Why MSQ is ditching its carbon negative status

In October 2023, we stopped all carbon offsetting at MSQ, therefore ceasing to be a carbon negative organisation. So what does that mean in terms of our focus towards a better future I hear you ask? Well, it’s actually a good thing, because we’re diverting that budget to something more impactful, and using it as an opportunity to try and explain some rather confusing concepts…

Back in 2020, MSQ announced that it had become a carbon negative business, meaning we offset far more tonnes of carbon than we produced.  As shown through our Ecologi dashboard, we’ve proudly offset over 14,000 tonnes of carbon during that period, supporting a range of projects from all over the world. For most companies, offsetting is considered a critical part of a company’s short-term mitigation strategy. So why are we stopping?

For starters, it’s not simply because we have concerns over the impact claims, as recently raised in numerous articles in The Guardian this year. In fact, I’m very keen to emphasise that offsetting is certainly not a bad thing to do. However, it’s become apparent that now is the right time for us to shift our focus when it comes to our sustainability goals, and in turn switch our carbon offsetting budget over to carbon removals.

Part of this decision is to help highlight the difference being made by offsetting versus removing. For a more detailed overview of key sustainability terms, you might want to check out our simple guide, but my key point here is that in most cases, the notion of offsetting a tonne of carbon does not actually offset a tonne of carbon in the way you might assume, even when the impact is being measured effectively. Therefore using the term “carbon neutral” does not mean you have a neutral impact on the environment, and certainly does not mean that your emissions are balanced out. For me this means that the terms “carbon neutral” and “carbon negative” (offsetting even more than you produce) are really examples of greenwashing when it comes down to it, even when used legitimately – which of course we have been! Let me explain why…

Offsetting projects usually help stop the current situation from getting worse. Investing in renewable energy projects in developing nations, or deforestation prevention (the two most common type of offsetting projects) just stops the imbalance of carbon, in terms of humans producing emissions versus the world’s ability to sequester those emissions, from getting any worse. These offsetting projects do nothing to actually remove the emissions that have already been produced from the atmosphere.

The analogy that I often use is that it’s a bit like smoking 20 cigarettes a day, and then paying someone else not to smoke, whilst you continue. You could hardly claim to be “cigarette neutral”. Although, in this example, what you have done has a positive overall impact (at least on the other person), you continuing to smoke yourself means you have ultimately done nothing to reduce the total amount of cigarettes being smoked on the planet. 

Carbon removals are a whole different ball game. In fact, many people don’t realise that the “Net” in Net Zero has to be achieved via removals and not offsetting. Until recently the most available options for carbon removals were initiatives like Direct Air Capture from companies like Climeworks, but at nearly £1000 per tonne (10x the price of offsetting), it was very expensive to upkeep. But recently our offsetting and tree planting partner Ecologi released a range of more affordable, nature-based carbon removal projects. Their ARRBlue Carbon and Biochar projects cost £30, £50 and £270 respectively, offering far more cost effective solutions that provide additional benefits to the environment. In fact, we have been using their Biochar project to help us remove the carbon emissions that we’ve measured outside our London offices via our Covent Carbon Capture project since last year. A key driver for this project was to find an engaging way to highlight the difference between offsetting and removals, which we believe we’ve managed to do successfully thus far.

So, today marks the official switch of our offsetting budget over to carbon removals with immediate effect. We want to front load the “Net” in Net Zero. Our hope is that by encouraging others to do the same, we can drive much-needed investment into these critical projects in order to help them scale over the coming years.