To offset or not: is carbon offsetting worth it? 

While our role is to provide customers with manageable data to help them on their path towards responsible sourcing, we’re often asked, when discussing sustainability with foodservice and hospitality businesses, whether carbon offsetting is worthwhile. 

There has always been debate around their effectiveness, but it was shocking to read that a Guardian investigation showed more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by one of the biggest providers, were described as ‘worthless’*.

What is carbon offsetting? 

Carbon offsetting is a reduction or removal of emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, in order to compensate for emissions generated by a company. This is usually via carbon offset schemes, where businesses or individuals invest in environmental projects to balance out their own carbon footprint. Many businesses have used offsetting as part of the mix to claim carbon neutrality. 

Does carbon offsetting work?

The Guardian investigation is not the first evidence to shine a light on the potential limitations of offsetting, with findings stating that many rainforest offset schemes do not represent genuine carbon reductions. 

Alternatively, carbon offsetting schemes have also been praised for raising valuable funds for environmental projects, as well helping larger corporations to tackle their footprint. 

It is hoped that a robust standardisation of the carbon credit scheme with cross-government backing — with the support of new technology to accurately review the impact of deforestation projects — can help provide clarity to this area in the years ahead. 

What about carbon offsetting in the Hospitality and Food Service (HaFS) sector?

In the Hospitality and Food Service (HaFS) sector, carbon neutral menus and an option to “offset” emissions related to your food choices have been increasingly offered. Last year, @Hawksmoor became a carbon neutral company by offsetting its carbon emissions, but also started implementing practices to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions and become a net zero company by 2030.

The challenges with offsetting

Offsetting does have potential value, but Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Chief Scientist at Conservation International, recently claimed that companies must also reduce their emissions by at least half each decade, if they are to reach net zero by 2050. 

Offsetting should not be viewed, therefore, as a quick fix or as a replacement for making real emissions reductions. Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester, stated that if people take this view, offsetting can do more harm than good: “Think of flying — if you believe that your flights are carbon-neutral, you will continue to take more of them.” 

The use of carbon offsetting should be part of a wider programme to reduce the environmental footprint of your business, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on how the industry reacts to the latest findings in the months ahead. 

Behaviour change also plays a role in the transition to sustainable food businesses. Displaying a sustainability score on packaging, dishes and promotional materials will be key as the food industry takes steps to decarbonise over the next few years. For hospitality outlets whose target market is not interested in eco-labelling, transitioning to responsible sourcing, smaller menus or portion sizes, or setting minimum environmental standards across your sites could present functional changes with big returns. 

If you want to find out how Nutritics and Foodprint can help you to measure the environmental impact of your menu, you can contact the team by visiting our Foodprint page.  

* The Guardian article of the carbon offsetting investigation can be found here: