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Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Answers to commonly asked questions. If you have a question that isn't on the list, then please contact us.

Questions about the carboNZero programme:

Questions about CEMARS:

Questions about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions:

Questions about the carboNZero calculators:

Questions about carbon credits:

What is the carboNZero programme?

The carboNZero programme’s  goal is to provide robust tools for individuals, organisations and events to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (otherwise known as ‘carbon footprint’) with the highest level of credibility and integrity.

The carboNZero programme provides two main types of certification – carboNZeroCertTM certification, and CEMARS® certification (Certified Emissions Measurement Reduction Scheme).  The fundamental steps in achieving certification cover measurement and management of emissions, followed by verification (carboNZero certification and CEMARS certification).  For carboNZero certification there is a mitigation step (offsetting remaining unavoidable emissions)

The carboNZero programme was established in 2001 by Landcare Research New Zealand Limited, one of New Zealand's leading Crown Research Institutes, owned by the New Zealand government. The programme is based on over a decade of research on climate change, greenhouse gas measurement and carbon monitoring

What are the implications for New Zealand businesses wanting to join the carboNZero programme?

Obtaining carboNZero or CEMARS certification requires commitment to reduce emissions at source. You will be expected to demonstrate continuous improvement and keep trying to be more energy efficient. Obtaining certification also allows a company to demonstrate their commitment to maintaining and enhancing New Zealand's environment, for example by:

What happens once a company has achieved carboNZero certification? Does the process continue?

carboNZero and CEMARS certification is time-limited and you must demonstrate continuous improvement.  Organisation emissions must be measured and verified on an annual basis, and management plans must be revised and updated for each recertification period.

How can an individual join the carboNZero programme?

Go to www.carboNZero.co.nz and use the household calculator to calculate your emissions. There is an online facility for offsetting your emissions. However, we encourage you to look for ways to reduce your emissions because offsetting without reducing emissions simply balances your emissions at today’s levels. To reverse the impacts of climate change, we must achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. It also makes more sense to reduce your emissions so that you pay less for offsetting.

How do conferences and events achieve carboNZero certification?

The carboNZero programme provides an initial estimate of the expected emissions for the event. The carboNZero programme then works with the event organisers to ensure that plans are in place for minimising emissions through a management plan. This can include actions such as providing efficient transport options to the venue, accommodation close to the conference, energy efficiency of the venue itself, and waste minimisation. The event organisers then pay a deposit to purchase the majority of the carbon credits expected to be required to offset the unavoidable emissions associated with the event. Following the conclusion of the event, a final emissions calculation is completed once all information is collected. 

This calculation is then verified, and following this verification, any remaining carbon credits are purchased in order to offset all the remaining unavoidable emissions from the conference.

Could a farm have carboNZero or CEMARS certification?

There is no reason why a farm could not apply for carboNZero or CEMARS certification. We would require methane and nitrous oxide to be included in the emissions inventory, which occurs from sources such as fertiliser application and livestock emissions.  Note that there is still considerable research being conducted by scientists to work out how to make these many farm based measurements measurements.  Please refer to this article on dairy farms for more information.

Are there tax breaks for having carboNZero certification?

The costs for the work undertaken by an organisation to reduce its emissions and the carboNZero certification costs are treated the same as any other business expenses.

How does the carboNZero programme relate to food miles?

If you are an exporter, you may have seen the increasing debate about the impact of distribution of products around the world, commonly referred to as food miles. Countries such as Germany, the UK, Canada and the USA often use New Zealand products as examples of the serious impacts caused by importing goods as part of campaigns to promote local goods. The UK Government formalised foodmiles in its Sustainable Food Strategy (DEFRA 2005) and has implemented performance indicators based on the carbon dioxide emissions associated with distribution especially for air freight. However, the good news is that a company with environmentally responsible production processes and distribution to the UK by sea often have lower emissions than locally produced goods due to less efficient growing and production processes and the congestion on UK roads. Reducing emissions and offsetting your remaining unavoidable emissions for growing, production and distribution emissions can give you a market advantage and reinforces New Zealand's clean green image.

DEFRA 2005. The validity of food miles as an indicator of sustainable development. London, Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

What incentive is there for consumers to purchase products with carboNZero and/or CEMARS certification?

Personal ethics will drive consumers to purchase products that have certification. National campaigns for households to reduce their overall emissions of carbon dioxide may mean that consumers start considering the emissions associated with the products that they buy. carboNZero and CEMARS certification also provides a positive contribution to overall brand perception.

Are products with carboNZero or CEMARS certification healthy for consumers?

carboNZero and CEMARS certification does not guarantee food safety or product composition (although it is healthy for the consumer's conscience!)

Are products with carboNZero or CEMARS certification healthy for the environment?

