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Make Your Travel Carbon Neutral by Contributing to a Carbon Offset Project
Traveling is rewarding to the traveler but can be hard on the environment. In fact, air travel can be a massive contributor to individuals’ carbon emissions. For people who travel frequently and prioritize the protection of the environment, carbon offset purchases offer a way to accomplish both at once. In this article, you'll learn important information about carbon offsetting, including what carbon offsetting is, how carbon offsetting can help you engage in sustainable travel, and what the most common types of projects are.
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Carbon Offset Examples (and How You Can Contribute)
Let's suppose you want to fly from Chicago O'Hare Airport to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, but you're concerned about carbon emissions. You've heard that flying emits a lot of carbon. You're wondering if that's true, so you quickly type into your search engine "carbon emissions for a flight from Chicago to Paris."
You encounter a carbon calculator that estimates a single flight from Chicago to Paris will emit six-months-worth of an individual's carbon emissions. That's a lot! You almost instantly become curious about carbon offsets, including carbon offset examples and the gold standard carbon offsets that could help make your trip less environmentally damaging.
Let’s briefly walk through carbon offsets so you know what you’re getting into.
Carbon Offset Meaning
What Is My Carbon Footprint?
If you’re curious about carbon offsets, you’ve likely come across the phrase “carbon footprint.” Your carbon footprint is the total quantity of greenhouse gases emitted due to your own actions.
According to the Nature Conservancy, individuals in the U.S. emit an average of 16 tons of carbon annually, while the average carbon footprint for individuals globally is about four tons. The organization states that the average global carbon footprint needs to drop to under two tons per person by 2050 in order to avoid a catastrophic rise in global temperatures.
Tourism is responsible for about 8% of the world's carbon emissions and flying often makes up the bulk of this footprint. People who want to reduce their carbon footprint and fly can do so through carbon offsets.
What's a Carbon Offset?
You may have searched the term “carbon offset meaning.” The goal of carbon offsets is to reduce or remove carbon emissions in one place to counteract an individual's carbon emissions in another place. Typically, this works when an individual spends money to support a verified project that benefits the environment.
A simple carbon offset example might be a project that involves planting a certain number of trees in an area being reforested. By helping to support this project, the individual can offset their own carbon emissions and reach carbon neutrality.
The carbon offset market has a long history according to Impactful Ninja. In fact, carbon offsetting was born in 1989 when a coal-fired power plant was offset by the financing of an agroforest in Guatemala. The carbon offset market was further developed in the 1990's with the Kyoto Protocol in which industrialized countries committed to reducing and limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through various carbon offset projects. (The Kyoto Protocol currently has 192 committed parties!)
Carbon Offsets Vs Carbon Credits
As you are researching carbon offsetting, you may encounter the term "carbon credits." Is this the same as a carbon offset? If not, how is it different?
- A carbon offset is a reduction or elimination of carbon emissions in one place to balance the creation of carbon emissions in another place.
- Carbon credits are a system of limiting how many carbon emissions a business can release. When a business exceeds its carbon credit limit, it must buy more. When a business goes under its limit, it can sell its credits.
Carbon offsets and carbon credits are not the same, but these terms are often used interchangeably. Thus, you will sometimes hear people using phrases like carbon offset credits.
When people say phrases like this, they are typically referring to supporting carbon offset projects on the carbon offset market. Carbon offset examples might include a project to plant trees and preserve ecosystem diversity and the habitats of endangered species, the installation of a low-impact hydroelectric plant to ensure renewable energy generation, or a project that grows and sinks kelp forests to store carbon and improve ocean health. If you spend money to support these efforts, you are participating in carbon offsetting, not carbon credits.
Use a Carbon Offset Calculator
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator states that its calculator will "convert emissions or energy data into concrete terms you can understand — such as the annual CO2 emissions of cars, households, and power plants." This is a standard carbon offset calculator that can be used to help you understand your carbon footprint while traveling. My Climate makes a version of this kind of calculator that's also very useful, as do many other organizations that sell carbon offsets.
Keep in mind that a carbon offset calculator can only tell you equivalencies to your carbon footprint. To determine what your carbon footprint is, you'll need the best carbon footprint calculator possible. The EPA makes a version of this kind of calculator, as does carbonfootprint.com.
Searching phrases like “carbon offset calculator flight data”? Check out this flight carbon offset calculator from TerraPass. Searching phrases like “carbon offset calculator trees data”? Try this carbon offset tree planting calculator from 8 Billion Trees.
How Is a Carbon Offset Price Determined?
Carbon offset prices vary. Generally speaking, the cost to offset a metric ton of carbon can range from less than $1 to more than $50, according to Second Nature. When looking for a program, the carbon offset credits price is not the only factor to consider. There are many types of programs and they work in different ways. Some programs affect individuals by replacing outdated equipment that produces carbon emissions, while other programs contribute to large-scale projects that have long-term effects.
For example, one project may involve replacing polluting cookstoves for individuals, while another project may involve reforesting a large area. Both types of projects are valid. However, it's important to ensure that the program you're contributing to is reputable. There are many companies that help individuals purchase their carbon offsets from reputable organizations as we will discuss below. Carbon price is only one factor to consider when seeking out a company.
