Carbon Offsets: Frequently Asked Questions
Why it is important for travelers and tourism businesses to purchase offsets?
Greenhouse gases (GHG), like carbon dioxide (CO2), are emitted when fossil-fuels are consumed. We all emit CO2 emissions when we drive a car, fly in a plane, use electricity, or generate waste. You can use less energy, travel less, or use public transport, but no matter how sustainable your practices are, some emissions are unavoidable.
Tourism is responsible for roughly 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, making it a significant contributor to global climate change. Travelers and tourism businesses should take responsibility for this impact by offsetting their carbon footprint so that the destinations they frequent and depend on will be there for them to visit again in the future.
What is carbon offsetting?
Carbon offsetting is the act of reducing carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases in order to compensate for emissions that were produced elsewhere. Travelers are able to ‘offset’ the carbon emissions produced from their plane flights, ground transportation and other activities by purchasing carbon credits. One carbon offset credits represent 1 metric ton of CO2e reduced or averted from the atmosphere. The funds from these carbon credit sales are distributed to certified emission reduction projects around the world, making the continuation of their activities economically feasible.
How do you calculate my carbon footprint?
The amount of carbon emissions that a passenger generates when they fly varies based on numerous factors including the flight distance, aircraft fuel burn rate, passenger occupancy rates, flight class, etc.
Our online carbon calculators utilize average air travel CO2 emissions factors provided by the EPA, which estimates that average economy flight emissions for economy passengers range from 0.5 lbs CO2e per passenger mile to 0.3 lbs CO2e per passenger mile, depending on the flight distance. For every 1,000 miles, this is approximately 300-500 lbs of CO2e per passenger.
Where does my offset contribution go?
When you make an offset contribution to Sustainable Travel International, we will offset the amount of carbon dioxide you indicated by investing your contribution in carbon reduction projects that are verified and/or certified by independent third parties. These projects either remove existing carbon emissions from the atmosphere or prevent new emissions from happening. Our carbon offset portfolio includes projects that conserve and restore forest ecosystems, increase energy efficiency, or replace energy produced from fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources. Most of our projects not only work to mitigate carbon emissions, but also provide community benefits, such as local livelihood creation, education, and health services.
Can I choose which project to support?
To ensure that all our projects receive much needed financial support, we allocate your contribution across a number of carbon reduction projects. Our website lists some of the projects that your offset contribution might support. Please note that exact projects may change based on the current availability of carbon credits. If you have a large amount of carbon to offset (over 400 metric tons) and are looking to invest in projects which provide particular benefits or are located in a specific geographical area, please contact us directly to explore your options.
How can I ensure the integrity of my investment?
A cause-focused, nonprofit organization
By offsetting through Sustainable Travel International, you can be sure that your contribution is being used to make a difference for our planet and protect the destinations you care about. We work directly with carbon project developers that we trust to ensure that all benefits reach the projects we support. Since we are a nonprofit organization, the small portion of your contribution that stays with us supports our mission of protecting and conserving destinations around the globe, instead of being used for private gain.
All of the projects in Sustainable Travel International’s portfolio have been verified and/or certified by an independent third-party organization. The on-going performance of each project is monitored by the evaluation agencies and their local partners at least once a year throughout the verified life cycle of each project. In this way, Sustainable Travel International only offers offsets that have been verified to at least one of the stringent standards below. To learn more about their respective methodologies of validation please visit their websites.
- The CDM Gold Standard
- The Verified Carbon Standard
- Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance
- Plan Vivo
- Climate Action Reserve
- American Carbon Registry
It is important to note that we don’t consider all renewable energy or reforestation projects as eligible carbon offset projects. We only support projects that adhere to the concept of “additionality,” which means that the emission reduction intervention creates an additional environmental benefit than would not have occurred otherwise. In other words, the intervention would not have occurred if not for the financial support from carbon offsetting. The number of carbon credits issued for a project (that are then made available for trade) must equal the amount of annual carbon emission reductions that result from the project. Third party certification bodies are responsible for validating the emission reduction methodology and verifying that they are following their project plan and creating real impacts.
Whether it be through natural causes or human involvement, if ecosystems are damaged or destroyed, the carbon that was stored during the project may be released into the atmosphere. This would undo all the effort made by everyone involved in the project. To maintain the longevity and “permanence” of carbon sinks and ensure that they do not become a future source of CO2, third-party certifiers conduct stringent investigations before validating a project.
When the creation of a project that aims to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) unintentionally increases GHG emissions somewhere else, this is called “leakage”. For example, if trees are planted on an area of agricultural land, or logging activity is prohibited in a certain area, this may shift the problem of deforestation elsewhere. There are strict protocols in place to avoid this, helping to ensure the integrity of carbon offsetting investments.
Our projects are listed on public registries and when a carbon offset is sold it is then ‘retired’. This renders the credit as used and ensures that it is not sold twice. This reduces the possibility of carbon offset credits being double-counted.
What are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS)?
We carefully select which carbon reduction projects we support based on the co-benefits they provide to local communities and biodiversity. The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) goals aim to address global inequalities and challenges by the target date of 2030, while aiding development and protecting the environment. We ensure that our projects align with as many of these SDGs as possible, to ensure that the impacts of your offset contribution go far beyond carbon reduction.
What’s the difference between the voluntary carbon market and the compliance carbon market?
The voluntary carbon market is driven by companies and individuals taking responsibility for their own emissions by choosing to offset their carbon. The voluntary market can be more flexible and innovative than the compliance market and allows many communities and ecosystems to benefit from offsetting. When you make a contribution to Sustainable Travel International you are investing in the voluntary offset market. This marketplace offers us an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while addressing development needs of certain countries.
Compliance carbon markets allow entities to obtain and surrender emissions permits or offsets in order to meet international and national regulatory targets. These are usually enforced by law and come in the form of cap-and-trade programs where participants trade carbon allowances (credits) in order to make a profit from unused allowances or to meet regulatory requirements.
The main difference between the compliance and voluntary markets is the fact that a voluntary carbon credit cannot be used by entities to meet their obligations under a regulatory scheme. This means there is no steady stream of income reaching our voluntary projects so your investments can have a huge impact on the communities and ecosystems we support.