Products with carboNZero certification are healthy for the environment only with respect to greenhouse gas emissions. It does not guarantee that other environmental impacts have not occurred. However, a company that has chosen to have carboNZero or CEMARS certification for its products and/or organisation is likely to be concerned about the environment, therefore more likely to adopt other measures to reduce overall environmental impacts.

How are emissions treated within the carboNZero programme for those that are covered under the ETS, and will this be carbon neutral through compliance to the ETS?

Fuel covered by the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ-ETS) cannot be recognised by the carboNZero programme as already offset, or carbon neutral. The reasons are summarised below:

To comply with Commerce Commission guidance on making a carbon neutral claim, the measurement of the emissions must be based on a suitable international standard, the amount of offsets must be equivalent to the measured footprint, offsets must be additional, the emissions reductions used to create the offsets must be verified as already achieved, and offsets must not be double counted. These requirements cannot be demonstrated for fuel participating in the NZ-ETS or from the cost of carbon being passed down to consumers.

Finally, the price added to fuel and paid by the consumer does not reflect the amount of greenhouse gases associated with the fuel because the measurement is not complete and only half of the emissions are offset. At the Point of Obligation, offsets may not have been used and where they were used, it is a forward action, not additional and may be double counted. A carbon neutral claim that recognised “offsets” made though the NZ-ETS would fail to meet many of the criteria set by the Commerce Commission and the ACCC. Claims that fuel is carbon neutral because it is covered by the NZ-ETS are misleading to consumers.

Further detail on the carboNZero programme and the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme is covered in:

www.carbonzero.co.nz/news/newsletters/issue9.asp#Ann and


What is CEMARS?

CEMARS stands for Certified Emissions Measurement And Reduction Scheme.  CEMARS is an internationally accredited greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions management and reduction certification scheme that provides assurance that the GHG inventory of your organisation or product is compliant with the requirements of the CEMARS certification standard, which reflects international best practice for GHG emissions measurement and management.

How do you achieve CEMARS certification?

To be CEMARS certified, you measure and manage (reduce) your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and have these steps independently verified.  More detail on steps for achieving certification are detailed on the CEMARS certification webpage.


What gases are counted as greenhouse gas emissions?

There are six main greenhouse gases:

Usually, all greenhouse gases are expressed as carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e).

Do windfarms produce greenhouse gas emissions?

The activities associated with operating a windfarm will create greenhouse gas emissions if fossil fuel sources are used, e.g. for office-based activities and vehicle use. The construction of the windfarm will have generated emissions and the materials used will have embodied carbon associated with their manufacture.

Do hydroelectric power plants produce greenhouse gas emissions?

The activities associated with operating a hydroelectric power plant will create greenhouse gas emissions if fossil fuel sources are used, e.g. for office-based activities and vehicle use including boats. The construction of the hydroelectric scheme will have generated emissions and the materials used will have embodied carbon associated with their manufacture. There may have been wider environmental impacts depending on the way that the land was prepared prior to flooding to form the reservoir. If forested land was cleared, there will be losses of forest sink capacity. If forested land was flooded, there may be greenhouse gas emissions due to the decay of the trees. Additionally, there may be methane emissions from the reservoir especially if blooms of aquatic plants or algae develop and decompose under anaerobic conditions. These emissions are much higher in tropical regions than in more temperate regions.

Do greenhouse gas emissions need to be continuously measured or are formulas used to work out the emissions?

Emissions source activity data such as electricity and fuel consumption data are monitored and these are converted to carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by using standard conversion factors. The programme regularly reviews and updates the conversion factors being used, as and when new publications are released (related to emission conversion factors).

My electricity use is from renewable sources only. Is it possible to omit this electricity from my footprint ?

It is difficult to separate the renewable energy from the fossil fuel energy in the distribution system (national grid). As electricity demand goes up to meet peak demand periods during the day, it is generally the fossil fuel generators that produce more electricity to meet that demand. We are aware of this concern and we regularly review the protocols for the carboNZero programme calculations. Where your electricity retailer supplies carbon neutral electricity, we still require you to record your electricity usage so that you can see the results of your efforts to be more energy efficient when you compare your monthly or annual data. Using carbon neutral electricity is not a reduction on your part, it is an offset made on your behalf by the electricity provider.  For New Zealand emissions calculations, we use an electricity factor for calculating the carbon dioxide emissions using data provided by the Ministry for Economic Development and this accounts for the total mix of electricity sources that go on the national grid including electricity from renewable sources.

Are waste recycling initiatives included?

Waste to landfill is a mandatory emissions source, and so recycling and minimising waste contributes to reduction of your emissions.

Is there a difference in the calculation between using litres of fuel or kilometres travelled for measuring the greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle use?

