Some people may not realize the how and why to buy carbon offsets for travel – but it’s actually a pretty simple process! Find out how to make your travels carbon neutral in this post.
Recently I took a loooooong (emphasis on long) road trip from Indianapolis to Maine. The round trip was almost 2000 miles!
It was great to see my family, but I was definitely concerned about how wasteful the trip had been from an environmental standpoint. After mulling it over (did I mention I had a lot of time to think on this long drive?!) I decided to look into purchasing a carbon offset to compensate for the 17+ hours worth of fossil fuel emissions I’d put into the world!
Thankfully, the process wasn’t as difficult as it had initially appeared.
So what are carbon offsets?
You’ve all heard of carbon footprints, right? Basically, the idea that all the stuff we use/consume that’s made with fossil fuels has a certain carbon emission associated with it. The total of all those things is your carbon footprint which we measure over time.
To cancel out the negative effects of carbon emission, individuals and businesses can purchase carbon offsets. An organization calculates the cost of your carbon emission and you pay the monetary equivalent. It’s not a perfect solution, but it does help balance out your impact.
After you pay, that money is put toward an existing project that’s reducing greenhouse emissions such as saving forests from destruction, funding alternative energy sources, enhancing clean water initiatives, and more. The sites I recommend below will have lots of detailed information about the projects being funded.
How do I buy good carbon offsets?
Before you buy, there are a couple things to consider. I really liked this article which did a great job laying out the important bits when choosing where to buy from. The essential idea is you need to ensure you’re buying a legit carbon offset, and not just a project that sounds good:
To illustrate the difference between a quality carbon offset and a scam, consider a hypothetical example: The offset seller will give your money to a landowner in the Amazon who promises to leave his trees standing to maximize carbon sequestration.
The offset seller should make several guarantees in this transaction. First, that the offsets are real—that there’s an actual landowner who owns actual land with actual trees… the offset should be verified and enforceable—a third party should have laid eyes on the trees, and there must be a mechanism for penalizing the landowner if he doesn’t follow through. The offset should also be permanent.
Finally, the offset must be additional. This is the trickiest issue with carbon offsets. What if the Amazonian landowner never had any intention of clear-cutting his land in the first place? … Your transaction would have no effect on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
After reading that article, I immediately felt anxious. How would I know the right option to choose without doing hours and hours of intensive research?
Luckily, it’s pretty easy thanks to the Climate Action Reserve, an organization that’s already done the tricky research for you. Their website has a list of options for individuals and organizations alike. You can see the full list on their website.
How do I calculate my output?
It’s pretty easy! Most of the companies mentioned below offer a carbon calculator that allows you to calculate your carbon emissions for a single trip or a whole year.
The Terrapass website has a way to calculate for businesses, individuals or events.
Native Energy has a calculator for travel, household, and events.
Using the Native Energy travel calculator for a single trip, it estimated I had created 20.59 tons of CO2 while driving from Indianapolis to Maine and back again. After doing some searching to find a project to back, I found what I’d have to pay. The total cost of my carbon offset? Just $9. Sold!
In fact, carbon offsets on an individual level are very reasonable, so it’s easy to tack on a few extra dollars to create a carbon positive trip.
I only wish that Native Energy could be a bit more specific about where my money was going (it would be interesting to know what project exactly it would be going toward), but other than that the process was quick, easy, and completely satisfying.
Where should I buy my carbon offsets?
While many carbon offset programs can seem inaccessible as they’re geared toward businesses, there are several carbon offsetting programs that make it easy for individuals:
- Native Energy: recommended by the Climate Action Reserve, Native Energy has many projects it’s currently funding which you can see on the website. One carbon offset costs $14.
- Terrapass: they have a cool map showing the projects your money goes toward and offer a range of carbon offset options, including one-time purchases, subscriptions, and gifts. One month of carbon offsets is $14.97.
- Cool Effect: with Cool Effect, I like that you can look through their projects and fund the one you like specifically. The cost per ton varies depending on the project, but it generally ranges from $5-10.
In the future, I’m planning to calculate my yearly carbon footprint and pay towards that. First, though, I’m going to try to reduce my footprint as much as possible! Here’s a whole list of ways to get started on reducing your carbon footprint.
Have you ever purchased a carbon offset for your carbon footprint or for travel? Which company did you end up using?