Carbon offsets and our sinking ship

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“One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive one.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

We are pretty inept, as humans, at looking at the big picture. We live in timelines where next month seems a long way away – let alone the next generation. This lack of big-picture thinking hinders our climate action, epitomised perfectly by the carbon offset market. 

The climate economy is slowly gaining strength, and with that comes a whole market to benefit the wants of the same short-term thinking that got us into this mess. Credible solutions exist out there, and I can agree that part of the solution is to suck some of the carbon out of the atmosphere, especially as the fossil fuel industry continues to grow

However, Carbon Removal projects in their early stages are inefficient (emitting more carbon than sequestered), expensive, and therefore currently inadequate. Carbon offsets are thus the go-to for businesses to achieve an affordable balance of carbon. Unfortunately, there are problems with balancing this way. 

My dad once put it great. Carbon offsets are like having a hole in your boat and emptying the water with buckets without considering fixing the hole. Potentially, the biggest danger of offsets is that they give the big carbon-emitting companies an excuse to relax, to let the ship continue leaking water. But the truth is right now, offsets are not even close to touching the sides of global emissions. (Imagine using a teaspoon to keep the water from filling up the boat) 

Reality check: we are sinking and panicking to act.  

The word “offset” in itself frustrates me. Much like the word “resilience” annoys me. Both terms are chucked around in business sustainability. “Offset” and “Resilience” imply a certain degree of acceptance of the bad stuff. It feels like the world has flipped from climate denial to climate doom – why did we skip the phase of radical action? 

We have accepted that carbon emissions are going to exist (the world is stuck how it is) and, thus, the climate apocalypse is inevitable. Instead, let’s act, let’s get the masking tape out and block that hole. We need to tackle the emissions at source and make it unacceptable to be complicit.

So… what exactly goes into creating a carbon offset?  I had a deep dive into the murky world of the offset market to find out just how easy it would be to offset some emissions.

As quoted by a potential offsetting partner, to offset a tonne of carbon would cost no less than £2.25 in India (outrageously cheap). This project was supplying a community with a Renewable Solar Farm – an awesome cause for sure. However, doesn’t it feel weird that a big oil company could mine a well of carbon sludge, export it and burn it only to claim that it has balanced those emissions by purchasing solar power 5000 miles away? 

We run into similar issues with REGOs and the ‘Renewable’ Energy tariffs you receive here. Company X will purchase 100 GigaWatts of wind power produced by a wind farm in France (supplying the local French grid). This 100 GigaWatts of renewable energy is then sold back to the consumer in the UK as renewable energy – regardless of the grid supply received in the UK (currently only 30% renewable supply at the time of writing – check here for the latest update).. This system of offsetting energy usage is fundamentally f**ked because it does not recognise the actual emissions burned on-site, and instead allows companies to turn a blind eye to its actual impact.

Therefore, an organisation can achieve Net Zero carbon emissions for its energy usage on a technicality of the energy companies offsetting their own emissions… seems like we are running in circles right?

All of this is in the pursuit of quick-win commercial sustainability. Net Zero should not be a balancing act awarded to those who can stay afloat in choppy conditions. 

What we really need is transparent, effective action that doesn’t simply treat the symptoms but helps to rectify the cause itself.

So what should companies do?

  1. 1. Put your money into decarbonising your emissions. Invest in initiatives that actively reduce your Scopes 1 & 2. If you have a budget of £1000 to offset, this could instead be (more wisely) invested into energy efficiency projects.
  1. 2. Pursue Scope 3 reporting and reductions that do not rely on transaction-based emissions reporting. Achieve insight into actionable reductions by working with your supply chain, identifying high-emitting operations and making calculated decisions on what is achievable.
  1. 3. Act fast. 2030 Net Zero goals will come around soon. Do not wait until tomorrow, next year, or five years to reduce your impact. Get to work now and fix the boat before we sink. 

What Should Governments Do?

At the risk of getting too political here, I believe that ‘business’ alone should not bare all of the responsibility to act (partly because we need intervention to enforce accountability).

