Carbon Offsets — Air Travel

Airplane in FlightSome of our family members are traveling by air and car during the holidays which got me thinking about carbon offsets so I decided to research the topic.

AAA projects 93.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holidays (5.6 million by air, 84.4 million by car, 3.3 million by other means). Fossil fuel powered travel by air, car, bus, or train is not green. However, purchasing carbon offsets may give a green tinge to holiday travel.

What is a Carbon Offset?

A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere. Carbon offsets are measured in metric tons (2,205 lbs) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions.

If a company develops a project that reduces carbon dioxide emissions, every metric ton of emissions reduced results in the creation of one carbon offset. Project developers can then sell these offsets to help finance and operate their projects.

Carbon offset buyers decide how many metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions they wish to offset and receive a certificate.

Carbon offsets seem simple in concept but are complex to manage and track. The intent is that you purchase an offset certificate that is used to fund a specific project and then retired so that no one else can purchase that particular offset.

Purchasing Carbon Offsets for Individuals

There are two types of carbon offsets. One is for businesses and governments trying to comply with regulatory caps on the amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit. The other is for individuals or businesses wishing to offset their air travel, car commuting, and energy use. In this post, we are dealing with individuals.

Carbon offsets are sold by for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations. In the travel industry, some airlines, car rental companies, and travel service companies offer carbon offsets as an add-on at the time of purchase.

Purchasers may utilize online calculators to determine their carbon footprint or carbon emissions for a single event, like a round trip airplane flight. Some sites provide “packages” where you may purchase an offset to cover your carbon emissions for a year. Calculators vary widely so check out what standards are used and what items are included. As an example for air travel, calculators may include all the pollutants generated per flight, while others factor in departure dates (it’s more fuel efficient to fly in July than in January), airline carrier and seat class (economy, business, first class.)

The types of projects funded by carbon offset purchases include:

  • Generating renewable energy via wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal power.
  • Methane capture from dairy farms, landfills, and abandoned coal mines.
  • Creating carbon sinks through reforestation or avoiding deforestation.

Several certification standards have been created via collaboration among businesses, governments, regulators, environmental non-governmental organizations, and project developers. These include American Carbon Registry, Green-e Climate, Chicago Climate Exchange, Clean Development Mechanism, Climate Action Reserve, Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards, and Gold Standard.

Criteria for projects generally includes:

  • The greenhouse gas or carbon reduction must be measurable, quantifiable, and verifiable.
  • It should represent reductions above and beyond business as usual. The reductions would not have occurred in absence of the project.
  • The reduction should be permanent for the useful life of the project.
  • The project should not cause higher emissions outside the project boundary.

Selling carbon offsets is a business with limited regulation. Buyers should research companies before buying carbon offsets. Look for companies that offer transparency and accountability.

  • Review information on carbon offset projects to confirm they are in line with your goals.
  • Read policies to make sure projects are selected based on accepted standards and verified by independent third party verifiers.
  • Check verification and audit reports.

Think About It Carbon Offset Certificate ExampleAfter completing my research, I decided to purchase carbon offsets for my oldest son’s air travel for the year. I chose, a nonprofit organization, that will use it for a reforestation project in the U.S. It cost $12 to offset 6,000 miles of air travel.

Buying a carbon offset is a small way to take responsibility for personal carbon emissions and contribute financially to projects that reduce emissions. However, flying 6,000 miles still generates over 1 metric ton of carbon emissions that would not have been generated if the flights had not been taken.

We still need to strive to reduce our carbon emissions.

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Green Gift Wrapping

Christmas Tree with Wrapped Gifts UnderneathIs there such a thing as green gift wrapping? I enjoy wrapping gifts but realize it is not an environmentally friendly practice. The holiday season seems a good time to address our (my) gift wrap habits. We have pared down our gift giving thus reducing the volume of gift wrapping we use, so I think that is worthy of some green credit.

When I was a kid, every year before Christmas, shipping boxes arrived from northern California with gifts from my maternal grandmother. Inside we would find an array of beautifully wrapped packages and decorated gift boxes. I was enchanted and thus began my love of gift wrapping.

From the time I could wield a pair of scissors and use tape, I loved everything about wrapping presents—finding the right size box, selecting paper, ribbons and bows, wrapping the present, and writing gift tags. I was often asked to wrap gifts for family members and still do.

My paternal grandmother was the first green gift wrapper in our family. When opening a present, she would remove and wind up any ribbon, set aside bows, carefully peel off the tape, remove and fold the wrapping paper. She saved gift wrap materials and redeployed them on future presents.

Green Gift Wrapping

Let’s stipulate that any kind of gift wrapping will have some environmental impact. Manufacturing new and recycled paper generates greenhouse gases and pollution. Growing fiber for cloth bags uses water and possibly pesticides. Manufacturing, transporting, distributing, and disposing of gift wrap materials uses resources and energy. The key is to be informed and think about one’s choices.

Newspapers and Magazines

Almost every website mentions using old newspapers or magazines as gift wrap. Really. Like many people nowadays, I don’t subscribe to a national paper newspaper or magazine so lack a pile of used paper. Even if I did, old newspaper and magazines don’t strike me as attractive wrapping paper.

On the upside, for those who do have old newspapers or magazines, using it to wrap gifts is greener than new wrapping paper and hopefully, recipients will recycle it.

Kraft Paper and Brown Paper Bags

We take reusable bags to the grocery market so only have a couple of paper bags left. For those with Kraft paper or bags on hand, reusing them is not without merit and Kraft paper can be recycled or composted as long as it isn’t decorated with glitter, sequins, or plastic stickers. Dress up the plain paper with soy-based ink stamps, reused ribbons, or water soluble markers.

Reusable Gift Bags and Boxes

Gift bags and boxes are easy to use and reuse. I smooth out and reuse the tissue paper that invariably comes stuffed in the top of the bag. Up the green factor by using bags and boxes that are made out of recycled material, and can be recycled or composted at the end of their life cycle.

I recently received a gift in a fabric bag with a drawstring and will definitely use it again. Fabric holds many possibilities for those who sew and there is always remnants for those who don’t.

I like reusable bags and boxes because there is a huge variety of sizes, colors, and patterns available thus enabling us wrappers to still be creative and have some fun.

Ribbons, Bows, and Decorations

High-quality ribbon, bows, and decorations can be used over and over. The notion of using flowers, sprigs of holly, leaves, and other natural materials to adorn gifts sounds good; however, they may not survive shipping and waiting to be opened.


According to many posts, tape is not necessary. One merely folds the paper ends tightly and wraps the package with twine or ribbon to keep the paper sealed. As a veteran wrapper, I think I’m qualified to say this sounds easier than it is. I’m going to try greener tape and use less tape.

Scavenger Hunt

When our kids were little, we sometimes employed the scavenger hunt technique for gifts that were large, difficult to wrap, or just for fun. My spouse is a good illustrator so clues actually looked like the things they were meant to represent. Nowadays clues or riddles would be drawn or written on the back of used paper and then recycled. Scavenger hunts involve no gift wrap and only a small amount of paper so score high on the green gift wrapping list.

Moving Forward

As an adult, I used to buy most of my gift wrap through school fund raisers. I keep and reuse ribbons, bows, boxes, gift bags, and tissue paper. In our old house, one hall closet was devoted to my box collection. The kids grew up and we moved to a house without a suitable box closet so I downsized. We will continue to deplete our stock of wrapping paper, ribbon, and gifts tags while experimenting with eco-friendly green gift wrapping materials.

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