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Carbon offsets

Like others, we have mixed feelings about the sincerity of some of the carbon offsets offered and understand the potential for greenwashing when not everyone centres greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction as the top priority. Because being carbon neutral in our operations means buying offsets, however, we've done everything we can think of to do it right.

Vancity’s offset criteria

Original guidance shaping our program came from both the Carbon Advisory Group—comprised of experts from The David Suzuki Foundation, The Pembina Institute, and Ecotrust Canada--and from criteria outlined within the 2009 paper "Purchasing Carbon Offsets: A Guide for Canadian Consumers, Businesses, and Organizations," published jointly by the David Suzuki Foundation and The Pembina Institute. Building on this foundation, in 2012 we consulted with external and internal subject matter experts to expand our criteria. We currently use only offsets from projects that:

  • Directly reduce energy consumption and/or
  • Create some kind of renewable energy;
  • Focus on waste reduction;
  • Utilize biological sequestration.

In addition, projects must:

  • Be additional (i.e. the reduction in emissions would not have occurred without the carbon finance);
  • Be validated by a third-party assessor to identify a baseline and quantify emissions reductions;
  • Be verified by a third-party assessor using independent, recognized, standard quantification methodologies to ensure greenhouse gas emission reductions were actually achieved. Note: projects that create more than 5,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas equivalent (tCO2e) reductions per year require separate groups execute validation and verification;
  • Be able to demonstrate unique ownership of the offset credits.

And we prefer projects that:

  • Are Canada-based and local (with a preference to those based in British Columbia);
  • Have no negative environmental or social impacts;
  • Contribute to sustainable development in the community of which they are a part and support Vancity’s ethical principles;
  • Demonstrate a leadership role;
  • Educate the public about climate change;
  • Provide social and community co-benefits, such as those that directly support/engage communities, local/small business, and/or projects with First Nation’s ownership;
  • That have obtained certification with applicable standards.

Projects which demonstrate involvement in the mining and/or fossil fuel extraction and production industry will not be considered

When we launched the program in May 2007, it was the first granting process in Canada specifically supporting local, high quality carbon offset projects. The program has since been emulated by other organizations, and we think that's good news for all of us. It’s our hope that through the efforts of Vancity and others, someday soon there will be a multitude of projects that reduce emissions locally.

Carbon offsets purchased in 2022

Over the course of 2015, Vancity invested in the Vancity Community Foundation’s efforts to develop the Quadra Island Land Conservation Offset Project. Created through a unique partnership with Ostrom Climate (formerly Naturebank/Offsetters) and the Province of British Columbia, this offset project conserves approximately 400 hectares of land on Quadra Island. The conserved area has significant social and environmental value, and is now protected from any future designation, sanction, or approval for logging and commercial or private residential uses.

In 2017, a working group assembled to evaluate the Quadra Island Conservation Offset Project against both our pre-established offset criteria (see above) and offset projects that have been purchased previously. After a detailed review, Vancity offered a direct award to Ostrom Climate (Naturebank/Offsetters) for the purchase of Quadra Island Forest Land Conservation Project offsets to satisfy all of our 2016 offset requirements. A direct award purchase of Quadra Island offsets has been used for our annual carbon offset needs since.

To offset 2021 greenhouse emissions of 1930 tCO2e, in 2022 Vancity continued the practice of offering a direct award to Ostrom Climate for the purchase of Quadra Island offsets, satisfying all 2021 offset requirements.

Although the process for selecting carbon offsets has shifted over the last five years to a direct award, we have employed the same criteria as previous years for carbon offset projects to ensure we maintain consistent standards. Guided by our five Climate Commitments announced in 2021 and our membership in the Net Zero Banking Alliance, Vancity will focus on achieving net-zero for the organization overall, including financed emissions. Accordingly we will review our offsets approach to ensure alignment with the Net Zero Banking Alliance’s Guidelines for Target Setting and emergent best practices such as The Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Offsetting.