The average Canadian emits about 24 tonnes of CO2 per year. Many are working to reduce their carbon footprint, but conservation, commuting and other changes only go so far.

That’s where carbon offsets come in. They allow you to pay — between $20 and $30 per tonne — for the carbon you emit. There’s no financial return on these investments, but the money directly funds new technology that can clean up the atmosphere for everyone. Here are the basics of carbon offsetting:

How do carbon offsets work?
“You can purchase carbon offsets, and we then invest that money in clean technology projects,” says Kari Grist, senior vice president of marketing for Offsetters, a private, for-profit company specializing in the carbon market.

“If an organization like Group Aeroplan wants to be carbon-neutral — and they are — we have projects that sell carbon credits to us, which we then, in turn, sell to Group Aeroplan.”

Who collects the money?
Offsetters is one of several companies offering carbon offsets. They also do extensive research to ensure the new technologies they fund really will reduce Canada’s extensive carbon footprint.


“We take the funds, and give it to organizations that implement the new technology,” Grist says. “Often, these organizations can’t fund a new technology on their own.”

The market is growing rapidly. Canadians paid to offset 93-million tonnes of CO2 in 2009, up from 12-million in 2005.

Where does the money go?
“For it to be a high-quality offset credit, there are standards that (a project) has to adhere to,” Grist explains. “One is that the offset is real and permanent – measured by third-party validators.”

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