The business of flying is inherently not “eco-friendly."
Besides emitting particulates and gases, air carriers are notorious for producing high amounts of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and are considered one of the greatest culprits of climate change and global dimming. Top it off water vapors, contrails, hydrocarbons and a long list of oxides and black carbon, and you have a toxic cocktail of chemicals zooming through the sky.
In summary, flying receives a low score as a way to travel sustainably.
It is not just the airplane itself causing the environmental stressors -- the in-flight experience can also contribute a great deal of waste. Most travelers are not aware that factors, including what class they choose to fly, can play into your carbon footprint. Premium classes like Business and First are three and nine times (respectively) higher than Economy class flights in terms of their carbon footprint due to the amount of space they take up. The more people that are on a flight, the smaller the collective impact it is -- albeit the more uncomfortable a flight experience it may be!
Increased carbon emissions can also lead to more in-flight turbulence, which ultimately can cause more injury and fatalities.
If you are someone who travels frequently and who also cares about how to curb your carbon footprint, there are ways you can help manage the impact. While it starts at home with driving less, taking public transportation and a slew of other ways, carbon offset programs are the most direct way to tackle flight emissions.
What are Carbon Offsets?
According to Terra Pass, carbon offsetting is defined as “certificate representing the reduction of one metric ton (2,205 lbs) of carbon dioxide emissions, the principal cause of climate change.” Essentially, by putting your dollar towards free or renewable energy programs like solar energy, deforestation management, and wind turbines, you are making up for your personal carbon footprint while flying. Carbon offset projects help to reduce the greenhouse gasses by either capturing and destroying the gasses (methane capture), storing them (sequestering) or producing renewable energy sources (renewing).
Where Can I Purchase Carbon Offsets?
There are many programs on the market to choose from in terms of purchasing. It’s often hard to know which ones are doing the most good and low-quality offsets can end up making the problem worse.
In the case of farm-powered offsets, it is essential to confirm that the land is owned by an actual farmer and not a conglomerate. Unfortunately, there are fake companies collecting money for programs that do not exist.
There is also quite a bit of controversy around whether or not a few dollars can really undo the damage of flying. The short answer is yes.
While the long-term answer is to find alternatives to flying, if all passengers bought carbon offsets, the collective effect will help. How do you know if a program is trustworthy? To start, look to see if they are Voluntary Gold Standard or Voluntary Carbon Standard certified. Both are excellent markers of having gone through a high-standard certification process. Climate Action Reserve (CAR is another certification to look for.
1) Terra Pass: Perhaps one of the more notable programs, Terra Pass makes it easy for the user to know exactly where their money is going. They let you know when a program is sold out and you can even contact an advisor to go over ways to maximize your impact. The website includes a footprint calculator and offers solutions for businesses who do a lot of air travel.
2) Atmosfair: This German company sets the standard for transparency. They promise to deliver meaningful offset programs, by not offsetting, “CO2 from electricity created using fossil fuels because with green electricity, there is a CO2-free alternative that can already be purchased”. For travelers who like to take cruises, you can also purchase carbon credits through Atmosfair, which other companies don’t offer.
3) SCS Global Services: This site is a catalog of verified carbon offset programs throughout the world. They specialize in promoting forest management programs and works as a third-party environmental and sustainability certification organization. You can also view a list of sustainable seafood fisheries and a green products guide. They are your one-stop shop for not just carbon offsets, but a registry of sustainably run businesses.
Until Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is complete or Solar Impulse has a star class fleet, your biggest ally will be carbon offset programs. Choose your carbon credits with care, use local transportation in your travel destination as much as possible and practice slow travel where you can and you can rest assured knowing you are doing your part.