Air Travel Weighing Your Carbon Footprint Down? We’re Here to Help!

 
Thanks  Frank Vex  on  Unsplash  for the Photo

Thanks Frank Vex on Unsplash for the Photo

 

Did you know that flying a family of four first class from Chicago to Orlando’s Disney World likely results in more carbon dioxide emissions than both parents would emit in a year’s worth of community to work every day by car?!  That’s according to my trusty manual on living a low-carbon lifestyle, Cooler, Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon by The Union of Concerned Scientists.

So what’s a carbon conscious air traveler to do besides wait for low-carbon technologies, super fuel efficiency, or other innovations to emerge?  Well, plenty! In this blog we explore purchasing carbon offsets to reduce your transportation impacts due to air travel.

Before we go there, we should say that choosing direct flights, avoiding short regional flights, or opting for bus or train travel will make a significant difference in your CO2 emissions. However, if air travel is necessary, purchasing carbon offsets is a great option with minimal budget impacts.

Carbon Offsets In a Nutshell

Carbon offsets are financial contributions that you can make to projects that contribute to reductions in CO2 emissions. These types of projects cannot pay for themselves which makes carbon offset purchases so important. Some examples are:

  • Forest conservation

  • Wind, solar, or hydro power generation

  • Methane trapping at landfills

  • Anaerobic digestion of animal waste/methane trapping

  • Distributing clean burning stoves to India

Buyer Beware

The business of selling carbon offsets is a voluntary and unregulated market with a variety of industry standards. So it’s important that you look beyond the price tag and also make sure that the purchasing company is certified by at least one (if not more) of the well-respected, third-party verifiers. These verifiers include the Gold Standard, the Verified Carbon Standard, the Climate Action Reserve, the American Carbon Registry, and the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism.

A certified carbon offset must achieve, at minimum the following:

  • Have a reputable third-party verification. This means that CO2 reductions can be quantified, monitored, and reported by third party auditors.

  • Be a permanent purchase. Each offset should have a unique serial number and extend through the useful life of the project. For example, you wouldn’t want to invest in a tree planting project that is then sold to a timber company.

  • Add something to CO2 reduction efforts. If it’s already a requirement to implement the project, your carbon offset purchase is not providing an incentive.

Our Top Four Provider Picks

 The first thing you’ll want to do is determine how many carbon offsets you want to buy. Many airlines and offset purchasing sites will have carbon calculators on their websites. However, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has a pretty simple calculator that is transparent about the methodologies and assumptions used in their calculations. You can find their calculator here: https://www.icao.int/environmental-protection/CarbonOffset/Pages/default.aspx

After you have an idea of quantity, then you’ll need to find a company that you can trust. We recommend the following carbon offset providers:

Cool Effect:

https://www.cooleffect.org

Purchase Unit: 1 metric ton

Price: varies according to project selection

Project verifications: Gold Standard, Verified Carbon Standard, Climate Action Reserve, the American Carbon Registry, and the Clean Development Mechanism.

Why We Like It:

  • Informative descriptions about the projects and the selection process

  • Invest over 90% of their funds back into the projects

  • Choose which project you want to fund

CarbonFund:

https://carbonfund.org/carbon-offsets/

 Purchase Unit: Lump Cost based on offset (travel, lifestyle, etc.)

Price: $20 - $380 for air travel offset packages

Project verifications: American Carbon Registry, Climate Action Reserve, Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standard, Gold Standard, ISO-14064, Social Carbon, Verified Carbon Standard, UNFCCC Carbon Credits (CDM, JI, AAU, etc.)

Why We Like It:

  • Supports global projects that invest in projects with socio-economic benefits

  • Doesn’t require a carbon footprint calculation if you know your mileage

  • List all projects on the website

 

Terrapass: 

https://www.terrapass.com/product/productindividuals-families

Purchase Unit: 1,000 lbs

Price: $4.99

Project verifications: Gold Standard, Verified Carbon Standard, Climate Action Reserve, American Carbon Registry

Why We Like It:

  • Easy checkout, only one purchase option with all projects bundled

  • List all of their projects on the website

  • Only invest in projects that provide immediate CO2 reductions (no tree plantings)

 

Bonneville Environmental Foundation:

http://store.b-e-f.org/products/carbon-offsets-blend/

 Purchase Unit: 1 metric ton

Price: $10

Project verifications: Climate Action Reserve, Verified Carbon Standard, Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standard

Why We Like It:

  • Easy checkout, only one purchase option with all projects bundled

  • Non-profit that also invests in water restoration and K-12 renewable energy STEM education

  • List all projects on the website

 

Green-e, a reputable third-party certifier that we found to be super consumer-friendly, has a list of other reputable carbon offset suppliers here if you are interested in more information and sources: https://www.green-e.org/certified-resources/carbon-offsets

This is one of ten important actions you can take to reduce your transportation footprint that is featured on our Home Energy Challenge program page . Join solo or create a team!

—Andrea