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ICAEW’s net-zero journey starts with offsetting

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 23 Mar 2021

ICAEW is taking real steps towards meeting its own carbon reduction goals. Part of that includes carbon offsetting.

Following several years of implementing internal projects and initiatives to reduce the organisation's carbon footprint by an initial 20%, in 2020, ICAEW invested in three international offset projects against its remaining Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. 

While ICAEW plans to implement additional initiatives internally to reduce emissions further, carbon offsetting (to some degree) will remain part of our strategy. There will always be a level of carbon emissions produced by our organisation's operation that we simply cannot eliminate completely. 

Financially supporting these three carbon reduction projects in Asia and Africa means we are preventing the equivalent of our current carbon footprint from being emitted elsewhere and in the first place. “We are pleased to contribute to projects which will reduce the amount of carbon produced overseas on an ongoing basis while also making a positive local social and community impact,” says ICAEW’s Caroline Kearns, who led the project for the Chief Operating Officer.

What is carbon offsetting?

By supporting a carbon reduction project (an offset), an individual or a company compensates for emissions it creates itself. ICAEW's GHG footprint is about 3,300 tonnes of CO2 per year – we are therefore purchasing the equivalent - 3,300 tonnes - of carbon offsets to balance things out. Carbon offsets are an efficient and cost-effective method of contributing to carbon reduction.

The work behind each of the offset projects encourages the development of more renewable and sustainable approaches to solving environmental problems. For example, the Cambodia water treatment project means that locals will no longer need to cut down trees (counteracting deforestation) and light fires (CO2 emitting) to boil contaminated water. Instead, water filtration and purification systems provide safe drinking water at source and can mitigate against illness.

Our roadmap: offsetting and reducing

Many large organisations such as EY, Sky and Microsoft choose to become carbon-neutral upfront through offsets. In tandem, they work towards minimising internally generated emissions.

ICAEW has also adopted this approach. “Our Board approved a roadmap of our own carbon reduction initiatives (such as sustainable boilers) that we will implement across our operations over the next ten years,” says Kearns. “Since 2015, we have already reduced our footprint by 20% through internal actions alone. These new initiatives will decrease our footprint by a further 40%, meaning that the volume of offsets (carbon credits) we purchase will correspondingly fall as we realise these internal reductions.”

The selection process for our offsets

In selecting its offsets, ICAEW wanted to support a diverse range of projects, specifically those which contribute to achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, one offset project in Kenya contributes to 16 of the SDGs. ICAEW also sought to ensure the veracity of claimed outcomes and select projects which met certain standards. The projects chosen by the Institute carried the VCS or Verified Carbon Standard accreditation.

“We also spent considerable time selecting our offset broker and ran a tender exercise that involved hearing presentations from a number of potential brokers. It gave us the opportunity to ask many questions and understand their business model and approach,” says Kearns. “We were also very much guided by specialists from the organisation that measures our GHG footprint each year. They have provided assistance all through the carbon-neutral journey.”

The offset broker also provides an online dynamic project reporting portal for each project so ICAEW can keep up to date with their progress.

The offsets

Here is a more detailed overview of the Institute’s three projects:

This project provides 1.7 million people in Cambodia with clean water through ceramic water filtration systems, based on an ancient method in which the water seeps through baked clay. It eliminates the need to boil water with wood or charcoal. It avoids CO2 emissions, reduces air pollution, lowers fuel costs and helps protect Cambodia's endangered forests.

Through this project, Vietnamese households are being supplied with small-scale biogas plants, which are filled with organic waste such as animal manure. These materials ferment under the exclusion of oxygen. The gas produced as part of this can power gas cookers and lamps. By providing this clean and affordable energy, it improves the social situations of poor people in Vietnam while also reducing deforestation in the country. 

This project was named Best Offsetting Project 2017 in Environmental Finance’s voluntary carbon poll. It conserves 200,000 hectares of dry forest and savanna in the Kasigau Wildlife Corridor, connecting the Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks in Kenya. It is home to endangered species such as lions, zebras and countless species of birds. Around 2,000 African elephants cross the area every day during their seasonal migration. More than 100 rangers now guard the area against deforestation and slash and burn practices, protecting the region while creating local jobs. 

Geographically, ICAEW also has several existing links, including assisting with capacity building projects in these countries (two of which were led by the International Capacity Building team). ICAEW Foundation, the Institute’s charity, is also providing bursaries to students of the new Accounting Technician Qualification (ATQ) in Cambodia.

Are you professionally ready to mitigate the risk and maximise the opportunity of climate change? Find resources, information and inspiration on the ICAEW Climate Hub.