Offsetting carbon footprint

Offsetting your carbon footprint, what’s the deal?

Many conscious travellers are currently turning towards offsetting their carbon footprint while travelling by airplane. But can you truly compensate for your flight or is it just a way to offset your guilt? The answer is not as easy as it may seem. There are many different ways to offset your carbon footprint and some are definitely better than others. Find out more below.

Offsetting schemes of airline companies
It turns out that the offsetting schemes of airline companies are actually far from the best option. Even though it is easy to book, this hardly compensates for the true impact of your flight. It has been revealed that those prices for ‘offsetting’ are based on the consumer’s willingness to pay for it and have nothing to do with actual compensation. This also explains why offsetting via the airline company can be as cheap as 11 euros for a flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok. We think we did a good job, the airline makes some extra money (we do not really know what happens with the money) and nothing changes really. 

Calculate the impact yourself
So how can we then offset the impact of our flight? The Social Reporter explains that the best way to offset your carbon footprint is to calculate the impact per trip yourself and then donate to a project that compensates an equivalent of that. There are several good places to calculate the impact, for example via Ecopassenger.org for European destinations. By inserting the place you are travelling from and to, Eco Passenger calculates the carbon footprints for travelling by train, car, and airplane. Another good option is Klimaatwijs op Reis, from Milieucentraal.nl, a Dutch website that calculates the whole impact of your trip, including accommodation and activities. It takes a bit longer to answer all the questions but in addition to showing the carbon footprint, it also gives you advise on how to make the trip more sustainable. An example of a very basic calculator that covers all destinations worldwide is Carbonfootprint.com. Entering the same flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok shows that this equals 2.54 tons of CO2*.

*Calculations on the amount of CO2 differ amongst websites as it largely depends on the type of aircraft, airline company, fuel efficiency, etc.

Good compensation projects
The only question that remains now, is where and how to compensate for your flights. Online you can find many different projects that claim to offset your footprint, but again, some options are better than others. As a rule of thumb, you can look at the type of certification the projects have. There are a few of those and I learned that in general verification tends to be higher in Europe based institutes, hence I can recommend Plan Vivo. This organisation invests in projects in Africa, Asia, and South America to reduce carbon emissions. Other projects where you can directly buy trees (1 tree takes up 7kg of CO2 per year) that are planted on your behalf are for example Trees For All and Forests Without Frontiers. If you are looking for an easy way to offset without any calculations, Atmosfair is a reliable place to go to. Entering the flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok now shows that it costs 143 euros to compensate. According to Forest without Frontiers, we would need to plant 36 trees to compensate for this trip, which equals around 84 euros. Compared to the eleven euros of the airline company, this is then turning out to be the true and fair price of compensating for your flight.

Can we really fly sustainably?
What I find a bit strange about these projects is that we are compensating elsewhere, so we reduce carbon footprints in countries where people are not nearly producing as much output as we are, in order for us to be able to keep on flying. Because we are not able to give up certain things (we could for example also compensate but not eating meat for two years, or not using a car for one and a half years), we are moving the compensation to other countries. The second argument against offsetting is that it is always in the future and the actual impact of the flight is not negated. Trees need time to grow, projects need to be developed and implemented and so it takes a while before your flight is compensated for. Moreover, we cannot ever plant as many trees as would be needed to compensate for all flights. 

In the end, compensating your footprint is not enough, all of these things need to be done. We need to plant those trees, we should develop those projects ánd we need to fly less. That is if we want to combat climate change. Flying neutral is not good enough anymore if we want to turn things around. However, to end on a positive note, doing something is better than nothing. I understand that it is not likely that we will all stop flying completely soon. And neither will I. What we can do, however, is to try and fly less. And when we do fly, choose for a certified offsetting program that actually does compensate your carbon footprint. In the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for advanced technology solutions that will enable us to travel sustainable no matter the distance or our choice of transportation.

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