Creating more transparency in carbon offsetting

Companies should harness blockchain technology and the internet of things to track their offsetting objectives, suggests research from the University of Auckland. Ellen Buchan reports

When shopping for something you know is bad for the environment, for example flights, you can ease your guilt by shopping from websites which promise to offset the carbon emissions with your purchase. But do you ever check if these companies have gone through with their promise? It is hard for the companies themselves to track exactly where the money they are investing is being spent.  

The suggestion, from University of Auckland Professor of Accounting Charl de Villiers and University of South Australia academics Sanjaya Kuruppu and Dinithi Dissanayake, is that companies should harness blockchain technology and the internet of things to track their offsetting objectives. They make their case in a paper, entitled ‘A (New) Role for Business – Promoting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals Through the Internet of Things and Blockchain Technology.’

In an example of the business opportunities outlined in the paper, internet-connected technologies, such as temperature sensors, can capture, record and transmit data to a blockchain platform which could then report this data back to organisations. 

For example, an airline might have their carbon offsetting money invested in solar panels, the data from which could be transferred back to the airline so they can track and report on the effectiveness of their carbon offsetting. 

Using the internet of things (IoT) and blockchain in this manner could create greater accountability and trust in carbon offsetting initiatives. Customers can then, potentially, see exactly where any extra fees accrued for offsetting has been spent. 

“Capturing, managing, and reporting on sustainability information is very problematic for organisations, so one way of addressing this is to give them tools, which will make it easier to record minute data in real time from different parts of their production processes or supply chains through IoT devices,” said University of South Australia academic, Sanjaya Kuruppu, one of the researchers behind the paper’s conceptual framework.

This article is adapted from one which originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

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