Wednesday, 2 May 2012

ICROA's Code of Best Practice

Today I'm shepherding our third annual audit of Carbon Clear's compliance with the ICROA Code of Best Practice.

ICROA, or the International Carbon Reduction and Offsetting Alliance, is a self-regulatory industry body established in 2008 by Carbon Clear and seven other reputable carbon offset providers in Europe, the United States and Australia.  We came together to promote good practice for offset-inclusive carbon management, and to make sure customers and other stakeholders continue to have confidence in the voluntary carbon market.

It's not easy for a company or non-profit organisation to become an ICROA member.  First there are the membership requirements, which include having an established track record delivering carbon management products and services, a minimum annual turnover (revenue) threshold, and checks on the applicant's  reputation.  Member companies commit to volunteering time and resources to strengthen ICROA and its voluntary carbon market work, which may go beyond their day-to-day commercial activities.

Most importantly, members must comply with ICROA's Code of Best Practice.  It is the Code and annual compliance audit that distinguishes ICROA from other membership and lobbying bodies in the carbon market.  I have chaired ICROA's Policy Working Group from the beginning and have therefore been intimately involved in the development and implementation of the Code of Practice.

In summary, the ICROA Code of Practice requires members to:
  1. Measure organisational or product and service carbon footprints to internationally recognised standards like ISO 14064-1, the WRI GHG Protocol, or PAS 2050.  Where members do not provide this service themselves, they must ensure that their subcontractors follow these standards;
  2. Encourage customers to set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets and help them identify opportunities to reduce their footprint;
  3. Help customers achieve zero net carbon emissions for all or part of their footprint via the use of carbon offsets from an ICROA-approved carbon credit standard.  Approved standards include American Carbon Registry, CarbonFix, the Verified Carbon Standard, the Climate Action Reserve, the Gold Standard, and of course the Clean Development Mechanism. (The ICROA Policy Working Group takes the lead in evaluating the suitability of carbon credit standards.)  Carbon credits must be shown to be real, measurable, permanent, additional, verifiable, and unique.
  4. Retire carbon offset credits in a traceable independent registry after they have been sold to ensure those offsets are permanently matched against specific customer greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Work with customers to ensure they are communicating their carbon footprint, reduction and offset activities accurately.
  6. Submit to an annual audit and report member compliance (or non-compliance) to the ICROA Secretariat.
The ICROA Code goes far beyond the requirements of the ill-fated Quality Assurance Scheme, which was  announced by DEFRA in the UK in 2007, finally launched by DECC in 2009 and abandoned in 2011.  It much more closely resembles the PAS 2060 "carbon neutrality" specification launched by BSI in 2010, which takes a similar "measure, reduce and offset" approach.

I believe the work of ICROA and its members is to some extent responsible for the rapidly growing maturity of the voluntary carbon market.  We are regularly approached by carbon offset providers who wish to become members, and push them to demonstrate good practice.  Even more interestingly, the carbon credit standards themselves often approach ICROA to be evaluated and added to the approved list.  A final proof point: last year, ICROA merged with the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), in recognition of the growing importance of the voluntary carbon market.

Indeed, I don't think it would be a huge stretch to claim that ICROA and its members have helped to keep the voluntary carbon market buoyant even as the compliance market struggles with depressed prices and reduced demand for credits.  As I noted a few days ago, customers in the voluntary carbon market offset for a variety of reasons, but the environmental integrity of the carbon offset process is key to the buying decision.

No one enjoys an audit, but the knowledge that this annual process helps to strengthen the carbon market and reassures our customers makes the ICROA compliance audit that much more bearable.