PRESS RELEASE: Duke Carbon Offset Initiative, Urban Offsets Launch Local Carbon Emissions Reduction Program Partnership with City of Wilson, N.C., generates first-of-its-kind carbon offsets via urban forestry.

March 16, 2016

(Wilson, NC) – The Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative (DCOI) at Duke University is supporting the City of Wilson, North Carolina’s efforts to plant and maintain trees through an innovative carbon offset model created by a partnership with North Carolina-based startup, Urban Offsets.

The pilot program demonstrates a new way of generating local carbon credits that’s likely to change the way colleges and universities offset their climate impacts.

“In the past, carbon offsets have been viewed as a last resort for institutions committed to carbon reductions because they’re rightly hesitant to outsource their climate responsibilities to far-flung and disconnected projects,” Urban Offsets founder & CEO, Shawn Gagne, said. “But with this scalable urban forestry model, schools achieve the verifiable offsets they require through local investments that benefit the community and the student experience.”

As a member of Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Network, Duke University aims to neutralize all of its climate emissions by 2024. The University established the DCOI in 2009 to prioritize investment in local and regional projects that yield not just greenhouse gas emission reductions, but also other environmental, social, and economic benefits.

The Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative worked with Urban Offsets to create an open protocol that simplifies the process for carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions from urban forests and drastically reduces the cost to run and verify projects. The protocol will soon be available for adoption by any academic institution that wants to voluntarily buy carbon offsets from cities in their state or region.

Urban Offsets, which won the NC Idea grant competition in the spring of 2015, matches schools with cities like Wilson, located 40-miles east of Raleigh, and provides them with services and software needed to scale local investments with proper monitoring and reporting. Under the new program, cities are paid for every tree they plant. With cities planting over 1 million trees every year, Urban Offsets’ proof-of-concept in Wilson could scale to provide $2.5M/year of new revenue for American cities.

“The protocol we developed for academic institutions was a necessary step in creating the carbon offsets Duke prefers,“ DCOI program manager Charles Adair said. “Now our partnership with Urban Offsets is activating the protocol locally, supporting our climate goals, and allowing us to invest in the future of North Carolina communities.”

Duke students and faculty will also have access to the data gathered by Urban Offsets’ project in Wilson to integrate into research projects on community health and sustainability.

Urban tree canopies are shrinking as the density of urban development increases, according to the U.S. Forest Service. In addition to creating local jobs, investment in urban forestry is important for improving quality of life.
In an effort to improve shade and air quality, expand wildlife habitat, and reduce stormwater and noise, cities have experimented with different approaches to tree programs. But despite their many benefits, proper urban forestry has continued to provide only intangible benefits. Simply put, trees have been viewed as a drain on city budgets—until now. Wilson is the first city in the U.S. to generate carbon offsets from urban trees, and the first to transform those trees into financial assets.

“We are overjoyed in this unique public-private partnership that had its start in an entrepreneurial hub,” said Ellen Høj, senior urban designer for the City of Wilson. “Wilson has an emerging reputation of supporting innovation in new start-ups like Urban Offsets; and by supporting our tree plantings in the public realm, we can make our communities healthier for generations. That’s a solution the City can get behind.”

With this proof of concept pilot well underway, Urban Offsets is moving forward to develop further projects under the DCOI protocol.


About Urban Offsets
Greensboro, N.C.-based Urban Offsets builds local carbon markets that support the Climate Action Plans of higher education institutions across the U.S. The company works with cities to plant and grow healthy urban trees and provides the software tools to track and sell actual and projected CO2 emission reductions. Status updates support annual reporting schedules for internal and external stakeholders such as those used by the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System of AASHE. Urban Offsets also is a member of Second Nature’s Carbon Offset Technical Advisory Group.