A fundamental issue with the current status quo is that the ability to offset your emissions via renewable energy offsets is complicit to a system that says “normal” is still an energy system run on fossil fuels. This is not sustainable, therefore it should not be the norm. We need to ensure that there are more ways for this to be funded than relying on the murkiness of the carbon market. Governments, Banks and NGOs need to mobilise and invest in grants to support this. Personally I believe this should be the first thing on any new government’s manifesto to run the country, as our current grid struggles to keep pace with any new renewable energy supplies.


The Carbon Tax market is now worth $100 billion, with 23% of Global emissions now covered by a taxing system in economies like Austria and Indonesia. Could taxing carbon emissions be the only viable initiative of the next ‘green agenda’, that could also contribute to bridging some gaps in public spending? Incentives that reward carbon restriction are good and utilise market forces to ensure carbon emissions are addressed. Personally – I believe that it is only when creating emissions becomes economically unfeasible for any corporation, that we will see real action.

Dystopian Anger: Our Why

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At Future Shift, we’re lucky enough to have an office on College Green and left work on Wednesday, stumbling into the protest in support of Ukraine and its people. People are angry. Angry that we still have this narrative forced upon us every day whilst the rich and powerful succumb to monstrous acts of greed.

Anti-Russia Protesters on College Green (source)

Recently, more than ever, I’ve been thinking about the reason that Oscar and I started Future Shift. Our why.

We were sick to death with the status quo of our environment. Our environment, where deceit has become more common than the truth.

Where we are fed false hope after false hope that those in charge are fully supportive for a change to our ‘now’. The ‘now’ is a place where the simple existence of our planet has been thrown into jeopardy by the resource-guzzling structures that have dominated the economy to date.

Our position, as sustainability consultants, is intertwined with conflict between people and businesses that truly want to innovate and disrupt, yet are held back by a huge lack of resource support from a government that has promised net zero.

This is amplified by a ‘Build Back Greener’ campaign in light of hosting COP26. Subsequently followed investment to increase our coal mining capacity, expand Bristol Airport and drive public transport into the ground by increasing rail fares whilst cutting rail and bus funding.

The establishment has done everything in its power to desensitise the narrative of demonic greed.

When a dictator becomes so powerful because of the belly of oil and natural gas he’s monopolised (oh yeah, that resource we are still dependent on, that has every country salivating with entrenched jealousy) creates a humanitarian crisis, it does well to survive the 24 hour news cycle we have created.

A change has to come in our lifetimes and we started Future Shift to rip up the current state of ‘now’. To innovate alongside the fundamental cogs of this planet, businesses. To propel those businesses that intend to disrupt their sectors and demonstrate that there is a better way of doing business than is institutionally embedded to us.

Future Shift was born from anger. Dissatisfied with the rate of positive climate action, faithless that those responsible for change are capable of actioning what is needed. Yet still hopeful that we, however small we may feel, can shift that status quo to a system that can coexist with our planet.

Being angry is exactly what we need to be. Being angry at the current state of our world gets us out of bed in the morning. Channelling this anger into working action is the fuel that powers the Future Shift engine (watch out EV market).

I’m pretty sure this entry turned out to be a lot more politically driven than I originally intended. But f**k it, I’m angry.

What About… Blue Carbon?

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Originally uploaded Mar 23, 2021

As a passionate marine biologist at heart, I watched Netflix’s Seaspiracy with anguish, much like the rest of us. However, I felt like there was a big forgotten piece of the puzzle that was left out, Blue Carbon.

Protecting and restoring the UK’s marine ecosystems have the obvious benefits of enhancing biodiversity, increasing fish stocks and improved coastal protection. However, there has not been enough attention given to the enormous role our marine ecosystems play as ‘carbon sinks’. In the UK alone, up to 450 million tonnes of carbon are stored as blue carbon every year – almost half of the emissions from the entire global transport sector!

What is Blue Carbon?

Just like trees and other plants photosynthesise and grow, taking in CO² from the atmosphere and store it, a process known as sequestration, marine ecosystems such as seagrass meadows, salt marshes and mangroves ‘draw down’ carbon from its surrounding water and atmosphere. The storage of this carbon is called blue carbon.

Why Should We Care?

