As the global climate crisis worsens, carbon offsets are becoming an increasingly valuable commodity. Essentially, they allow individuals and businesses that emit greenhouse gases to reduce their environmental footprint by paying other businesses or organizations to sequester carbon. And that holds all kinds of potential for the circular food economy.

“The circular economy is intrinsically linked to emissions reductions,” says David Messer of the Smart Cities Office. “By cutting food waste, we’re saving the energy required to produce it, transport it, and dispose of it — and avoiding all the carbon these activities create.”

These types of emissions are often challenging to track. But Messer points to examples like Indigo Carbon in the U.S., which pays farmers to cut greenhouse gases through regenerative practices like cover cropping and no-till farming. “The model can work, it just hasn’t been done here at scale,” he explains. So, Our Food Future is filling that gap. 

Individuals and small businesses often lack the scale and capacity to participate in voluntary carbon offset schemes, however, taken together, the positive actions of hundreds of smaller actors could combine to generate a significant volume of carbon credits. What is missing is a system or technology to track, attribute and verify smaller scale actions which could then be bundled to reach a sellable scale.

In November 2021, our group leveraged City of Guelph’s Civic Accelerator model to issue a Circular Carbon Credit Challenge focused on reducing food waste and promoting climate friendly actions. We are inviting companies or developers to help us co-create an app that tracks, verifies and rewards actions that reduce emissions and support the circular economy. 

We are also working with the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) to examine our project activities considering voluntary and regulatory carbon credit markets. Research being done by DSF will help us prepare a Request for Proposals to engage in our next phase of work — a Regional Carbon Market Study. This will be a place-based study of Guelph-Wellington’s food supply chain and the emission-avoidance activities our project has helped create. Through this we can identify or develop tools that enable each sector of the food chain to track its carbon credits, creating a further source of revenue for climate-friendly food production.