We know that offsetting airplane travel is a consumer tool to reduce carbon emissions and a simple way to help move the culture toward climate solutions. But how do you buy them? It's surprisingly easy.
Carbon offset companies sell credits or investments in projects that create carbon sinks. Think reforestation (planting trees) or soil conservation projects. As an individual consumer you can buy credits to support carbon sinks that offset your carbon emissions. Companies do this, too. In fact, several international agreements use carbon offsets at a large scale.
The cost of offsetting a cross country flight per person from New York to Los Angeles is around $7 -10.
Let's be clear. Your individual carbon footprint doesn't make much of a quantitative impact on global carbon emissions. 100 companies are responsible for more than 70% of global carbon emissions. That said, your individual actions can help qualitatively because they can create a culture shift - especially as you share the actions you are taking to support climate solutions.
Here are 3 tips to buy offsets and how to do it:
1. Use the EPA's Certification Program
The Environmental Protection Agency uses a third-party certifier Green-E to verify that the company that is selling carbon offsets is actually doing what it says. Use this website to learn more about companies in your region and their projects. Gold Standardcertifies international projects that you can support directly from their site. EPA also provides this helpful guide outlining the difference between carbon offsets and renewable energy credits.
2. Verify that the type of projects are aligned with your values
Before you purchase, spend a few minutes verifying that the company is investing in the type of projects you want to support. Whether it's tree planting or green energy, make sure it works for you. Most offset companies describe their projects in detail and allow you to buy based on activity (air travel or commuting) or your average carbon emissions per year. Some offer calculators to help you tailor your offset package.
To buy the offset, you literally choose how much carbon you want to offset and chose the project you wish to support. Unfortunately, in my experience, buying offsets was one of the least satisfying #OneGreenThingsI've done. I got an email receipt. That's all. I expected fanfare, a big congratulations, a fancy certificate, not just a receipt. Intellectually I knew I was doing the right thing, but I wanted the company to make me feel like I was doing something important.
Offset companies can do a better job of making purchasing offsets more exciting and tangible but some of that excitement falls on us to shift the culture to make these transactions the norm. Before you buy, make sure the company you are supporting reports back on how it is using your investment. Sign up for the email newsletter to learn more about the progress it's making with the projects you supported.
Talk about your experience and encourage your friends to consider offsets for their travel. Then urge them to call their local, state, and federal officials to support climate action and clean energy policies. We must have comprehensive policy and market change to address the climate emergency.