Cost of Carbon

The plain truth is that we live in a carbon-intensive society. The stress of our lives are tempered by escaping to some of nature’s most exceptional places to play and feel alive. But, more often than not, those escapes leave behind a carbon footprint. 

It can feel like the logistics of these outdoor escapes are exacerbating the climate crisis. Would we be better off just staying home? We don’t think so. 

We embrace imperfect advocacy – we don’t believe that you should stop escaping to those outdoor places that you love because you have a carbon footprint. We also don’t believe that having a carbon footprint should ever preclude you from advocating to protect those places. Instead of chasing perfection, we’re pursuing progress by offering the outdoor community both a way to offset the carbon footprint of their adventures and ultimately learn the value of advocating for the places they love.

What is an offset? 

A carbon offset represents one metric ton of carbon that has been avoided or sequestered.

What is a REC? 

A renewable energy credit (REC) represents 1,000 kWh of renewable energy that has been delivered to the grid.

What are the criteria we use to select offset or REC providers? 

Carbon offset providers we work with are required to have registered and verified their project methodology with one of the reputable carbon offset registries such as Gold Standard, Verra, ACR or CAR. For renewable energy credits on our platform we require that they meet the common market definitions of additionally such as: from wind and solar projects that were built in the last 15 years, do not generate electricity from any carbon emitting fuel, the renewable project entered service within the past 15 years, the project was built “voluntarily,” i.e., it was not required by any governmental authority and is not being claimed by any other company or person to meet a renewable goal or requirement.

Why are some offsets so inexpensive and others much more expensive? 

The price of an offset is closely tied to the market supply and demands for the product, this could change based on where the offset is registered, the location of the project, the vintage (year the offsets were generated in), and whether there are any social good aspects tied to the project as well. Some offset sources are produced above the demand for that type, which results in lower price.

What does additionality mean with regard to offsets? How about redundancy? 

“Additionality” is a term that has different meanings to different people for both RECs and carbon offsets. For corporate buyers additionality often means that the project is being created for the sole purpose of decreasing a corporate entity’s affiliated emissions. Companies enter into large, long-term agreements that provide the economic justification for new projects to be built.  These new projects, by definition, are not constructed and put into operation for months or years. Due to this, “additionality” from these projects typically can’t neutralize emissions that are occurring or have occurred in the past because the projects aren’t complete yet.

As it relates to carbon offsets, in order for the project to achieve additionally it should not have been able to have occurred under the normal course of business. All carbon offsets we utilize meet this standard, and most carbon offset registries require this for projects to be registered with them.

What is the cost of carbon? 

The cost of carbon more often is referred to as the social cost of carbon (SCC). The social cost of carbon is a policy tool that puts a price on the economic damages over time from emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In other words, are the benefits from preventing larger droughts, rising tides, more violent storms greater than the economic costs–specifically the dollar cost.

There is not a global consensus on the exact price of the social cost of carbon, under the Obama administration the price was $45 per ton, under the Trump administration the price is as low as $1 per ton. The higher the price, the more aggressive action to reduce emissions. Although an imperfect measurement, the social cost of carbon is useful in running the numbers on the costs and benefits of different solutions to solve the climate crisis.

Unfortunately, the world has continually undervalued the potential negative impacts from a changing climate. From a recent study Nature Climate Change, their estimates say the social cost of carbon should be around $417 per ton.

Why is POW getting involved in offsetting now? 

At POW we see offsets as a bandaid to the problem, but with the science showing us that we need to make a large scale change in a short timeline, we need to take any action we can. Our vision is to create a future that no longer needs offsets and REC’s. To get there we need to take individual action AND collective action like advocacy to amplify our efforts. As a community of passionate lovers of the outdoors, we all love to explore the world and we need to embrace our imperfect footprints to take progress over perfection. Offsets and REC’s adapt to the climate crisis, meaning investing in these projects we can pull some carbon out of the atmosphere or help develop more renewable energy options for the future. Advocacy mitigate the problem by making sure these carbon emissions never enter the atmosphere in the first place! We believe we can still mitigate the problem, but we are only going to achieve this goal if we work together.

That is why we have created the POW Cost Of Carbon tool to address hypocrisy and practice democracy. We are not only going to support tree planting, solar panels and wind farms but we hope to support everyone in their journey to becoming a climate advocate no matter where one starts from and direct the community toward issues we all care about like protecting our public lands, bringing more electric vehicles to our communities and demanding more renewable energy on our grids. This tool is designed to educate and inform our community of the scale each of our impacts as well as empower each other to speak up. Together we can protect our great escapes, no matter where in the world they are.


The carbon calculator platform was developed by The North Face in 2017 as part of the company’s effort to calculate, reduce and offset carbon emissions associated with The North Face athlete expeditions. Encouraged by its potential, The North Face licensed the tool to Protect Our Winters, for use by POW as part of an advocacy platform where all outdoor enthusiasts can calculate the carbon footprint of their adventures and take meaningful action on climate.