Retail reductions: creating a platform to let people buy emission reductions for themselves and others

Governments and businesses can participate in emissions trading, but what about people like you and me?

c’mon, do something…

One of the problems we face is that a lot people want to do something about climate, but aren’t sure what to do.

Polls continue to reveal that much of the public is aware and concerned by the threat posed by climate change.

However, direct public engagement remains too low for transformational change to occur at street level.

The problem isn’t more knowledge

If problems could be solved by proving more information, the world’s greatest problems would be solved.

Simply providing more information to increase the public’s knowledge is unlikely to result in support for climate action.

The missing ingredient is involvement.

A public that is both knowledgable AND involved is a public that’s active and engaged.

A way forward

Allowing people to buy emissions reductions in the form of credible international carbon units could allow people to become directly involved in emissions reduction and attract the support needed to sustain transformational change.

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The trading of carbon units is based on the idea that emissions can be reduced in certain parts of the world at a low cost.

Put simply, an entity reduces emissions, the reduction is verified and another person buys that reduction as carbon units.

To date, those buying these reductions have mostly been governments and businesses.

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There has also been a noticeable increase in carbon trading mechanisms in recent years, with global trading expected to increase further now rules governing Article 6 (carbon markets) of the Paris Agreement have been finalised.

As rules and norms governing these transactions continue to be refined, there is hope this could unlock a wave of emission reductions across the global economy.

The trading of carbon units in a simple, familiar and inclusive way would provide ownership and choice to those that are aware of climate change, but need to be more involved.

Allowing communities, businesses and individuals to participate mirrors the same process that domesticated participation in the stock market in recent years.

But it already exists, right?

If you Google ‘buy carbon offsets’ you are likely to see a range of offerings, like the United Nations Carbon Offset Program, Verra, and the Gold Standard.

But many of these programs miss an essential retail component.

Retail is about meeting a consumer’s needs in way that’s accessible and above all—retail should be fun and easy.

OFFSET: emissions reduction for you and me

Offset is a concept aimed at letting the public become more involved in emissions reduction by trading in carbon units.

It applies familiar features and systems to demystify carbon unit trade, address broader climate change concerns and shape the values through which carbon trading and emissions reduction are viewed.

It achieves this in a transparent way that provides choice, agency and ownership of the emissions reduction process to a broader range of the population.

Many of Offset’s features will look familiar to those who take part in online commerce.

The window shopping of ASOS, an ability to filter products by quality, like

Offset collates these features into a simple, easy-to-use interface for the user.

Easy retail

The main attribute of Offset would be its ability to allow people to browse a catalogue of emissions reduction projects, and then make purchase emission reductions.

The public would be able to select the emissions reduction project that appeals most to them, whether it be a project in a certain location, in a certain industry or with a certain co-benefit, like improving water quality or providing skills training.


Where’s the credibility?

How would you know if what you bought actually led to emission reductions?

Offset would display a credibility score that grades the emission reductions, ensuring they are real, quantified, permanent, additional, verified and do not result in leakage.

Offset would ensure units bought and sold represent genuine emission reductions and comply with international rules on emissions trading.

Different carbon units could contain different levels of integrity, price and attributes, much like those found on financial comparison websites, like


A key part of engaging the public is creating competitiveness, enjoyment and stories that resonate with their values.

Public participation in emissions reduction should be fun.

This builds on research exploring the possibility of mobilizing those that currently dedicate many hours to gaming, towards sustainability outcomes.

One feature would allows users to purchase carbon units as gifts for family and friends, much like Oxfam Unwrapped.

Leaderboards that display that the most prominent carbon unit traders by age, location or school could unleash a competitive spirit amongst participants as seen across many online competitions, like fantasy sports.

Broad support for climate action should align with people’s attitudes and behaviour, which is ultimately underpinned by their values.

One of the more important components of Offset would be its capacity to appeal to the public’s values through storytelling and narrative.

This could be presented through short videos that depict good news stories of emissions reduction projects abroad, and mitigation of emissions overall.

Offset would allow customers to learn about how their purchase is directly helping the recipients’ lives.

This is a tried and tested formula, with projects like Kiva receiving millions in loans and child sponsorship projects, like the one promoted by World Vision, receiving billions.

Through Offset, customers would be able to see how the project develops over time, how it mitigates emissions and how it benefits the communities involved.

stack the deck

Offset is not the single solution to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, but it would begin to unlock a key component of transformational change—mainstream public support.

By involving already-aware individuals, communities and small businesses in the trading of carbon units, these groups regain agency and engage in the process of emissions reduction.

Doing so begins to stack the deck in favour or change and helps us move towards a low-carbon future.

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