Offsets gone wild: Domino’s Certified Carbonfree Sugar!

the sugar you find in specially marked packages of Domino® Sugar have been certified CarbonFree®.

I’ve never been a fan of companies who try to greenwash hawk their products with terms like Carbon Neutral for several reasons:

Probably the silliest and most unfortunate recent attempt to capitalize on the carbon neutrality craze is Domino’s with their “certified CarbonFree® sugar.”

Many commenters, such as our friends at Scholars and Rogues in “Chemistry: FAIL,” have mocked pointed out informatively that:

The chemical formula for sucrose, aka sugar, is C12H22O11:

Take the carbon out of sugar and you’re pretty much left with water. Methinks Someone failed their chemistry class. Or their marketing class. Or both.

What I think is particularly unfortunate about this is that Domino has a pretty good story to tell (at least for a sugar company):

Our certification is unique because our Florida farmed products’ carbon neutrality is the result of our own production and supply of clean, renewable energy, which replaces the use of fossil fuels. Our renewable energy facility generates eco-friendly power for our sugar milling and refining operations as well as tens of thousands of homes….

Our Florida facility converts sugar cane and recycled wood waste to electricity, reducing the need for 1 million barrels of oil annually….

Our Florida facility conserves about 3.5 million cubic yards of landfill space annually…..

Our Florida facility displaces hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 annually.

You can see their TV commercial here.  I’ll leave it to others to comment on Domino’s

… earth friendly farming.

So It may be that they aren’t using rip-offsets to make this claim, but I can’t find that out on their website or that of the organization they used for certification,, whose motto, “reduce what you can, offset what you can’t,” isn’t bad as offset mottos go.   But they appear to use renewable energy certificates, the overwhelming majority of which just aren’t good offsets (see “Schendler Part II: Good RECs vs. Bad RECs“).  And they do reforestation, which is a great thing to do, but relatively dubious as an offset (see no trees for offsets and certainly not a Northern forest “” heck, even offset seller Terrapass disses trees).

The silliness of the label is evidenced by Domino’s need for this from their FAQ:


Does sugar have carbon in it?

The CarbonFree® certification refers to the product’s neutral carbon footprint, not to the sucrose molecule. Meaning it refers to the growth, production, packaging and shipping, not the physical properties of the sugar. Do all, or other sugar brands, have a CarbonFree® status? The only sugar brands in the country that have been certified CarbonFree® are Domino® Granulated Sugar in the specially marked GREEN packages and, our sister brands, Florida Crystals® Organic Sugar and Florida Crystals® Natural Cane Sugar.

If you are a sugar company that needs a FAQ to explain that your CarbonFree sugar has carbon in it, you probably need a new name for your product.

15 Responses to Offsets gone wild: Domino’s Certified Carbonfree Sugar!

  1. Sorghum Crow says:

    The picture cracked me up. What next carbon-free organic chemistry?

  2. Bob Lewis says:

    at least they’re trying – you come off sounding rather snarky and petty about what they’ve done. they’ve clearly made real efforts in on-site generation etc – maybe they’ve got their messaging confused but do you think the average consumer is really going to care they ‘didnt realise’ that carbon is clearly also in sugar? is it not more useful to congratulate them for what they have done and point out in a constructive way where they’re going wrong…

    [JR: Snarky, yes, but petty, I don’t think so. In case you hadn’t noticed, everybody is claiming to be green these days. I filed this under humor, and that’s where it belongs. If they hadn’t screwed up their messaging, I might give them a clear congratulations. But if they are using rip-offsets, however, I can’t. Their own FAQ makes clear they understand the confusion they have created. It is precisely because they are confusing the average consumer (and everyone else) that I wrote this post.]

  3. Elmo says:

    Carbon Free! That’s a content-free marketing jargon buzzphrase if ever I heard one. But the story about using the cane residue to create fuel and avoid using oil is a pretty good story to be telling. If it’s even half-true then someone has figured out that you can take a system and seek out energy saving possibilities which will almost inevitably yield cost savings as well.

  4. Alex J says:

    I don’t understand why they can’t just use “carbon neutral”. That would at least be closer to reality. Then, if they were really serious, they could note a website where consumers can find out the methods of carbon accounting and reduction being used. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be inclined to take it very seriously.

    At first, this sort of reminded of the Exxon-Mobil commercial touting technology for removing CO2 from natural gas. They note that CO2 is an “impurity” in some natural gas, and leave it at that. That might seem impressive, until you consider that carbon is also an integral part of the fuel molecule that forms CO2 upon combustion. The process they’re talking about looks like more of a production enhancer (cleaning up “sour gas” and using the CO2 in oil & gas fields) than a large-scale pollution control.

    (The lawyers’ newspaper for Los Angeles and San Francisco)
    April 30, 2009
    INSIGHT: p.5

    Carbon Offsets: the Next Credit Default Swaps?
    (Excerpts from 1000 word piece)

    By Robert Benson
    Robert Benson is a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who specializes in international environmental law and corporate ethical accountability.

