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The carbon offsetting industry has enjoyed unregulated growth over the past couple of years, but it appears the party may soon be over.

In that time, a number of offset providers have been exposed for fraudulent acts ranging from substituting credits, to failure to follow through on eco-projects. The lack of oversight allowed firms to take advantage of consumers and even entire companies who sought to participate in the movement with good intentions. Now that problems have been uncovered, action is being taken to quickly button up guidelines and best practices in order to save the image of offsets as a legitimate method of reducing the carbon footprint.

In November The Climate Group, a London-based nonprofit, established the Voluntary Carbon Offset Standard, meant to serve as a rulebook for the industry. Then last month the Federal Trade Commission held a hearing on the issue — its first in a series of hearings focused on green marketing.

Momentum is continuing to build. Yesterday the Center for Resource Solutions and its widely recognized Green-e label announced the first voluntary certification program for carbon offsets sold at the retail level. This new process follows an offset through its entire lifecycle, making sure it’s properly labeled and that it actually does, say, provide for the planting of trees in Brazil’s rainforests.

“Consumers are going to want transparency. They’re going to want to know where their money went,” said Jeff Swenerton, spokesman for the Center for Resource Solutions.

A certification like this serves mainly as a marketing tool, but that shouldn’t downplay its significance. Consumers want assurances that the credits they’re purchasing at their local supermarket are truly going where they want them to. As these certification guidelines hit the market, it might be time for all businesses to check their offset programs against the standards, to see how they measure up. This is one time you don’t want to get caught with your plants down.

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