourages construction meeting rigorous national green standards;
  • A co-generation system in an eastern Oregon lumber mill where a high-efficiency turbine will use steam to create electricity. Without the turbine, this useful steam will be wasted;
  • A program that helps Oregon governments improve the timing of traffic lights. Better traffic flow reduces engine idling, which reduces auto emissions (including carbon dioxide) and improves fuel efficiency.

How will NW Natural choose projects? What will the emphasis be?

NW Natural will work with The Climate Trust, a nonprofit organization that has been buying carbon offsets since 1997. The Trust has established a set of criteria for choosing the projects it invests in.

In addition to using these established criteria, NW Natural and the Climate Trust will look for projects that are most compatible with NW Natural’s business – natural gas distribution. The major focus of Smart Energy investments will be biogas development.

How will we know how our Smart Energy dollars are used?

The Climate Trust uses comprehensive tracking methods to monitor the projects it invests in. NW Natural will work with The Trust to use these methods and measurements and adapt them as necessary for Smart Energy.

As a program participant, you’ll receive an annual report on Smart Energy investments and resulting greenhouse gas reductions.