Using Carbon Offsets to Attack Poverty


SEATTLE — Carbon offsets were originally designed as a financial mechanism to reduce the carbon footprint of companies and individuals in developed countries. Today, social entrepreneurial organizations in developed countries are now finding ways of using carbon offsets to attack poverty in developing countries.

One such organization is Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty (COTAP). COTAP, a not-for-profit, calls itself a “crowdfunding intermediary.” It links individuals and organizations with carbon footprints that need to be offset with impoverished agroforestry farmers in developing countries.

These farmers plant trees that become the storage vehicle for “tens of thousands of tons of CO2” says COTAP. They are paid for this globally-important service by selling carbon credits to COTAP and its funders. COTAP’s funders are using carbon credits to attack poverty among some of the poorest of the world’s poor who ordinarily earn less than $2 per day.

Another such organization is Envirofit, the clean energy cookstove manufacturer. Like other clean energy stove manufacturers in its sector, Envirofit helps to alleviate indoor air pollution caused by inefficient, traditional stoves. These stoves cause as many as four million deaths each year. Worldwide, these stoves each produce five to six tons of CO2 per year. They each also burn 3.4 tons of wood each year. They are harmful, dirty and wasteful.

Clean energy stoves use 60 percent less fuel, produce a cleaner heat source and reduce exposure to toxins by 80 percent. This greater efficiency means that these stoves can be used in carbon offset programs. And, as it turns out, investing in carbon credits from clean cookstoves produces additional benefits in improved health and economic livelihood for those in developing countries. Those additional benefits are valued at $151 per credit.

Envirofit has now taken an additional step in using carbon offsets to attack poverty. Its new carbon offset program makes it possible for carbon credit investors to help create jobs and improve livelihoods in the developing world. The new SmaaartTM carbon program directly links “companies’ offsetting initiatives with support for social entrepreneurs in the developing world,” says Nick Marshall, managing director of carbon programs at Envirofit.

The support can take two forms. First, it can pay for sales training and marketing support for local entrepreneurs who are generating income by selling stoves in remote areas new to Envirofit. Second, the support can help fund existing social programs from Envirofit. These programs include women’s empowerment programs in India and Kenya. In the empowerment programs, Envirofit recruits and trains women to be clean cookstove entrepreneurs.

The COPAT and Envirofit programs are just two of the innovative ways that social entrepreneurs are using carbon offsets to attack poverty and greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon finance has the promise of doing much more. As one commentator put it, this finance method may, in fact, point the way to attacking “seemingly intractable social challenges—like women’s rights, indigenous empowerment and subsistence farming.”

Robert Cornet

Photo: Flickr


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