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Is Dave Matthews' carbon offsets provider really carbon neutral?

Celebrities like Dave Matthews have used carbon offset provider NativeEnergy to help them be carbon neutral. But there's great debate about the company's method of selling offsets that have yet to happen.

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Boucher and Stoddard are adamant that they aid in creating helpful environmental projects that would not exist otherwise – a fundamental requirement of offsets. This "additionality" requirement means offsets cannot be generated by a project that would have been built anyway; the offset must create some new, added, reduction in greenhouse gases to neutralize the emissions of the offset buyer.

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NativeEnergy officials cite their part in building windmills in Greensburg, Kan., after that town was devastated by a tornado in 2007. President Obama touted the project to Congress as "a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community."

The US Department of Agriculture gave a $17.4 million loan to John Deere Renewables to finance the Greensburg project; NativeEnergy provided some portion of John Deere's remaining costs of $6 million – they and John Deere will not say how much. Stoddard insists the windmills would not have been constructed without NativeEnergy money. Steve Hewett, the Greensburg town administrator, says "the project was happening. They just made it quicker, and made the pricing look better."

The question of additionality emerges in many carbon offsets: If a windmill or solar project would have been built anyway, then the money from the offsets was not needed and therefore the offset did not create an additional emissions reduction. It does not create a new counterbalance. [Editor's note: It has been called to our attention that NativeEnergy has obtained certification from First Environment, a qualified carbon offset certification organization, in connection with the Greenburg, Kan. windfarm project.]

Tom Rawls, a vice president and spokesman for NativeEnergy, notes that while their website is aimed at encouraging individuals to calculate their "carbon footprint" and make purchases online, many of the company's offsets are bought by businesses to "green" their operations. Rawls contends the businesses that buy offsets understand the complexity.

"We are not selling offsets to turnips," he says. "These are companies that are either very sophisticated or they are large and they have technical people and they understand what they are getting."

1. GLOBAL INVESTIGATION: Buying carbon offsets may ease eco-guilt but not global warming

2. How the "Vatican Forest" was felled before it grew

3. An offset gone wrong: Green windmills aggrieve Indian farmers

4. Using the green cloak of "certification" to market a plantation in Panama

5. Is Dave Matthews' carbon offsets provider really carbon neutral?

6. Australia leads the pursuit of carbon offset scams