Globally, nature based solutions could account for up ⅓ of all the carbon mitigations required to reduce the global temperature by 1.5C. Recently, there has been a huge push for companies to offset their carbon emissions by investing in tree planting schemes, since the UN established its REDD+ programme, designed to halt developing countries selling their forests for commercial logging and other destructive practices, instead incentivising them to retain and restore the trees as carbon offsetting. Unfortunately, no such mechanism exists to finance the conservation of marine ecosystems.

In the UK, 38% of our coastal waters are designated Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where formal regulations are in place to protect the ecosystems from destructive practices such as dredging and overfishing. However these MPAs have been labelled as mere ‘paper parks’ after a recent study by the Global Fishing Watch found that 98% of them were still subject to bottom trawling and dredging.

What now?

Later this year, the UK will be hosting COP26 – the UN Climate Change Conference – in Glasgow. The ocean and its blue carbon stores are a crucial part of the many urgent and varied solutions required to address the climate crisis.

The Marine Conservation Society has released a new report in partnership with Rewilding Britain. Blue Carbon – Ocean-based solutions to fight the climate crisis outlines the importance of the UK’s seas in helping the UK to reach its goal of net zero by 2050, and 2045 for Scotland. Dr Chris Tuckett, Director of Programmes at the Marine Conservation Society:

“Carbon contained in marine and coastal ecosystems must be considered in the same way as our woodlands and peatbogs…critical to the UK’s carbon strategy. Our report outlines how vital blue carbon solutions are to an effective strategy which reaches net zero by 2050.“We’re calling on the UK Government and devolved administrations to act with urgency to invest in, co-develop and implement a four nation Blue Carbon Strategy.”

The Marine Conservation Society and Rewilding Britain recently proposed its 3 point Blue Carbon strategy to assist the UK in its pathway to Net Zero 2050:

  1. Increase the rate of rewilding in the UK, to stop bottom trawling and dredging and to supply the finances to govern the MPAs properly with enforced sanctions.
  2. Commit to Blue Carbon initiatives, currently the UK does not account for Blue Carbon in its decarbonisation strategy.
  3. Develop and support sustainable fishing practices and aquaculture (ecosystem – based approach), providing proper investment for innovative low emission techniques.

Marine Ecosystem Restoration Schemes

We talk to a lot of SMEs looking into their decarbonisation strategy, about tree planting schemes, mitigating what is possible and then offsetting what is left. In the future however, it would be great to offer a strategy that also enables our coastal waters to flourish and grow in the same way. Now is the time for us all to ride the wave of growing support and demand action from the UK government.

The report, Blue Carbon – Ocean-based solutions to fight the climate crisis, is available to read here.

3 Marine Friendships for World Ocean Day

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Originally uploaded Jun 8, 2021

As it is world ocean day (and also a great excuse to delve into my marine biology nerdy side), I thought I’d share three stories of the ways that marine species interact and have a symbiotic relationship that benefits both.

In a wider sense we believe that a few lessons can be learned from our marine friends, that a symbiotic relationship that is kinder to mother nature can reap rewards for the human species.Co-existing with our natural ecosystem is at the heart of what we do at Future Shift and is at the core of our ideals for the future of business.

Symbiosis in the sea – what can we learn?

As it is world ocean day (and also a great excuse to delve into my marine biology nerdy side), I thought I’d share three stories of the ways that marine species interact and have a symbiotic relationship that benefits both.

In a wider sense we believe that a few lessons can be learned from our marine friends, that a symbiotic relationship that is kinder to mother nature can reap rewards for the human species.Co-existing with our natural ecosystem is at the heart of what we do at Future Shift and is at the core of our ideals for the future of business.

1. Salmon and Lumpsucker Fish

Industrial farming of Atlantic salmon has led to an array of problems. The most significant of which has been caused by little pests called salmon lice, or Lepeophtheirus salmonis. These pesky lice cause significant wounds in the skin of the salmon which are then deemed unsellable to the consumer. It has led to a huge rise in chemotherapeutic contamination to control the lice, this in turn has its obvious negative effects.

Luckily it chemotherapeutics aren’t the only answer, this is where the marvellous Lumpsucker fish are introduced as natural predators of the salmon lice when introduced and render the need for chemicals obsolete.

2. Goby Fish and Pistol Shrimp

Another beautiful example of mutualism is how these two species intertwine. The pistol shrimp is an excellent excavator, burrowing holes deep in the sediment, foraging for food, however its one deficiency is it is blind and often exposed to predators. The goby fish acts as a bodyguard, protecting the hind of the shrimp as it burrows away in return for free use of the facilities.

