Several weeks ago, at a roundtable event hosted by offsetting trade group ICROA, a challenge was issued to the fledgling industry.
Alice Chapple, director of sustainable financial markets at Forum for the Future, was the one throwing down the gauntlet, urging the sector to come up with a new nomenclature to replace the intrinsically flawed terminology of "offsetting" and "carbon neutrality".
She explained that she had not come up with anything better herself as yet, but felt the sector would benefit from the development of a banner thatb could prove less contentious and confusing.
The problems with the idea of offsets and carbon neutrality are well documented. Both feel like over-selling. The idea that you can simply offset or neutralise your emissions simply does not tally with the reality, where proving both the amount of carbon that has been emitted in the first place and the extent to which offset investment has definitively reduced emissions is fraught with difficulties.
The boldness of the claims embedded within the terms "offsetting" and "carbon neutrality", while tempting to firms looking for a quick and easy way to bolster their green credentials, have also opened the entire industry up to wave after wave of criticism.
If you are "offsetting" my carbon why are you investing in tree planting programmes that could take 100 years to soak up my emissions? How can you be sure my emissions are fully "neutralised"? How do you prove this project would not have happened anyway? If my emissions are neatly "neutralised", why can't I just go on emitting?
But if "offsetting" and "neutrality" are weighted with problems what should we be using instead? What can marry the catchiness and clarity of these terms, while tackling the philosophical questions that hang over the industry?
The best I had come up with was the idea of a "carbon contribution".
Instead of providing people with the certainty of an "offset", you simply ask them to make a "contribution" to a carbon reduction scheme. That contribution can be roughly in line with the amount offsetting firms would say you should make to offset your emissions, but in one swoop you remove the guarantees that it will exactly neutralise your emissions.
Those signing up can not kid themselves that they are completely eradicating their carbon impact, but can still make a financial contribution to the fight against climate change. Meanwhile, the complex administration that is required to ensure projects deliver the precisely right amount of emission reductions can be got rid of, ensuring that more of the money goes straight to the projects involved.
However, the idea of a "carbon contribution" is in many ways just as flawed as that of an offset.
It may get round the problem of overselling, but the fact is that many business customers like the certainty offered by an offset. Moreover, while simplifying verification processes might help raise more funds for projects they would also leave this contribution model open to exploitation by unscrupulous providers who, unless tightly policed, could get away with making a small contribution to carbon reduction projects while pocketing much of the cash.
Perhaps a better proposal is that put forward this week by Dr Paul Hooper of the Manchester Metropolitan University for "Climate Compensations". The approach may be similar to that proposed under a carbon contribution model but the slight shift in semantics has a number of advantages.
Firstly, it is instantly understandable. People know what compensation means and they know that while compensation payments are designed to help they rarely equate exactly to the original cost imposed by a problem. You may compensate someone if you do something wrong, but you know implicitly that you should not have done something wrong in the first place. You could not use climate compensations to assuage guilt in the way critics claim carbon offsets are often used.
Secondly, Hooper proposes that the projects funded by climate compensation payments would continue to be verified and inspected in the same way as offsets are currently.
Thirdly, it gives people the flexibility to pay what they can afford, potentially increasing the funding available to emission reduction projects.
But despite these advantages, there are still problems. As Edward Hanrihan of ICROA quite rightly points out, giving people flexibility to pay what they want could also result in them contributing far less than they do currently to projects. Equally, offsetting is finally gaining traction as a term and introducing a new terminology and business model now could undermine that momentum, particularly if both approaches ended up co-existing resulting in further confusion in the market.
And yet, with many potential customers retaining doubts about offsetting as a concept it surely makes sense to continue the debate over which banners are best placed to help the industry move forward. Suggestions on the back of a postcard would be great.
'Managed decline' and 'first one out' are commercially viable options for oil majors in a two degrees world, new research suggests
Is the Treasury a help or hindrance to the green cause, asks Culmer Raphael's Alasdair MacEwen
Biennal study now in its 10th year will shine spotlight on pay in sustainable business sector
Converting excess green electricity into hydrogen could help Sweden switch to 100 per cent renewables by 2040