Concerns about credibility of carbon offsetting schemes expressed in UK environmental services survey

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Businesses across the UK environmental services industry have seemingly expressed concern at the credibility and transparency of carbon credit offsetting schemes.

In a report presenting the outcomes of the National Environmental Services Survey[1] – run in association with the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), The Environmental Services Association (ESA), Groundwork, and ESS Expo (Environmental Services and Solutions Expo) – 80% of respondents stated that they had serious concerns around the integrity of carbon credit offsetting schemes. While almost a third of those questioned (33%) believed carbon offsetting is a viable strategy for achieving net-zero emissions, just 37% have employed it as a strategy to reduce their businesses’ environmental impact. The full report and survey findings can be downloaded here.

Greenwashing also remains a major concern among industry insiders, with 94% of respondents believing it is prevalent in the UK. In 2023, a quarter (25%) of respondents to the same survey stated that greenwashing was the one thing they would change about the environmental sector as Rob Mowat, Managing Director of ESS Expo, explains:

“It is alarming to hear that so many sustainability experts believe carbon offsetting schemes are actually failing the environment. While there are some businesses entering into highly certified programmes, there are concerns from many across the industry that these schemes are simply another form of greenwashing and can, in some instances, cause more harm to the environment than good.”

Overall, perhaps unsurprisingly, climate change and global warming (32%) were cited as the biggest issues within the environment and sustainability today, followed by environmental policy and governance (15%) and waste management and the circular economy (13%). Crucially, as we head into a general election, 37% of those asked believe current government policies are unsupportive when it comes to achieving net zero goals, with just under a third (32%) stating that they are one of the biggest barriers to their organisation achieving net-zero, surpassed only by financial constraints (44%). Worryingly, only 3% of those interviewed said their organisation was currently at net zero.

Achieving net zero
When it comes to achieving net zero emissions across sectors, collaboration and partnerships are key, with 85% of respondents reporting that working together is either essential or very important. Further, nearly all respondents (99%) believe innovation and technology will play a role in accelerating the pathway to net zero emissions, with almost everyone (87%) agreeing it will play a significant part. The five biggest focusses will lie in the expansion of the circular economy (20%), advancements in clean energy technologies (16%), public awareness and engagement in sustainability (15%), followed by strengthening policy and regulation and green infrastructure at 14% and 9%, respectively.

Lee Marshall, Director of Innovation and Technical Services at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), said: “It is always valuable to get insights from those who work in the sector. The concerns about off setting show that resources and waste professionals want to do the right thing and take meaningful steps to support climate mitigation. The UK has made good progress, but it is no surprise that people feel policies on net zero and circular economy are not strong enough.

“We need policies that will accelerate the transition to a more resource resilient and circular economy capable of meeting future material demands and supporting the battle against climate change, and this is something CIWM is calling for in our ten policy recommendations for the new government.”

Head of Climate and Energy Policy at The Environmental Services Association (ESA), Charlotte Rule, said: “Clearly, from these alarming survey results, there remains significant work to be done across the business community to demonstrate credibility and build trust in efforts to reduce carbon emissions, mitigate climate change, and achieve net-zero targets.

“Achieving net-zero must be a collaborative exercise, which is what the ESA has sought to achieve through its Net-Zero strategy – aligning organisations across our sector through a shared roadmap; speaking with a unified voice to Government to achieve a supportive policy environment and being mutually accountable to each other as a membership body.”

The survey gathered data from 1,498 professionals from across the environmental services industry from April-May 2024. Download the full report for free on the ESS Expo website here.

To register to attend ESS Expo 2024 from 11-12 September at the NEC, Birmingham, visit the website here.

[1] The survey gathered data from over 1,498 professionals from across the environmental services industry from April – May 2024.