Jonathon Porritt: Why it’s important to offset unavoidable emissions

Jonathon PorrittI’m in something of a personal quandary. My new book, ‘The World We Made’ is out this autumn and, as part of my outreach and promotion for that, I’ll be doing a lot of international travel. I won’t be the first environmentalist to be criticised for this, and I have no doubt that I won’t be the last.

Beyond that, Forum for the Future is growing, and it’s growing globally. We opened an office in New York back in 2010, which is now thriving. We’ve recently started working out of Mumbai and have just recruited the first staff member for our Singapore office. All hugely exciting. All hugely carbon intensive.

Both this international expansion and the global promotion of my book are strategic decisions that we believe will catalyse change. But they raise a number of questions.

What criteria need to be fulfilled before deciding to get on a plane? How can we measure whether the impact we have in a meeting, at a workshop or a conference justifies the means of travel there? What role does my book have to play in creating a world we all want to be a part of?

As you would expect, we do have a checklist for these decisions, including only flying when the equivalent train journey takes more than six hours and travelling with the most carbon-efficient airline.

Once this exhaustive list has been worked through, and we’re convinced that the journey is justified, we will travel. And, as we would recommend to any of our partners, we then offset that travel.

For many years now Forum for the Future’s offset partner of choice has been climate and development experts ClimateCare. Not only do they offset our business travel, but also our operational emissions – because we have to acknowledge that we, as an organisation, have an impact.

This emissions offsetting is a key part of the ambitious strategies of the likes of Kingfisher, Interface or M&S and their net positive / de-coupling / zeronaut ambitions (which you can read more about in this Green Futures article). Once every effort has been taken to reduce or avoid emissions, offsetting then has a crucial role to play in helping organisations give more to our environment than they take out.

It’s for these reasons that I continue to be an ardent supporter of offsetting done well (if it’s not done well with the right kind of offset provider as part of a radical carbon reduction strategy, it’s not worth doing). But far too many environmentalists fail to distinguish between “done well” and “better not done” – which is hugely unhelpful.

It’s part of our role at Forum for the Future to help people understand that crucial difference.

Enter our prize draw to win a signed copy of Jonathon’s new book – The World We Made.



Related links:

–       Read more about ClimateCare’s climate and development approach here

–       Read the Green Futures Special Edition ‘Offset Postive’ here.


Jonathon Porritt, Co-Founder of Forum for the Future, is an eminent writer, broadcaster and commentator on sustainable development.  Established in 1996, Forum for the Future is now the UK’s leading sustainable development charity.  In addition, Porritt is Co-Director of The Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Programme which runs Seminars for senior executives around the world.  He is a Non-Executive of Willmott Dixon Holdings, a Trustee of the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, and is involved in the work of many NGOs and charities as Patron, Chair or Special Adviser.

He was formerly Director of Friends of the Earth (1984-90); co-chair of the Green Party (1980-83) of which he is still a member; chairman of UNED-UK (1993-96); chairman of Sustainability South West, the South West Round Table for Sustainable Development (1999-2001); a Trustee of WWF UK (1991-2005), a member of the Board of the South West Regional Development Agency (1999-2008), a Non-Executive Director of Wessex Water (2005-2012).

He stood down as Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission in July 2009 after nine years providing high-level advice to Government Ministers.

Jonathon was installed as the Chancellor of Keele University in February 2012. He is also Visiting Professor at Loughborough University.

Jonathon received a CBE in January 2000 for services to environmental protection.