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 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 of your travels, for example via 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. Examples that cover destinations worlwide are and
which also allow you to calculate carbon emissions for other activities. Entering the same flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok shows that this equals 2.59 and 3 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 several cirtified companies but learned that in general verification tends to be stricter in Europe based institutes. A reliable European based offsetting company is 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 that are planted on your behalf are for example Trees For All and Forests Without Frontiers, but you need to do some calculations yourself for that (1 tree takes up 7kg of CO2 per year). If you are looking for an easy way to offset without doing any calculations yourself, 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.

Is offsetting really the solution?
Let’s be clear about this straight away: no, it is not. First and foremost, we need to look at our own travel behaviour and change to more climate friendly alternatives. This could mean choosing a different type of transportation (e.g. train, bus, car), or if ground travel is not possible, perhaps a
different destination. 
With many of the compensation projects, technically we are moving compensation to other countries and communities rather than changing our own behaviour.  This is what feels strange to me. Why should people in countries in the Global South change their behaviour (for example using different stoves) so we can keep on flying? 

Finally, compensating your carbon footprint is not enough to reverse climate change, because 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. Compensating seems to be only a short-term solution for something that has long-term impacts. But then again, doing something is better than nothing.  I understand that it is not likely that we will all stop flying completely soon, and some people have good reasons to take a flight occassionally. What we can do, however, is to try and fly less in the first place. And when we do fly, choose for a certified offsetting program that actually does compensate your
carbon footprint in an honest and transparent way.

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3 Replies to “Offsetting your carbon footprint, what’s the deal?”

  1. I think it’s great to raise awareness of the affects we are having on the environment by travel. I love the idea of directly buying trees. Thanks for all the info!

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