4 Types of Carbon Offsets
If you're traveling, there are multiple types of carbon offset programs for you to choose from—but in general, carbon offsets fall into four different categories. If you're hoping to ensure that your money will do the most good, which types of carbon offsets you choose may be less important than ensuring you are buying offsets from reputable sources. The carbon offset market is full of companies and organizations selling credits from carbon offset projects.
Buying from the best carbon offset programs possible will help ensure that you actually are offsetting your carbon emissions and hopefully traveling as close to carbon neutral as possible. Below, we've listed four main types of carbon offset programs for you to consider:
- Renewable energy
- Forestry and conservation
- Community-level projects
- Waste to energy
Renewable energy offsets contribute to projects relating to hydro, solar, and wind projects. These projects invest in the grid that makes this type of energy possible and also contribute to job growth in these sectors. There are many organizations with renewable energy carbon offset projects, including Native Energy.
Native Energy is an established organization that has been around since 2000, and in that time has worked with hundreds of organizations to fund sustainable projects. It gives individuals the power to choose how their offsets are used or suggest a standard portfolio for someone who simply wants to ensure their money goes to a good cause. The platform offers resources for businesses as well.
Forestry and Conservation
Reforestation and conservation projects offset carbon emissions by planting new trees that store carbon and prevent carbon in old trees from being released into the environment. In years past, it's been a challenge to measure how much carbon is saved through forestry and conservation projects. However, as humans have perfected this type of conservation and the art of calculating benefits, this type of offsetting has become more reliable.
There are many companies that deal with reforestation and conservation, but one well-known organization that sells these types of offsets is Sustainable Travel International. This organization focuses on offsetting the effects of tourism specifically. It also partners with governments to create new ways of traveling sustainably. If you're hoping to buy carbon offsets for flights, this organization is designed for you.
Community projects work to empower communities to lift individuals out of poverty and improve their quality of life while also helping societies live more sustainably. Many of these projects focus on reducing carbon emissions by giving families a sustainable alternative to cooking over a wood-burning fire.
One example of this is the Darfur Sudan Cookstove Project, which is replacing traditional cooking methods (over an open fire) with low-smoke stoves. This is an award-winning organization that offers a creative way of improving life for humans while also helping the environment.
Waste to Energy
Waste-to-energy projects use methods of capturing methane to convert it into electricity. Sometimes methane is captured from landfills and other times it's captured from human or agricultural waste. Waste-to-energy projects have many of the same benefits of community-level projects because they often involve going into communities and improving quality of life in some way. TerraPass is an organization that sells offsets to individuals and contributes some to methane capture projects.
How to Choose
Choosing the best carbon offset programs for individuals can be challenging because there are several programs out there that deal specifically with businesses instead of individuals. In addition, there's very little regulation and no universal standards placed on these organizations. Finding a quality organization that reliably offsets carbon emissions can be a challenge.
The best organizations will be verified by third-party auditors and often are award-winning. Some groups do set standards, such as The Gold Standard and Green-e. Organizations that have certifications from these organizations will list these certifications on their website, as they are evidence of quality.
How to Buy Carbon Offsets
There's more than one way to buy carbon offsets, but in general, the process goes like this:
- Determine what you're trying to offset (example: a trip to Paris).
- Use a carbon footprint calculator to determine your carbon footprint, and therefore, how much needs to be offset.
- Identify the best place to buy carbon offsets. This will either be a reputable organization that sells carbon offsets OR a travel organization that also sells carbon offsets.
- Purchase your offsets. Some organizations offer subscriptions for people who would like to offset more than just their upcoming trip. If it's important to you to reduce the carbon footprint of your everyday life, then you can purchase a subscription to an organization.
If being carbon neutral while traveling is important to you, you may develop some favorite organizations to donate to every time you go somewhere. Over time, you'll become more comfortable and experienced with this process, which will enable you to take more carbon-neutral trips in the future.
WorldTrips Is Making It Easy to Offset Your Carbon
Interested in purchasing a travel insurance plan for your next trip? We’ve partnered with Patch, a platform aimed at reducing and neutralizing carbon emissions, to make it easy for you to cancel out your carbon emissions from travel.
When you purchase an Atlas Journey travel insurance plan through WorldTrips, we will calculate the carbon emissions from your trip. During the checkout process, you will have the option to neutralize your carbon emissions by contributing to the Cerrado Biome REDD+ Forest Protection Project, vetted by Patch.
The Cerrado Biome REDD+ Forest Protection Project's mission is to protect Brazil's second largest biome an one of the most biodiverse savannah regions in the world. It aims to protect and preserve native forests and grasslands from commercial agriculture and cattle ranching, which have caused a nearly 50% loss in native vegetation since 1985.
To meet its goals, the project generates carbon credits that can be sold as an alternative source of income for landholders and provides funds to local communities for activities, such as:
- Environmental education
- Professional skill development
- Workers' safety improvements
- Protection for the region's biodiversity and endangered species
Together, WorldTrips believes we can make responsible choices that minimize our travel footprint and create a more sustainable Earth for future generations of travelers.
Be Sure to Explore These Related Resources:
- What You Need to Know About Carbon Offsetting Flights
- The Ins and Outs of Sustainable Traveling
- Ecotourism Costa Rica
- Everything You Need to Know About Ecotourism in Brazil
- The Pros and Cons of Ecotourism
- 27 Eco-Friendly Travel Blogs to Guide Your Green Adventures
- 12 Activities for Your Next Backpacking Trip
- The Best Backpacking Tips and Destinations
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