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Our Guide To: The Gold Standard

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An industry-leading certification programme, the Gold Standard is relied upon to provide verification for carbon offset projects. 

What are carbon offsets?

In the simplest terms, carbon offsets are reductions in carbon dioxide or alternative greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon offsets represent a way for organisations to make a contribution towards emissions reductions on a global scale. 

So that the trading of ‘carbon credits’ (the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that are reduced in metric tonnes), there are a handful of recognised standards in existence so that carbon offsets can be established in a specific and measured way. 

What is the Gold Standard?

The Gold Standard is among the carbon standards that are most respected in the world. Established by WWF, HELIO International, and SouthSouthNorth in 2003, the Gold Standard helps to ensure that any project that works to reduce carbon emissions and that wishes to gain Gold Standard certification adheres to the highest levels of integrity while making a contribution to sustainable development. 

The Gold Standard was originally set up based on the principle that it’s impossible to achieve climate action one-dimensionally while all climate projects must be seen to deliver true benefits of sustainable development, and not merely reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

As such, in addition to providing verification that offset projects are achieving true and measurable reductions in emissions, Gold Standard certification goes even further thereby ensuring that every project has a verified impact on a variety of other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

There are 17 SDGs in all that are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an agenda that in 2015 was adopted by every United Nations Member State. SDGs represent an urgent call for action not merely by United Nations Member States but by all countries. SDGs recognise that bringing an end to poverty as well as other deprivations must work together with alternative strategies in place to bring about improvements to health and education, to spur economic growth, and to reduce inequality, all of which to be achieved while carefully tracking climate change and making every effort to preserve our forests and oceans. 

The Gold Standard considers that it’s not enough to look at carbon mitigation in isolation. Rather, carbon mitigation should work together with other goals like conserving ecosystems and improving livelihoods. As such, all projects involved in the Gold Standard must provide a verifiable impact to at least 3 SDGs. 

Further, the Gold Standard makes a point of placing local stakeholders at the centrepoint of any and all activities that have an impact on them. It also ensures that they are provided access to grievance mechanisms should issues arise. The Gold Standard is of the belief that it is the local residents that understand the priorities of their communities best. It is therefore the local residents that need to be involved and consulted at every stage of the project.

What are the criteria for Gold Standard projects?

For projects to achieve certification of the Gold Standard, all of the basic criteria that are necessary for emissions reductions projects to possess a verified climate impact must be met. These criteria include:

  • Real – emissions reductions must be measurable as well as permanent.
  • Independently verified – all activities undertaken in a project as well as the impact data must be independently verified by a third party.
  • Additional – if the activity involved in the project had not occurred neither would the emissions reductions. 
  • Unique – no other party can count or claim carbon credits. 
  • Traceable – any certified impact must be transparently tracked in a public registry.

The Gold Standard certification also has various additional criteria, thereby setting them apart from all other standards. These additional criteria include:

  • Safeguards – all projects must meet the rigorous safeguarding principles of the Gold Standard. 
  • Stakeholder inclusivity – projects must undertake local stakeholder consultations while local people must be given full access to a grievance mechanism should there be any issues with the project.
  • Project eligibility – projects that are higher risk such as large hydropower plants or fossil fuel switch plants are not eligible for Gold Standard certification and cannot gain eligibility for certification.
  • Gender sensitivity – all projects must adhere to gender-sensitive design principles. 
  • Verified SDG impacts – As previously mentioned every Gold Standard project must be impactful upon at least three Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

So that projects can meet such high standards, the Gold Standard provides the necessary tools and guidance. For projects to maintain their given status as producing carbon offsets that are of Gold Standard, each individual project must successfully make it through numerous certification rounds that are set in place by the Gold Standard and also by independent third parties. Projects must also provide updated annual reports. 

Gold Standard certification, therefore, provides a high level of confidence that projects are, in fact, delivering real emissions reductions and that they are having a true impact upon ecosystems and communities that they operate within. At the time of this writing, more than 1,900 projects from over 80 countries have been awarded the Gold Standard. This has led to over 151 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emission reductions.

How Plannet Zero Can Help

At Plannet Zero, we work with businesses across every sector to develop a long-term strategy that identifies, reduces and offsets the carbon that is produced both within their internal processes and operations, as well as that of their stakeholders.

Our OneTwo Zero programme can help to measure and reduce your business’s operational footprint by identifying your Scope one, Scope two and Scope three emissions. 

Our programme is also comprised of:

  1. Empowering an in-house sustainability champion – Our team will guide you through education around sustainability, providing you with numerous documents, templates and tools to help support you. The aim of this is to empower a culture of sustainability throughout your staff, processes and day-to-day operations. This process is critical to the identification of opportunities and the encouragement of reductions across your business. 
  2. Engaging your supply chain – another key action is to educate and introduce emission-reducing initiatives amongst your supply chain, both upstream and downstream. This is essential to address your business’s scope three emissions, and also encourages the shared goal of environmental action; resulting in the acceleration of reductions and a shared financial cost.
  3. A ‘net zero’ target – Once you’ve established your carbon footprint and accomplished carbon neutrality through investing in offsetting initiatives, the next step is net zero. The government has instructed that by 2050 all organisations must reach a target of ‘net zero’. Our team will empower you with the knowledge, guidance and support needed to succeed through the setting of realistic and achievable targets along your journey. Every achievement will bring you one step closer to the end goal of ‘net zero’.
  4. Switching to renewable and sustainable energy alternatives – one of the most impactful ways to significantly decrease your carbon footprint is to invest in renewable energy alternatives. There are a number of different solutions available to your business including green tariffs, Renewable Energy Certificates, Power Purchase Agreements and installing on-site renewable power.

For more information on how Plannet Zero can help you on your journey towards ‘net zero’,  please get in touch with a member of our friendly team to discuss your energy goals. Alternatively, you can give us a call on +44 20 3637 1055 or email us at We look forward to hearing from you. 

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