How to navigate carbon offsets for sustainable travel

This post is adapted from a community reflection shared by Rose Hartley, Sustainability Manager at Imperfect Foods, in the Women in CSR group. If you want to participate in sustainability discussions, join our membership community here and get special early-access pricing! Rose is one of our community members and you can continue this conversation by joining.

Estimated reading time: 1 minute

Hi friends, and Happy Earth Month!

As more folks get vaccinated and begin to travel, I thought it would be helpful to start a thread on Carbon Offsetting individual travel. While offsetting isn't a perfect solution (anyone else excited about alternative jet fuel!?), it is an accessible way to mitigate all the emissions from flights - and more and more offset options are available everyday. I am sharing my process below (full disclosure, I have done this only once before, so not an expert), and I would love to hear yours, too!

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  1. Calculate emissions from my flight. I use this calculator or this calculator to identify my emissions. E.g. for my roundtrip flight (SFO > PDX > SFO), I am responsible for ~.2 tons CO2e. You can opt to include other modes of transport during your trip in calculators like this one - my emissions close to doubled when I calculated this!

  2. Find the right offset. To offset my ~.2 tons CO2e, I want to find a meaningful offset. Typically, I am looking for the following characteristics in an offset program. The project areas can be anything from refrigerant destruction, to preventing deforestation, reforestation, soil carbon, direct air capture, clean cement, and more. There is also a lot of conversation about the value of a CO2 "source" reduction, v. a CO2 "sink" (tl;dr, both are probably necessary). Often, high quality offset projects around $20USD/ton at minimum, and meet most or all of the items listed below:

    a) Additionality -- would this project have happened anyways / is it already happening? Or does my investment in it enable its existence? Does the project move emissions somewhere else (this is called leakage)?

    b) Verification
    -- how can we make sure this project is not overestimating its impact?

    c) Permanence -- Are emissions permanently reduced? For how how long will emissions be reduced by this offset?

    d) Co-benefits -- what other benefits might this project bring to the Earth of the people involved with the project?

  3. Purchase the offset! I ended up purchasing my offsets through Nori, whose projects are focused on incentivizing and verifying farming practices which sequester carbon. I ended up offsetting one tonne of carbon (rounded up a bit), for $17.25. The downside with project like soil carbon, is that the exact amount of CO2e sequestered is unknown, but the potential impact for CO2e sequestration and soil health is high (co-benefits!). It's more of a sink focus than a source focus. For my next trips' offset, I am looking to invest in refrigerant destruction with Tradewater.

What are your thoughts on offsets? Have you used offsets for personal or work travel (or at your work)?

Continue the discussion by joining Rose Hartley as a Soapbox early-access member. You can easily find our thread on this subject by searching "carbon offsets" in our membership space.

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 4,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
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Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google