UCSF Sustainability Stories



Carbon Offsets: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Deliver Social Impact

UCSF is charting a strategy to meet the University of California goal to be carbon neutral by 2025. To reach this ambitious goal, UCSF has compiled an extensive list of energy and transportation measures, however, UCSF may not be able to get to zero emissions without considering accredited carbon offsets.

Carbon offsets are not just a tool for large organizations, but are also an option for individuals and households interested in reducing, or offsetting, their carbon footprint. Carbon offsets allow you to “compensate for” your personal carbon emissions by supporting a project that provides greenhouse gas reductions. Offsets can be purchased at a range of online retailers (see partial list at end of article), such as Cool Effect, a local Bay Area company that allows individuals to support a range of projects that reduce carbon and provide a social impact. On Cool Effect, prices range from $6.04 to $13.18/ton.

When it comes to personal and business air travel, currently the only way to offset those emissions is to purchase accredited carbon offsets. A recent article in the New York Times, Flying Is Bad for the Planet. You Can Help Make It Better, stressed, “If you’re flying, you’re adding a significant amount of planet-warming gases to the atmosphere — there’s no way around it. But there are some ways to make your airplane travel a little bit greener.” The article recommends first to fly less, but if you must fly, offset it. The article explained, “When you buy carbon offsets, you pay to take planet-warming carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in exchange for the greenhouse gases you put in. For example, you can put money toward replanting trees, which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

Gail Lee, UCSF Sustainability Director, explained, “When it came to reducing my personal carbon footprint, I chose to offset my family’s summer airline travel by purchasing carbon credits that support carbon and soot reducing cookstoves in Uganda. I chose Impact Carbon’s efficient cookstove project because it delivers social, environmental, and health benefits, which align with UCSF’s sustainability mission and advancing health world-wide mission.”

Impact Carbon

Impact Carbon’s work reduces poverty and improves local environments while slowing climate change. It builds and supports projects that help people access energy efficient cook stoves, leveraging carbon finance and social finance to bring these projects to scale.

Evan Haigler, Executive Director started Impact Carbon while he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley, studying with Dr. Kirk Smith, whose work addresses the relationships among environmental quality, health, resource use, development, and policy in developing countries, with a focus on the health effects of air pollution exposure in developing countries, particularly in women and children from household air pollution due to solid fuel use.

“Impact Carbon uses offsetting to help fund improved cookstove projects that deliver climate benefits and social impact, such as poverty reduction,” explained Haigler.  “When you purchase offsets from our project in Uganda, you are helping us distribute more energy efficient stoves that reduce carbon emissions and save Ugandan families $100 per year in fuel costs.”

According to Haigler, the efficient charcoal cookstoves generate less smoke than a traditional wood stove, and use less fuel than a traditional charcoal stove. The stove’s ceramic liner retains and transfers more heat to the cooking pot than traditional stoves and improves combustion efficiency. The fuel savings claims are verified and certified by multiple third parties—an important criterion to look for when it comes to offset projects.

The issue of household air quality, and the link between global health and climate change, is not new to UCSF. Lisa Thompson, RN, PhD, UCSF Associate Professor-HCOMP, FNP has been working to deliver affordable gas stoves and household health education to low-income families exposed to toxic levels of household air pollution. Sustainable business expert Paul Hawkin’s new project, Drawdown, ranks clean cookstoves as one of the top 25 climate solutions.

You can learn more about Impact Carbon’s cookstove project in the short video below:


Going Carbon Neutral in Three Simple Steps

  1. Calculate Your Carbon Footprint: The average American emits 17 tons of CO₂ a year, which would cost about $225 to offset for the year. There are many carbon calculators available online. Native Energy’s is easy to use for travel; they also offer an offset project with health benefits—providing clean water.
  2. Reduce Where you Can: Remember, offsets are part of the solution, not the entire solution. There are many ways to reduce your carbon footprint—you can drive a hybrid car or go car free, eat less red meat, avoid air travel, install a solar system, or purchase green electricity. As the New York Times article referenced above stressed, first fly less.
  3. Offset: If you must fly, offset it. Start small by offsetting your next family vacation or necessary business travel. Or consider being more ambitious and offset your annual emissions. Below are a few options for carbon offset projects that reduce carbon and deliver health benefits: