Offsetting a Business Traveler's Carbon Footprint

Offsetting a Business Traveler's Carbon Footprint
I’m sure many of you have seen the option on most airlines’ websites to voluntarily offset the carbon emissions you will be responsible for creating each time you fly. Whether you believe in global warming or not, there are consequences to the lifestyle we lead as Americans with our overuse of carbon-based fuels and our behavior that contributes to altering our natural environment. Yet, it would be difficult to keep our jobs if our response to necessary business travel were to be “Hmmm, no, can’t really make it to New York this week. Global warming, ya know.” If you choose to offset your carbon emissions caused by airline travel, here is a summary of some different programs offered.

First, the word “offset” literally means to make up for, or counteract. To offset something is to equalize it. The purpose of a “carbon” offset option to air travel is to counterbalance your pro rata share of carbon emissions produced by your flight as a result of the burning of carbon-based fuel required to make the aircraft’s engines operate.

So how do they counterbalance the emission? Generally speaking, in order to equalize the damage that such carbon emissions cause, a resource must be created or replaced that will utilize the CO2 created by the burning of carbon based fuel, and in exchange, emit oxygen and theoretically make up for the insult to the Earth’s atmosphere. Sort of like draining a pool, then filling it again with the same amount you drained.

Typically what airlines do in order to offer this offsetting option, is to partner with different organizations that support climate protection and environmental conservation that either reaches the goal described above, or contributes to projects that are sustainable and non-carbon based. For example, Continental Airlines partners with Sustainable Travel International (STI) as part of its “eco-skies” program. The option allows passengers to choose a suggested amount of money (based on the nature of your flight), in addition to the price of the ticket, as a contribution to different programs (wind energy, reforestation, etc.) around the world. The amount is usually nominal compared to the price of the ticket. Recently, I purchased a one way ticket to Newark, NJ in First Class for $741.00, and the suggested contribution for a carbon offset was $6.07.

If you choose to contribute, there are options you may choose as to how your money is spent. In Continental’s eco-skies program these were the choices presented when I booked my flight from Orange County, CA to Newark:

International Reforestation Projects
(Suggested contribution: $6.07)
Projects to recreate critical forests and provide incentives to protect critical forest land and avoid the cutting of trees.

U.S. Renewable Energy Projects
(Suggested contribution: $14.88)
Primarily wind farm projects to generate energy in the western U.S. that have a "Green Tag" certification.

Gold Standard Projects
(Suggested contribution: $12.83)
Wind power and other renewable energy projects that have audited and meet criteria established by a consortium of 44 international environmental organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund.

Combination of Several Offset Projects
(Suggested contribution: $9.96)
25% Gold Standard Projects
25% U.S. Renewable Energy Project
50% International Reforestation Projects

On average, Continental Airlines flights generate 7.8% less greenhouse gas emissions than other major U.S. passenger carriers, as reported on their website with the U.S. Department of Transportation listed as the source of this statistic.

Beyond the airline carriers themselves The National Wildlife Federation , a leading organization concerned with climate change in order to perpetuate its goal of protecting wildlife, supports carbon offsetting programs that focus on renewable energy, sustainable living, fuel efficiency, and conservation. NWF’s carbon offsetting partner is NativeEnergy which focuses its offsetting programs on creating sustainable economic benefits for Native Americans, family farmers and local communities. Again, for those who do not believe in global warming, these programs are not aimed to politicize the topic, they just request accountability for the effects of putting anything into the earth’s atmosphere (carbon or otherwise) by supporting programs which “offset" that contribution. Sort of the like the Boy Scout’s motto when camping: Leave no trace.

So if airline programs are not appealing to you, visit NWF’s website and look into alternatives .

Safe travels.

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