How to carbon offset your flight: questions & answers
With plane travel emissions amounting to about 234kg of CO2 per passenger for a 2.5 hr flight, it’s no wonder why people have been looking for sustainable travel alternatives more and more often in recent years. However, it’s not just a matter of pointing fingers at airlines for the environmental impact: both airlines and travelers should take responsibility for their greenhouse gas emissions.
While the most sustainable option would be cutting carbon dioxide emissions entirely, or not taking the plane at all, that’s often not a possibility. So how can business travelers make more sustainable choices and help fight climate change? A great option is to strive for carbon-neutral air travel thanks to carbon offsetting programs. Read on to find out what carbon offsetting means and how you can buy carbon offsets.
What are carbon offsets and how do they work?
“Carbon offsets” is the term used to describe the possibility that many organizations offer nowadays where customers can pay to offset their carbon footprint from flights. The way they work is this: when you make a contribution to a (usually) nonprofit organization, your donation is used to reduce that carbon production somewhere else. The goal behind this is that the overall amount of carbon produced in the end does not increase.
The first step in this process is calculating the amount of CO2 produced by the flight you take, so that you can then make a contribution for the amount needed by different organizations to prevent the generation of that CO2 somewhere else. Contributions commonly go to projects related to forest conservation, forestry, aiding local communities, or renewable energy projects.
How can I buy carbon offsets?
There are different ways to purchase credits to offset your carbon footprint when flying:
- Buy them from airlines themselves: if they offer them. This option is usually given by many airlines at the time of booking your ticket. Further in this guide we offer a list of some of the best carbon offset programs by airlines.
- GreenPerk: our recommended, hassle-free way to buy carbon offsets is GreenPerk, TravelPerk’s carbon offset program. Our tool makes carbon-neutral business travel easy, allowing you to compensate CO2 emissions not just from air travel but also train travel, hotels, and any other service you book on TravelPerk’s platform.
- Do it yourself: you can also choose to buy the carbon offsets directly from an organization that offers them. This is a good way for travelers and companies to be able to choose exactly which project their money goes to. If you choose to offset your emissions on your own you will need a good carbon calculator and a lot of time.
Let’s talk about which organizations offer carbon emission offsets. Because there are no standard regulations on this subject, it’s important to pay good attention and do your research to make sure you’re supporting a trustworthy program. Some of the most renowned certifier organizations are Gold Standard (set up by WWF), American Carbon Registry, and Climate Action Reserve.
There are many schemes that sell carbon offset credits, but these are some of the most popular ones: Aither, Terrapass (US), Atmosfair (Germany), MyClimate (Switzerland), and Climate Care (UK).
Most of these are nonprofits, but not all—it’s good to note that some organizations may make up to 20% profit on the amount paid by the customer.
How are carbon emissions per flight calculated?
People are often surprised when they find out that there’s no correct number to quantify the emissions generated by the flight they take. There are many calculators that can be used online to calculate carbon emissions generated by flying, from the most basic to the most complex ones. The total amount depends on many factors that can be taken into consideration, which include:
- amount of miles traveled
- type of aircraft
- class you’re flying in (business class and first class generate a lot more emissions than economy class)
- amount of passengers
The most complete calculators take all these factors into account to give you a number that is as close as possible to the real number. However, it’s almost impossible to calculate the exact amount as not all factors are taken into account. For an exact number, you would also need to consider taxi time, exact weight, and the exact amount of fuel consumption.
Why should travelers buy carbon offsets
If you can’t avoid taking a plane that will generate an average of 90 kg CO2 per hour, the second best thing you can do is compensate for the amount generated by contributing to carbon offset programs. Let’s be honest: not all business meetings can be a video call. If you need to take a flight to deal with matters in person, make sure you keep the environment in mind, too.
That’s not all—these are also some of the great reasons why all companies who have employees flying for business should consider buying carbon offsets:
- They contribute to the company’s overall carbon emission reduction, which will become more and more of a requirement set by many governments.
- They allow you to be carbon-neutral, which an increasing amount of customers are looking for in the companies they buy from.
- They may be tax-deductible (more information in the last section of this guide).
How much do carbon offsets cost?
This is a really good question, for which there’s no simple answer. The truth is that the price varies greatly depending on the organization chosen. The most common way to price carbon offsetting is by credits, where one credit equals offsetting one tonne of CO2.
On average, the rate per 1,000 miles varies between $0.34 and $8.45, depending on the carbon offsetting scheme selected, flight class, and other factors.
If you use GreenPerk, TravelPerk’s carbon offsetting program, the cost is around 0.5% of a trip’s total price to offset 100% of all carbon emissions generated. We charge a fixed price of €5 per CO₂ tonne.
Examples of airlines that carbon offset their flights
As customers have been increasingly demanding this option in recent years, most airlines today offer a carbon offset program. The possibility to compensate for flight emissions is usually given during the flight booking process, when the customer can see a calculation of the carbon emissions the flight will generate, and is offered an option to pay to compensate for them.
These are just some of the most popular programs and airlines:
- Qantas: Future Planet program. Passengers can get frequent flyer points when they purchase carbon offsets. Qantas claims to be one of the biggest carbon offsetters since 2007. On a round-trip flight between Los Angeles and Sydney, it costs around $25 to compensate for emissions. Qantas matches all passengers’ contributions, which is definitely a great initiative.
- Delta: the first US airline to offer this kind of program since 2007.
- United: with its Eco-Skies CarbonChoice program in partnership with Conservation International. Carbon offsets purchased are used to fund projects designed to help reduce greenhouse gases and provide social and economic benefits to communities around the world.
- Cathay Pacific: offers the Fly Greener Program. The airline charges around HKD 19.27 to compensate for carbon emissions generated on a round trip from New York to Hong Kong.
- KLM: its CO2ZERO program funds a project that promotes reforestation in Panama.
- China Airlines: also offers the option to contribute to carbon reduction. A round-trip flight between New York and Taipei can be offset for around $19.48.
- Lufthansa: partners with Myclimate to donate contributions to quality climate protection projects. A round trip between New York and Frankfurt can be compensated for $17.
How can we determine which programs are legitimate?
It’s hard for consumers to identify which programs are legitimate because there’s no clear regulation. It definitely takes time and money for a company to decide which organization they want to fund.
A good idea is to check with trustworthy environmental protection organizations, and which projects they partner with or recommend. Some examples are Gold or Carbon Standard, supported by WWF, or Carbon Standard, the world’s most widely used voluntary greenhouse gas program. In any case, when choosing a program it’s important to make sure it’s real, measurable, verified, permanent, and wouldn’t have taken place without the offset credit contribution.
When you choose to offset your emissions using GreenPerk, you can be sure we select the carbon offsetting projects that are fully certified to the highest standards by global bodies, including the United Nations.
Are carbon offsets tax-deductible?
Not always. Since there are no specific regulations on this subject yet, general rules apply. It also varies country by country, so make sure to check your own country’s rules.
In the US, carbon offsets can be tax deductible if you’re supporting a project that’s registered as a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization, and the amount is considered a donation.
We hope this guide was useful in helping you understand how you can compensate your CO2 emissions from air travel and how carbon offsetting works. If you’re ready to start reducing your total carbon emissions and take the next step towards becoming carbon-neutral, we can help you! Click here to learn more about GreenPerk, TravelPerk’s carbon-neutral business travel program that allows you to offset CO₂ emissions for anything you book, whether it’s flights, hotels, trains, or cars.