The environmental costs of global lifestyles have consequences worldwide: in order for planetary warming to be kept below 2 degrees Celsius, per capita emissions need to be 2.1 tCO2e by 2050. If one person eats meat and takes one roundtrip transatlantic flight per year, they would still exceed the per capita emissions by 0.3 tCO2e. That is without assessing their other emissions! Travel has an incredible impact on the environment, so let’s dig deeper into the possibility of carbon offsetting our travel: How to, why to, and when to?
When to Consider Offsetting your Trip
Carbon offsetting is the purchasing of offsets to balance out your emissions, which is met with some cynicism; one journalist likens carbon offsetting to purchasing absolutions for their sins; a “…scheme that persuades us that we can keep on polluting”. I agree: we need to be careful about greenwashing Carbon Offsetting to a point where travel is guilt-free. Before booking a trip, what if we consider each of the “5 R’s” of waste reduction?
- Refuse: Compile your list of ‘easy no’s. The trips that just don’t do it for you.
- Reduce: Plan! What trip am I considering, and why do I want to go? Will going far away make the difference I’m looking for?
- Reuse: Search for a great, local experience that you can return to on weekends away and quick, focussed trips: enjoy the same place for a deeper, more meaningful experience each time.
- Recycle: Let go of travel concepts that don’t really work for you. Maybe it’s traveling in large groups, maybe it’s going for a short time to a faraway place. Put those in the recycling: maybe they’ll come back to you in another form, maybe not.
- Rot: You’ve saved more holiday time, the money, and the energy for a big trip. (And you’re pumped about it!). Time to carbon offset.
Though you already have a way to manage a financial budget, being more intentional about travel can help assess your carbon budget. By cycling through the first 4 principles of Waste Reduction before resorting to carbon offsetting, then you’ve likely reduced your air travel significantly and discovered more time and money in the process. Moreso, avoiding flying is a high impact action in favour of the environment, along with a planet-friendly diet, going car-free and having a smaller family. One Swedish study found that by avoiding one transatlantic flight, you can have eight times more of an impact than recycling. It doesn’t mean stop recycling: do both and maximize your impact!
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sounded the alarm: we need to cut global emissions by 45 percent within the next 12 years to reach the recommended climate change target. The conclusion of the report confirms that every fraction of a degree of warming matters. Reducing both coal and oil consumption and the dependence on fossil fuels will save people, food security, and livelihoods. The IPCC report is further contextualized by the Carbon Majors Report, which listed the top carbon polluters worldwide. 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, and those 100 contributors are Carbon companies: coal and oil.
As consumers, we need to focus in on areas in our lives where we are relying on fossil fuels, and eradicate them. In the travel industry, policymakers are finally taking action: the UN is in the process of negotiating a Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, agreed on in 2018 in Montreal, and to be implemented in 2021. A policy like this will have a great impact, however, it does not mean that we are free from responsibility with travel! We need action in symphony with policy decisions; in the urgent state of the climate, giving careful thought to our travel choices and doubling up on carbon offsetting is not that outlandish an idea.
Carbon offsetting is the purchasing of offsets to balance out your emissions. Although it is problematic to associate a dollar amount with environmental destruction, it’s also easy to say you’re committed to a new action and then not follow through. By monetizing a carbon calculation, you are allocating a portion of your budget to holding yourself accountable.
1) Offsetting Travel: Use a carbon calculator specifically for flights, and offset your footprint. Once you know how much you need to offset, either purchase the offsets immediately or track the offsets and make a larger investment in a project annually.
Not all carbon offsets are created equal, so do some research and get excited about your investment! Here are a few of our favourite options for offsetting, that can maximize the impact of your investment:
Gold Standard: Links all projects to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and uses SustainCERT for its’ 3rd party certification, from the inception of a project to the final reporting stage. Search by project type (i.e. renewable energy, waste management, agriculture), by region or by Sustainable Development Goal.
Less: Owned by Bullfrog Power, which many environmentally conscious companies in Canada use to power their businesses. Less was created specifically to help Canadians take action on air travel-related emissions, with renewable energy projects. It is also the offset partner for Air Canada.
Offsetters: Choose from Canadian and International projects, and access comprehensive educational information about carbon offsetting. Offsetters.ca seeks projects that not only improve ecosystems but also have high social and economic benefits for the communities in the area. One example is installing ground source heat pumps that serve community organizations and reduce their operating costs, therefore freeing up funds for other social programs.
2) Invite a friend! Traveling with a group? Why not offer to calculate the group’s footprint and all pitch in to contribute to a project together? Make it easy for them, just as you would split costs for accommodation or a restaurant tab.
3) Work towards carbon neutrality: After understanding your emissions with a carbon footprint calculator, you can also consider making adjustments in your home. In the corporate world, many companies that rely on natural resources have started carbon insetting, where they build an offset into the supply chain of a company so that the supply chain is more resilient, for example by enhancing land management practices with local farmers.
- In your household, can you re-allocate the funds indicated by a carbon calculator to invest in your home’s resiliency, and/or efficiency? Examples could be an insulation upgrade, installing solar panels, creating a system that catches and reuses rainwater for your garden or finally building a compost.
Have a look at the bigger picture by using a footprint calculator. By entering your energy use, food habits, housing, commute, and more, a footprint calculator will provide analysis on your consumption, and how it measures up to the resources available.