Carbon Offsetting When You Travel.


I know, I know. I’m a little late to the party in terms of sustainable travel industry standards. However, I’m still on time compared to most of the traveling population. And so, I’d like to take this blog post to inform fellow travelers about the importance of carbon offsetting.

But first, the question I get asked a lot lately: What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is the process of calculating your carbon footprint for a given flight, for example, and donating the financial equivalent of that footprint (measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide) to a selected project via a certified company. The project should be focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and may entail planting trees, financing clean energy projects, or educating students about the environment.

Because travel is still very much linked to flying, we’ll continue with the flying example and calculate the approximate costs of carbon offsetting a return flight from Munich to Los Angeles vs. a flight from Munich to London. For the purpose of this calculation, I’m going to assume you’re flying Economy Class. Business Class flyers can expect to pay double the compensation price.

MUC - LAX: 4.723 kg CO₂ emission = 109 EUR compensation

MUC - LHR: 411 kg CO₂ emission = 10 EUR compensation

You can offset your flights and other travels via these three companies for example:

Stand For Trees - When we think of CO2, we think of trees and their ability to act as air purifiers for planet earth. This organization is all about protecting those trees, and their forests, so they can keep providing us with fresh air to breathe.

MyClimate - These guys go beyond offsetting regular modes of transport, they allow you to calculate your carbon footprint based on your lifestyle, give you the option to carbon offset your household, and even specific events that you attend or host.

Atmosfair - This German company invests the money you donate into technology-related projects dealing with wind energy, energy efficiency, hydro power, solar energy, biogas and biomass, as well as environmental education.

Atmosfair does not invest into reforestation projects. Their reasoning: “Reforestation does not guarantee long-term CO2 savings. Trees can be felled or burn down unplanned. Through this, the carbon stored in the trees escapes again as carbon dioxide emissions in the air, allowing the emissions that were originally tied to the contributor to be set free again.”

According to Akshat Rathi, a newly planted tree can take as long as 20 years to capture the amount of CO2 that a carbon-offset scheme promises. Instantaneous carbon offsets can only truly be guaranteed by directly capturing air, removing the CO2, and burying it underground.

And whilst the technology for this type of direct carbon offsetting exists, it is incredibly expensive, and therefore unrealistic. According to Rathi, direct air capture technology is projected to cost as much as 225 EUR per metric ton vs. 5 EUR per metric ton of carbon dioxide captured by planting trees and letting them grow. Not that money should matter when saving our planet, but sadly, it does.

There is this ongoing debate as to whether technology will save us from climate change. And many believe that in theory it could. But the practice looks a little different, and it is very much up to us individuals to come together as a society and change our attitudes and behavioral habits.

I’m the last person that’s going to tell you to stop flying. Those of you that know me, know that I fly way too much myself. But I will tell you to think twice as to whether you really need to fly from Munich to Berlin when you can hop on the train (yes, I know that often it’s more expensive and that can be extremely frustrating!).

I will also tell you to start carbon offsetting your travels. And avoid flying with layovers when there are direct flights available. Again, I know they are more expensive, but it’s take-off and landing that cause 25% of airplane emissions when flying. And of course, the more you fly, the more greenhouse gas emissions you are responsible for. So why not skip the hassle of catching a connecting flight and pollute the world just a little less?

We as humans are not going to stop traveling and exploring, we are definitely not going to stop flying, but as the travel industry continues to grow, and flights remain affordable to a bigger part of the world population, we need to travel more consciously.

Carbon offsetting does not make flying okay, it should simply be used as a last resort to compensate those trips we really do need to take, and excessive lifestyle choices we want to make.

We’ll never be able to fully make up for the CO2 emissions we are responsible for, but we need to start somewhere. And carbon offsetting seems like a good place to start.