    No sooner did we get rid of subprime mortgages and credit default swaps than the free-market ideologues, who seem happiest when building a bubble out of worthless pieces of paper, bring us carbon offsets. Billions of dollars and billions of tons of carbon credits are already circulating in the offset market, and it is growing faster than a tulip craze.
    . . .

    As economic theory, it is elegant and pure. Unleashed in the real world, however, it becomes yet another vehicle for the kind of rapacious speculators who brought our economy to its current state of near-collapse.

    Stanford law professor Michael Wara took a close look at the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, which allows industrial nations to claim they are cutting carbon emissions when they buy offsets from developing nations. A large number of the approved projects are to capture and destroy a potent greenhouse gas released in manufacturing certain refrigerants and Teflon. Selling offset credits through the Clean Development Mechanism for destruction of the greenhouse gas was so profitable, Wara concludes, that many producers, all in developing countries, gamed the system by ramping up production in order to have more of the evil greenhouse gas to destroy. Wara also looked at China’s efforts to switch some of its electricity production from dirty coal to cleaner natural gas. Although the projects were under way so would have been built anyway, China still claimed carbon offset subsidies through the mechanism for all of them, despite its rule that it will finance only new projects that are additional to business as usual. Otherwise, the offsets bring no real reduction of carbon. Wara’s Stanford colleague, political scientist David Victor, has estimated that “between a third and two thirds” of Clean Development Mechanism offsets do not represent actual emission cuts.

    Voluntary carbon offsets in the U.S. are no better. Anticipating that government will soon impose carbon reductions, many companies are scrambling to build up credits in markets like the Chicago Climate Exchange, hoping the government will recognize them. The Wall Street Journal reports that landfills across the country are selling credits to the Exchange for capturing the greenhouse gas methane emitted by rotting garbage. But most landfills have profitably captured that methane for years, and sold it to others or burned it for energy, so there is no new reduction of greenhouse gases. Selling offset credits “is gravy to us,” says one New Jersey landfill operator. “It seemed a little suspicious that we could get money for doing nothing,” says another.
    . . .

    Then there is Chicago. Mayor Richard Daley promised long ago that the city would buy 20 percent of its power from wind farms and other renewable sources. But the Chicago Tribune reports that the city for two years has been merely buying carbon offsets instead, 87 percent of which has gone to a wood-burning power plant that has been operating for two decades. No new reduction of carbon in that.

    The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently sent Congress a 65-page report concluding that offsets are inherently fraught with uncertainties, and that “offsets in a cap-and-trade system can undermine the system’s integrity, given that it is not possible to ensure that every credit represents a real, measurable, and long-term reduction in emissions.” Energy expert Joe Romm at the Center for American Progress has posed the question in his blog, “What is the difference between carbon offsets and mortgage-backed securities?” He answers: “Lipstick.” Romm has renamed them “rip-offsets.”

    None of this has fully penetrated Washington or Sacramento. The otherwise strong Waxman-Markey draft climate-change bill in Congress, backed by the Obama administration, allows 2 billion offset credits a year, a whopping 28 percent of total emissions which, in the words of the International Rivers organization and Rainforest Action Network, will “blow to bits” the supposed caps on carbon. California regulators, working assiduously to implement the visionary California Global Warming Solutions Act, are proposing to put lipstick on the offset pig through tight qualification and auditing rules.

    The reason Washington and Sacramento are making room for offsets at all is because, amazingly, the folks who brought us the financial collapse still have political clout. The speculators, the banks, the commission-collectors are all touting carbon offsets, not to mention the polluters who just want the easiest way out of carbon caps, like buying papal indulgences. They have stirred the Kool-Aid of free-market ideology and are urging us to drink. Last time, they took the financial system down. This time, they take the planet.

  6. Karbon Kenny says:

    Carbon free sugar. Funny. About as funny as someone actually paying for carbon offsets. Get all the carbon offsets you want. For free.

    You will be happy you did.

  7. Anne says:

    This is just the tip of the iceberg.

    For a good while now, I have been a proponent of a strong labeling law, one with teeth, that requires certain products to disclose the CO2 emissions associated with manufacture, production, distribution, etc etc — maybe the number can’t be arrived at with total accuracy, but we could develop guidelines for estimating.

    The advertising rhetoric is just getting started on this stuff. Before too long, no one will know anything about anything, as is pretty much the case now, about how hyoer- consumerism damages the planet. My solution was to join the Church of Stop Shopping, and to adopt the Reverend Billy as my spiritual leader.

    p.s. he’s running for Mayor of NYC. Vote Rev Billy!

  8. Anne says:


    check him out….

  9. Doug says:

    Why would you need that much sugar on your pizza?

    But seriously — it looks like this company needs to just completely start over in the branding/marketing department…

  10. Aaron says:

    Although the whole “carbon free” sticker is not accurate, I applaud them for their efforts with using renewable energy sources. There aren’t too many companies out their at the moment doing this, so I think we should be congratulating them, regardless of the semantics.

