Outdoor and Adventure

What Is Carbon Offsetting?

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The age of affordable airfares, airlines offering more direct routes to new and exciting destinations, and an always growing sense of wanderlust has meant that more people are flying than ever. The flipside of increased air travel however, is an increase in carbon footprint – which has direct impact on the environment. For travellers that want their explorations to take on a more sustainable approach, there are choices you can make that are kinder to the planet. These things positively add to efforts of more sustainable travel – and don’t include having to stop flying altogether. One option that you can often do in the same step as booking your flight is choosing to offset the carbon emitted from your journey. Carbon offsetting programs make it easy to contribute to projects that work to neutralise carbon emission in communities and destinations around the world.

What Is Carbon Offset?

Carbon offset programs aim to neutralise the negative effects emissions from planes (among other sources) have on the environment. These programs channel funds towards initiatives that work to clean up the atmosphere, reduce greenhouse gases, and implement carbon-combatting processes. For each contribution you make, a carbon offset program usually endeavours to remove the amount of carbon emitted during your flight from the atmosphere. A calculator is used to make these estimations. For example, if it is calculated that your flight emits one metric tonne of carbon then your contribution would be directed towards removing one metric tonne of carbon from the atmosphere or, even better, prevent one metric tonne of carbon from ever being produced in the first place.

The choice to add a contribution is yours to make, and the option to contribute is generally presented by an airline or travel agent towards the end of the booking process. It is also up to the airline, agent or other travel business on whether to offer a program to its customers or not. Travellers that are particularly environmentally-minded may want to prioritise booking with travel agents or airlines that do support carbon offset programs.

A carbon offset contribution is calculated based on how far you’ll be travelling and may also vary depending on the airline you’ll be flying with. A short domestic flight between two New Zealand cities may ask for a contribution of just $2 or $3, while a longer international flight between Auckland and Los Angeles may have a calculated contribution of about $18.

What Programs Are Funded By Carbon Offset?

This is determined by the program itself, and the initiatives may vary depending on the program’s focus. One of the most popular types of projects is tree planting and the restoration of forests, be it locally-based or on an international scale. A carbon offset program available to New Zealand travellers may support forestry projects in the North or South Islands, as a way to establish forests that will capture carbon, prevent erosion, and provide habitats for native wildlife.

Another widely featured carbon offset program highlights sustainable energy. These efforts involve working with communities, who traditionally rely on heating or cooking methods that produce high levels of carbon, to introduce more energy-efficient resources. For example, providing a more environmentally-friendly cookstove rather than a wood-burning model. This project has another benefit: less wood or fuel means less logging. Establishing wind farms is another initiative that works in the energy space.

Some carbon offset programs also support projects that intend to  neutralise greenhouse gases before it even enters the atmosphere via farms, landfills, and factories.

What Else Can I Do As Well As Offset Carbon?

Contributing to carbon offset programs is a great step to making your travels have a more positive impact on the environment, but those wanting to go the extra mile can also embrace further steps to reduce their carbon footprint while on your next trip.

Walk, cycle, or catch public transport

The most sustainable transportation options are the ones that don’t emit excess carbon into the atmosphere at all. Walking and cycling are excellent ways to explore your destination in a way that is gentle to the planet. If foot- or pedal-power isn’t enough to get you where you want to go, make like a local and turn to public transport routes.

Cut-down on single-use plastic

It is almost impossible to avoid some single-use plastic while travelling, but making a conscious effort to avoid as much as possible is a great way to limit your overall consumption and contribution to waste. Pop a reusable bag in your handbag or backpack to have at hand if you visit markets, and invest in a sturdy reusable water bottle to fill up as you move about. The latter will also save you from having to continually buy water while you’re out!

Hero image: Makara Beach. Credit: Nate Watson on Unsplash

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