The most accurate way to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with using vehicles is to measure the litres of fuel used. Factors have been developed for estimating the emissions from vehicles using the kilometres travelled; however, these factors need to assume a particular fuel consumption rate, which may not reflect the actual consumption rate of your particular vehicle(s) and/or driving behaviour.  By measuring the litres of fuel used, you can see improvements in your fuel efficiency that result from keeping your vehicle well maintained and driving responsibly.

How are the greenhouse gas emissions calculated for air travel?

The air travel conversion factor involves flight distances and specific emissions factors sourced from the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for domestic and international flights. Many calculators include a multiplier for air travel as aeroplanes emit oxides of nitrogen and water vapour both of which can have an impact on atmospheric temperature.  The carboNZero programme uses a multiplier of 1.9 (Sausen et al 2005) to reflect the global warming potential of oxides of nitrogen that are emitted both into the lower and upper atmosphere.

Sausen R, Isaksen I, Grewe V, Hauglustaine D, Lee DS, Myhre G, Köhler MO, Pitari G, Schumann U, Stordal F, Zerefos C 2005. Aviation radiative forcing in 2000: and update on IPCC (1999). Meteorologische Zeitschrift 114: 555-561.

Is transport/storage of products overseas considered when calculating emissions?

The emissions from international freight is counted in product footprints calculations.  For organsiations, inclusion of freight depends on the ownership and control status of the freight. 

What emissions are included in the conference or event inventory?

A typical emissions inventory for a conference or event will include emissions from organisational activities, the venue itself, visitor accommodation, and visitor air travel. Additional sources may be included depending on relevance to stakeholders. For example, if an event requires a significant amount of material to be transported to the venue (such as props, staging equipment, lighting) then the transport and energy consumption for these will be included in the inventory.

Isn’t the carboNZero programme just greenwash or a way for organisations to buy a good emissions profile?

The carboNZero programme is based on over a decade of research and we have worked with pilot organisations to ensure that the measure, manage and mitigate steps are based on credible science and checked via a robust verification process. Organisations seeking carboNZero certification must prepare an emissions inventory compliant with international best practice.  Additionally, they must implement an emissions management plan to demonstrate reductions over time. Without overall reductions in emissions, just neutralising emissions is like "buying a Diet Coke to go with your double bacon cheeseburger - and calling it a weight-loss program. Efficiency (and calorie reduction!) comes first." (Quotation from Joel Makover, Is Carbon Neutral Good Enough?)

Is it possible for greenhouse gas emissions to be double-counted by different parts of the supply chain?

Double-counting could take place if both the buyer and the seller (of the service or product) accounted for the emissions due to the same activity, e.g. international maritime freight.  As more products and services achieve carboNZero certification, organisations will be able to discount emissions from their offset obligations. The carboNZero Programme requires organisations to disclose the full emissions inventory prior to any discounting of double counted emissions, to encourage continued resource efficiency and emissions reductions.

What offsets or carbon credits does the carboNZero programme use?

The programme sources credits from 'projects' that have been generated from both compliance, and voluntary standards from a range of projects. The projects are located both in New Zealand and other countries such as India, Brazil, China, Turkey, and Thailand. All credit projects are assessed and approved by the programme prior to using any of the carbon credits. If you would like to know more about the specific credits used for your certification, the programme can provide you with more detail on request.

If you want to align your certification to a particular type of carbon credit project then we will endeavour to accommodate your preferences, including provision of appropriate communication materials for your customers and stakeholders.

Are any carbon credits at risk of being double-accounted?

Yes there is a risk that the credits from a discrete project are already being accounted for in a national inventory. For example, voluntary credits should not be claimed for reductions from a project where the emissions are captured in a country’s national inventory reporting obligations (for reporting under the Kyoto Protocol). This is because any potential credit is likely to be claimed at the national level as opposed to at the project level.

The carboNZero programme minimises the risk of using double counted carbon credits by sourcing credits that have been generated from reputable standards that have rules in place for preventing double counting.

I believe I have my own credits to use for offsetting my emissions within the programme. Can I do this?

Possibly, but they need to be assessed by us to ensure they meet the programme requirements. Essentially the credits you are using must have been issued from a standard acceptable to the programme, and then your particular project is also assessed for suitability within the programme, i.e., not all carbon credit projects from an acceptable standard will necessarily be deemed appropriate for using in the carboNZero programme. Standards currently accepted by the programme can be supplied on request.

If I believe my project is eligible for carbon credits, where do I go to get them recognised?

To confirm, the carboNZero programme does not provide any services related to applying for and issuing carbon credits. You would need to apply directly to an appropriate credit standard. To get an idea if your project may be eligible for credits from any standard, we suggest considering the following key questions:

For example, one additionality test is that a project must be able to demonstrate that revenue from the carbon credits is required to make the project viable.

