What constitutes a “real” carbon offset is so broad a question that I’m not convinced the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is capable of setting meaningful rules that would cover all circumstances, particularly since it’s inherent in the concept that it’ll evolve constantly and quickly. But the FTC considering giving it a shot, according to the New York Times:
The F.T.C. has not updated its environmental advertising guidelines, known as the Green Guides, since 1998. Back then, the agency did not create definitions for phrases that are common now — like renewable energy, carbon offsets and sustainability.
For now, it is soliciting comments on how to update its guidelines and is gathering information about how carbon-offset programs work…
The F.T.C. has not accused anyone of wrongdoing — neither the providers of carbon offsets nor the consumer brands that sell them. But environmentalists say — and the F.T.C.’s hearings suggest — that it is only a matter of time until the market faces greater scrutiny from the government or environmental organizations.
Environmental organizations have been scrutinizing the market closely, pointing out greenwashers, and developing their own standards for a long time. There’s big money directly involved here, and often big companies are paying it — they damn well want to know that their money is being well spent.
Not that government doesn’t have a role to play if people are outright lying and defrauding customers, but let’s not pretend the FTC is the first group of people to check into the question.