Offset CarbonDemand soars for carbon offset services as Australian businesses take lead on climate change

As pressure builds on the Australian Government to do more to tackle climate change, a growing number of businesses are taking the initiative, volunteering to curb their carbon footprint and offset their emissions.

Key points:

  • Demand for Australian carbon offset providers is growing
  • A 200km ‘tree highway’ will spread across the northern Wheatbelt
  • Pressure is growing for more action on climate change at the federal level

They say it’s not just to save the planet.

It’s about protecting their viability in an increasingly climate-conscious international market.

Georgiana Rogers works for Carbon Neutral, a Perth-based carbon services provider, which is enjoying something of a purple patch.

Its client base has grown by 230 businesses and organisations, up 40 per cent,  over the past year.

A smiling woman wearing a wide-brimmed hat and holding a plant stands outdoors in scrubland.

Carbon Neutral’s Georgiana Rogers says businesses are taking the initiative to reduce carbon emissions.(Supplied: Russell Ord)

On behalf of its clients, the company has planted 30 million native trees and shrubs at a massive reforestation project in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt,  since 2008.

An aerial shot showing trees on one side of an outback road and barren red dirt paddocks on the other.

Carbon Neutral’s ambition is to plant a 200-kilometre highway of trees across the northern Wheatbelt, north of Perth.(Supplied: Russell Ord)

“The science [on climate change] is now pretty much universally accepted,” Ms Rogers said.

“Businesses are really picking this up.

”They’re not waiting for the federal government in Australia – they are understanding and seeing the writing on the wall.”

An aerial shot of trees in the northern Wheatbelt with the sun looming over the horizon.

A total of 14,000 hectares of trees have been planted in WA’s northern Wheatbelt so far as part of the Yarra Yarra project.(Supplied: Russell Ord)

The company’s Yarra Yarra project is restoring degraded and saline farmland to ultimately create a 200km-long biodiversity corridor.

Shareholder pressure prompts climate action

Ms Rogers said there had been a lull in interest during what she called the “barren years”, with divisive debate in Australia on climate change creating uncertainty.

However, she said the tide was turning fast, with pressure on businesses to reduce their carbon footprint coming from shareholders, among others.

“If businesses are wanting to get investment from capital funds, they are increasingly being asked what are they doing about the climate,” she said.

A man in an orange hi-vis vest stands in a paddock holding young trees for planting.

Rhys Arangio from Austral Fisheries says the company plants about 200,000 trees a year to offset its carbon emissions.

(Supplied: Russell Ord)

One of the company’s clients is Austral Fisheries, which operates in the Northern Prawn Fishery in Australia’s north and fishes for Patagonian Toothfish and Mackerel Icefish in the Southern Ocean.

Austral became the first fishing business in the world to be certified as carbon neutral in 2016.

Since then, it has been voluntarily spending about $500,000 a year on planting trees at the Yarra Yarra project to offset its emissions, mainly from the roughly nine million litres of diesel it burns across its fleet of boats.

The catalyst to act was the impact climate change was already having on its operations, according to senior manager of environment and policy Rhys Arangio.

“In the Gulf of Carpentaria across the top of Australia, there was massive mangrove dieback in 2016,” Mr Arangio said.

“And then in the Southern Ocean in that same year, there was a marine heatwave … that really cut our catch rates in half for that twelve months.”

Two men painting a boat at dock.

Austral Fisheries CEO David Carter has become a strong advocate for businesses taking climate action.


The company’s CEO David Carter said the decision also came from an awareness that business could make a difference, where politics had failed.

“Put simply, we said: ‘If we’ve made the mess, we clean it up’,” Mr Carter said.

“And in our case, that’s about 200,000 trees a year.”

The company is also trying to curb its emissions and has recently added a hybrid electric vessel to its fleet.

Hybrid Electric fishing boat

Austral Fisheries spent about $50 million dollars on its first hybrid electric fishing vessel Cape Arkona

(Supplied: Austral Fisheries)

Mr Carter said many in business had traditionally held the view that climate was the province of greenies and activists.

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But increasingly, it was about “risk and money”.

“At a big end of town level, there’s the TCFD, which is the Taskforce on Climate -related Financial Disclosures and that reveals to the market how strategically they are planning to deal with their emissions exposure,” he said.

“If you are not doing the right thing in this space, you are going to find access to capital increasingly difficult and access to talent and graduates increasingly difficult.”

Mr Carter pointed to mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s recent pledge to become a major producer and exporter of green hydrogen and steel as a sign of how quickly the dynamics were changing.

“The sort of increased stridency of the Andrew Forrest messaging is being reflected in many boardrooms around the country and around the world,” he said.

Small businesses getting on board

At the other end of the spectrum, small businesses are also signing up in a less formal way to offset their emissions.

Marion O’Leary runs an organic skin care business from a studio in her backyard in the West Australian port city of Fremantle.

She buys a tree for every customer who spends over a certain amount to try to offset her company’s emissions, which mainly come from the importation of ingredients.

Portrait shot of Marion O'Leary in front of shelves with boxes

Mokosh owner Marion O’Leary  buys native trees to sequester carbon and offset her company’s emissions.

(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

She’s chosen to invest mainly in the Yarra Yarra biodiversity project.

“Since we started in 2019, we have bought 2,760 trees so we are pretty proud of that,” she said.

“It’s very tangible for the customer that they are seeing a tree for each purchase.”

Ms O’Leary said she had become disheartened over what she perceives to be a lack of progress on climate change in Australia.

Although she believes her business is carbon neutral, she has decided against signing up for the significant cost involved in going through the Federal Government’s formal system to become certified.

woman pours oil into container

This organic skincare company in Fremantle plants trees for its customers to offset its carbon emissions.

(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

“I think it’s something we could do down the track but it’s quite a big thing to take on for a small business,” she said.

“Buying trees is a way to offset our emissions and also make our customers feel that by buying some of our product, they are also offsetting some of their own emissions too.”

Few signed up to federal scheme

In total, 180 businesses are currently certified under the Federal Government’s scheme “Climate Active”, with 260 certifications for products and services between them.

This is up from 86 businesses and 128 certifications in November 2019.

Only Australia’s biggest 200-odd polluters are currently regulated and the Federal Government sets a maximum amount of emissions they can produce.

However, there are a number of options available to companies before they are penalised for exceeding those levels, including asking for their maximum emissions levels to be raised or even seeking an exemption.

In other parts of the world, pressure is mounting to commit to stricter emissions targets.

President-elect Joe Biden has re-committed the US to the Paris Climate pact and has called a leader’s summit for later this month.

The European Parliament has also endorsed a plan, which could see Australian exporters slapped with new carbon tariffs.

Growing demand for tree planting

Louise Tarrier has “the best job in the world” working for Carbon Positive, a Perth-based charity that plants trees in Western Australia and New South Wales and helps businesses and individuals measure, curb and offset their emissions.

The group has planted about six million trees in its 20-year history and, like Carbon Neutral, is finding that its services are in growing demand.

Louise Tarrier of the charity, Carbon Positive, says many small business operators say they want to offset their carbon emissions for their children.

A mid-shot of a smiling woman wearing a turquoise polo shirt.

(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

“People are starting to wake up to the idea that they might want to sequester their carbon and reduce their carbon emissions,” she said while walking through a community plantation of native trees in Guildford, in Perth’s outskirts.

“I have certainly noticed a big difference this last year.

“Whether it’s due to more social media, people like Greta Thunberg, for example, or just a growing awareness of the climate changes we’re experiencing in our day-to-day lives.”

Originally published on ABC News


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