If the projects reductions are associated with emission sources already being measured at a national level (e.g. for Kyoto Protocol UNFCCC reporting), then any carbon credit claim would effectively be double counted.

Most credit standards also require several other principles to be met such as no “leakage”, being permanent (with respect to the carbon reduction), measurable, and verifiable. These terms are usually explained within the specific credit standard.

My technology reduces emissions – can I get recognition for this (e.g. carbon credits)?

You can only get recognition in the form of carbon credits if your technology meets the requirements of an appropriate credit standard. You would need to make an application to the standard in order to be issued the credits. The other form of recognition is by marketing your technology as reducing emissions, which is where CEMARS or carboNZero certification can assist to provide a robust claim and therefore gives the potential to attract more customer business.

As part of the certification requirements, clients must set targets to manage and reduce their emissions by having a verified management plan. Therefore, these businesses will be seeking options to reduce their emissions by various means including the adoption of new technologies and other capital investment projects. So if you think you have a technology that reduces emissions, then carbon conscious businesses and individual consumers is a market you can tap into.

Can I just plant a certain number of trees to offset my emissions and gain carboNZero certification?

Any tree planting project would need to be awarded carbon credits through an acceptable standard and the project assessed for suitability within the programme. There have been examples where tree planting for offsetting emissions has been unsubstantiated. For example, the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK has previously ruled that there was no scientific basis for a claim by a company that the number of trees they had planted would sequester carbon dioxide equivalent to the company’s greenhouse gas emissions.

What happens to the money (when purchasing carbon credits)?

The money you pay for carbon credits goes to both the carbon credit supplier (to cover the additional costs associated with implementing the project over and above the ‘business as usual’ situation) and the carboNZero programme to cover costs associated with activities such as sourcing, supplying, quality assessment, and registry transaction fees.   

Why are there not many New Zealand carbon credits available?

There is currently a limited range of New Zealand carbon credits available due to the policies implemented for meeting New Zealand’s Kyoto Protocol obligations.  New Zealand is allocated a certain number of “units” (1 unit equals 1 tonne CO2e), or essentially “permits to pollute”.  Only some of these units have been allocated towards issuing to defined carbon credit projects via the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative (PFSI) and the Projects to Reduce Emissions (PRE) mechanism (the rest are managed within the Emissions Trading Scheme and at a national level).  Credits issued to PRE projects have all finished and many of these units have been sold already. PFSI credits are accessible and available via the carboNZero programme.  

Why is there a difference in prices? Why are the credits from overseas often a lower price?

There are various factors that affect the price for carbon credits.  There are differences between credits that have been issued from voluntary and compliance standards as there is differing demands for these.  Generally compliance based credits are more expensive as there is stronger demand for this type from organisations that face legal requirements to purchase (for example to comply with an emissions trading scheme).  Many of the credits from overseas are from voluntary standards. 

Another significant driver for the price of carbon credits is what the owners of the credit project sell for, as they set the price of what they need to cover the additional costs of implementing the project as opposed to what would have been ‘business as usual’.   

Some projects may also be more attractive based on the additional characteristics of the project, such as additional environmental and/or social benefits. 

Exchange rates are also a factor in price of carbon credits.   

Does carbon credit price reflect quality?

Just like any market, some credits are more desirable than others (e.g. a certain project might have better brand/marketing alignment than others) but this doesn’t necessarily mean the price reflects the actual quality.  As covered in the question regarding 'why there is a difference in prices' above, there are various factors affecting the price.

Can I choose the type of credit that I would like to buy from?

If you have a particular preference for a type of credit, we will do our best to provide this based on what we have available at the time of certification. 

Where can I see a list of carbon credit projects available?

The carboNZero programme maintains a list of carbon credits that have been assessed as being acceptable to the programme.  This can be provided on request.

Why are ‘REDD’ projects not acceptable to the progamme?

REDD projects generally refer to quantifying avoided GHG emissions from avoiding unplanned and planned deforestation and forest degradation. This methodology is applicable to forest lands that would be deforested or degraded in the absence of the project activity.  These methodologies are currently relevant mainly to the VCS standard whereby several methodologies are available for applying to projects. 

To achieve real reductions, REDD projects must satisfy the following conditions: additionality, no leakage, and permanence. 

Position: REDD project principles have good potential benefits in terms of avoided environmental impacts including climate change.  REDD projects are very dependent on demonstrating that a business as usual scenario involves clearance of the forest, and maintaining this in perpetuity.  It is difficult to appreciate the reliability of these conditions being met.  In addition, there are several other risks around community impacts, and potential emissions leakage.  These risks make this type of project undesirable for the purpose of reliable emission offsetting for a carboNZero certification claim, and will not be accepted by the programme.