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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Stop Junk Mail and Get Off Catalog Mailing Lists

Overstuffed Broken Mail BoxAmericans receive about 100 billion pieces of paper based advertising mail per year, of which over 40% is not even read and more than 30% is not recycled. Figures vary depending on what you read, but they’re somewhere in the above ballpark. Regardless it is a huge amount of mail and is often unsolicited and not wanted, thus the term junk mail.

With minimal effort, you can reduce junk mail and get off catalog mailing lists. The two main benefits of this easy, green action are:

  1. It is a good for the environment—saves trees, energy, and water up front and reduces waste down the line.
  2. It can save you money—avoid buying stuff you didn’t want or “need” until you saw it in a catalog or on a sale advertisement flyer.

Getting the mail at our house requires hiking down the driveway and then up the street to the neighborhood mailbox cluster and back. It is excellent exercise especially this time of year when there is a pile of mail order catalogs and direct mail advertisements to carry home.

Over the past several months, I have been tackling unwanted paper catalogs by either opting out via company websites or email. This process does work. With the massive influx of catalogs at this time of year, I decided to step up my efforts and look for a way to streamline the process and broaden my approach to include more junk mail items.

Stop Junk Mail Before It Starts

Opt out up front by reading the “fine print” when you sign up for a credit card, buy something online, make a charitable donation, enter a contest, register on a website, or fill out a warranty card. Don’t give out your zip code or email address at the cash register. When you buy something online, choose the “no mail” option which is usually located under account or profile.


Catalogs with Stick On Flags Marking PagesTwo key pieces of information necessary for opting out of catalog mailing lists are available on the catalog (usually the back cover).

  1. Account or Customer Number (often printed in a blue box)
  2. Catalog Code, Key, or Source Code (often printed in a yellow box)

With this information in hand, there are several methods for getting off catalog mailing lists. It may take one or two catalog cycles to stop receiving catalogs.

Do It Yourself

Contact each company via email or opt out via their website. This is the method I had been using.

Free Service

Simplify and streamline the process by using a free online service. I chose Catalog Choice. It took less than a minute to sign up and opting out of catalogs was easy. I selected the company name from an online list, filled in a brief online form, and clicked “submit request”. The site keeps track of the requests I’ve made so I don’t have to remember if I contacted a specific company, and I can easily track the status of my requests.

Fee Service

Take it to the next level with a fee service like 41pounds that not only eliminates unwanted catalogs but also can help with other junk mail.

Consumer Reporting Companies

Are you sick of getting offers for yet another credit card or insurance plan? Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit OptOutPrescreen to opt out for 5 years or permanently.

Direct Mail Marketing

Direct Mail Sale Advertisement FlyersDirect mail marketing pieces are viewed by many as junk mail. Opt out of receiving unsolicited mail from many (but not all) commercial companies for 5 years via the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). Go to DMAchoice to register with DMA’s Mail Preference Service and/or Email Preference Service.

Although it’s not mail per se, telemarketing is viewed by many as junk calls. It’s hard to believe telemarketing works, but I guess it must or companies would stop doing it. The National Do Not Call Registry is a free and easy way to reduce telemarketing calls at home. Visit donotcall or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number you want to register.

Reuse and Recycle

Reuse catalogs and junk mail as packing materials or for those of you who are crafty, Google “reuse junk mail” for a list of ideas and projects. My favorite is creating a junk mail trash bin from junk mail.

Recycle catalogs and junk mail instead of tossing in the trash where it will eventually end up in a landfill. I always tear off and shred anything with my name and address on it.

Action Clapboard - Call to ActionCall to Action

During the holiday season, or anytime, give yourself, family, friends, and the planet a gift by taking action to stop junk mail and unsolicited catalogs. Save time and money. It’s easy and free.

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