Offsetting My Carbon Emissions Due to Travel

In response to my recent calculation of my annual carbon footprint, I’ve been hunting for ways to offset my carbon emissions resulting from travel. The journey was initially confuddling and full of circles and dead ends, primarily because – unfortunately but completely to be expected – it’s hard to know whom to trust.

An article entitled “The complete guide to carbon offsetting” in The Guardian was my first grounding in some context for how all the different “schemes” fit into a broader context. I also gained some traction when I found many articles, including from the New York Times, that all mention certifying programs that will accredit offset programs as trustworthy and transparent.

I finally converged on the Quality Assurance Standard, developed by the UK Government in 2009 in order to solve the exact problem of figuring out whom to trust on offsets. The QAS certifies that companies and operations meet a 40-point standard, including being compliant with the Kyoto Protocol’s definition of what is a good offset.

Based on the QAS standard, I arrived at two possible avenues of responsible carbon offset: Clear, and Carbon Footprint. While it seems that cheaper offsets per ton of CO2 are available (outside the QAS certification), they may be questionable in their veracity and impact. Clear facilitates a more modular approach, allowing you to pick and choose different activities, such as a particular flight between cities or a commute, and offset its equivalent. Carbon Footprint seems easier to use if you already know the amount of carbon emissions in tons you want to offset, or want to use their tool to calculate it. Both seem mostly geared towards businesses, but allow individuals to offset their own emissions independently.

Since I already knew my total carbon footprint for the year and did not feel like manually reentering all the various inputs on Clear’s site, I went with Carbon Footprint, inputting the total amount for my 2019 air travel: 15 tons of CO2. I was offered various geographical project portfolios to offset the amount, ranging in cost from $122.55 for a “Global Portfolio” to $263.48 for a project based entirely in the UK (which would be domestic/local for this company, so that’s probably why it’s offered).

I chose the one called “Community Projects” for $163.40, based mostly on its additional humanitarian benefits: “Your funding supports a carefully selected range of projects from within developing countries that have strong additional benefits beyond reducing carbon emissions. These include health benefits, saving low-income families money and reducing deforestation. All projects in this portfolio are certified to the Gold Standard and include efficient household cook stoves and clean drinking water projects.” I then added $19.22 to the Global Portfolio for my two round trips to Sacramento in 2020 so far to visit family.

So… based on my estimated annual footprint, neutralizing my air travel brings me down to 37.5% below the US individual average carbon footprint, but alas still hanging out at 2.5x the global individual average. But that’s progress! Onward…