  11. Tom ambler says:

    I own an online retail store,, that carries only “green” products. One thing that we did last year was partner with an offset company. They asked me to buy more offsets for this year but I didn’t pay for them after reading what this site says about offsets. Can you please read what we are doing and give us tips as to how we can offset more of our shipping?


    1. In order to reduce the amount of traveling our products do we try to find American made products. This way we are supporting the American economy and the products don’t have to travel over the oceans to get to you.

    2. We also try to find manufactures who will ship the products to you from their warehouse. Since we are based outside of Philadelphia this prevents products from having to be shipped multiple times around the country. For example: Lets say that something is made on the west coast. That product will have to be shipped from the west coast to the east coast. If someone on the west coast buys it we will then have to ship it back to the west coast. If the manufacturer ships it for us we can then just ship it from the warehouse on the west coast to another location on the west coast.

    3. Any orders for inventory we have will be shipped via USPS. We feel this is the best way to ship the products. The USPS already has to go to every house six days a week. The other shipping companies will need to make special trips to deliver the order.

    4. USPS also supplies boxes that are “Cradle to Cradle”SM Certification at the Silver level from MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry) … Based on the recycled content of the more than 500 million Express Mail and Priority Mail packages and envelopes the Postal Service provides its customers each year, more than 15,000 metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions (climate change gases) now will be prevented annually. Express Mail and Priority Mail boxes and envelopes also are 100 percent recyclable.”

    5. In the past we shipped most of our orders in the USPS boxes. Once we are through with our supply of USPS boxes we will do most of our shipping by using recycled boxes. When our inventory comes in we will reuse that box, but when we need more boxes we will work with other stores in the area that have extra boxes. This will save us having to use new boxes!

  12. mom says:

    Who is and how do they determine their findings? Sugar production is the dirty little secret of Florida. Domino Sugar is owned by US Sugar, a company that almost devasted the Everglades. In its attempt to write off the billions of dollars it owes Florida for the clean up effort, it is attempting to “lease” 500,000,000 acres to the state. For years US Sugar burned those acres to harvest the sugar, dropping ash from coast to coast, causing severe respiratory issuse for thousands of Floridians and polluting water systems . Once the sugar has been processed from the cane, the cane is sold and reprocessed. Those cubic yards of fermented cane is then processed to extract chemicals that harden plastics. Is that also carbon free? Who measures the methane created by the cane fermenting?

  13. Hey look Romm, Glen Beck agrees with you:

    [JR: He is the classic broken clock!]

  14. Dave M says:

    How about carbon-free charcoal? Or carbon-free Graphite?

  15. david305 says:

    Mencken, not Barnum, said, “No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” (Mencken also said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”)

    Many commentators have missed the point. Yes, we all know that sugar contains carbon. Domino is trying to seem “environmentally sensitive” because they burn their cane wastes for milling. It so happens that it saves them a fortune in electricity, and it’s what any smart sugar business does. The main deal in the “carbon-neutral” issue is really the fact that Domino, like any other big farmer, GROWS PLANTS. In that sense, they are indeed sequestering carbon, just like planting forests (or any crop) would do.
    But all this is a cover. We in Florida know what degenerate polluters the sugar companies are. They use incredible quantities of fertilizer; poor management causes huge amounts of run-off, thus the eutrophication (choking) of our streams and lakes by algae and other water plants. It’s caused vast damage to the Everglades and other areas far beyond the sugar fields.
    How can we tell? Upstream from sugar farms, the streams etc. are fine; downstream, they’re a slimy mess. You do the math. They’ve been told to either treat or recycle this run-off, but can’t be bothered to do it properly. (The state is paying a fortune to buy back fields from the sugar companies, just because of this polluted mess.)
    So Domino is merely trying to look environmentally conscious, as a cover for the fact that they’re one of the biggest polluters — just not of smoke and CO2. (Oh, BTW, they still run all the tractors and reapers on diesel. Perhaps the sugar fields sequester as much carbon as the tractors emit, though that’s debatable.)

    For those who buy the right-wing pap that “carbon dioxide is harmless” — Even leaving aside the greenhouse gas aspect, CO2 is our waste product, every time we exhale. And NO CREATURE CAN LIVE IN ITS OWN WASTES. By vastly overproducing our waste product, we make our globe a little less habitable every day. That panicky feeling you get when you hold your breath underwater for too long? It’s not from oxygen deprivation; it’s from carbon dioxide build-up.

    Don’t believe me OR them, please. Do your own UNBIASED research.
    Back to Mencken’s point: lots of folks say they’d sooner believe an ignorant dirt farmer than some professor. But as in all things, follow the money. If it’s gonna cost that dirt farmer more not to pollute, he won’t believe in pollution, even while his own family is choking from the smoke.
    Without going overboard — when are we going to grow up as a species, and take responsibility for ourselves, look after one another, and clean up our messes before they get out of hand? So okay, don’t be an environmentalist. But please — be an adult.