3. Firefly Squid and Bioluminescent bacteria

Firefly squid are some of the most amazing creatures of the ocean, producing beautiful light shows when the sun sets on the sea. However they don’t emit this light themselves but actually house bioluminescent bacteria within their skin that chemically reacts with the oxygen in the water to produce light. This light is used as a counter-illumination that gives the impression that predators beneath are looking up at the stars and not the squid themselves.

Industrial farming of Atlantic salmon has led to an array of problems. The most significant of which has been caused by little pests called salmon lice, or Lepeophtheirus salmonis. These pesky lice cause significant wounds in the skin of the salmon which are then deemed unsellable to the consumer. It has led to a huge rise in chemotherapeutic contamination to control the lice, this in turn has its obvious negative effects.

Luckily it chemotherapeutics aren’t the only answer, this is where the marvellous Lumpsucker fish are introduced as natural predators of the salmon lice when introduced and render the need for chemicals obsolete.

2. Goby Fish and Pistol Shrimp

Another beautiful example of mutualism is how these two species intertwine. The pistol shrimp is an excellent excavator, burrowing holes deep in the sediment, foraging for food, however its one deficiency is it is blind and often exposed to predators. The goby fish acts as a bodyguard, protecting the hind of the shrimp as it burrows away in return for free use of the facilities.

3. Firefly Squid and Bioluminescent bacteria

Firefly squid are some of the most amazing creatures of the ocean, producing beautiful light shows when the sun sets on the sea. However they don’t emit this light themselves but actually house bioluminescent bacteria within their skin that chemically reacts with the oxygen in the water to produce light. This light is used as a counter-illumination that gives the impression that predators beneath are looking up at the stars and not the squid themselves.

The Sustainability Youth Deficit

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Originally uploaded Mar 23, 2021

Not long after Oscar and I started up Future Shift, we soon realised that the current state of sustainability in business was a space dominated by those over 50 and, when it comes to sustainability we think that this presents a problem.

The voice for change often comes from those who are listened to least. The youth have stubbornly campaigned for years, utilising their social media niches to highlight the importance of addressing the global climate emergency.

Yet we live in a world where older consultants are often the voice of reason a CEO will turn to in their time of need. Whilst this consultant provides a wealth of experience that drowns a newbie’s CVs in comparison, is it not time that we started to listen to the younger generation’s a bit more to solve this increasingly difficult situation the ‘adults’ have gotten us all into?

After all it took Greta Thunberg who, at the age of 16, mobilised the progressive force of schoolchildren to turn people’s heads and start addressing the global climate crisis.

Younger generations are not just interested in having a seat at the table anymore, they want to set the table.

However, this requires a dramatic shift from the status quo…

The Divide

Climate change will affect us all differently. A 85 year old has a far smaller stake less in the future than a 15 year old school child – why should they care about what the world will be like in 50 years?

This divide in attitude is clearly reflected in a Yale study, that found that 73% of millenials said that global warming was personally important to them, compared to only 58% of the Silent generation. However when you consider that the average age of a CEO within the fortune 500 companies is 58 years old (Crist Kolder Associates.) and has increased by 11 years since 2005, it is a worrying trend that businesses may continue to have less incentive to drive the change we need.

Right: Yale study (2021); left: Crist Kolder Associates (2019)

The younger we are, one’s ability to change the course of the climate crisis increases, yet the older we are, our responsibility for the climate crisis also increases . This trade-off has caused a huge divide, with the youth calling for action and accountability whilst the older generations stick to the status quo or, at best, apply incremental changes in the name of damage limitation.

What Next?

Challenging times require challenging innovations, if the past 12 months and 3 days have taught us anything it is that we are all capable of adapting to quick change. Mobilising workforces through the virtual home office has become the norm and with that has come the imperative principle that many businesses need to utilise the right technology to overcome the virtual obstacles in their way.

“We can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein.

This same principle is also crucial if businesses, the cogs of the economy, are to take action and frontier the sustainable movement of today. By using new technology and employing new ideas from young people we can implement real change, coincidentally we have just released our new online platform that can assist with this.