What is Carbon Offsetting for Flights?

Many of us want to live a more ethical and sustainable lifestyle but still want to enjoy our holidays. With international flights more accessible than ever, it’s tempting to jump on a plane and travel to the other side of the world. But as you save money, is it costing the earth? That’s where carbon offsetting comes in.  

Carbon offsetting is a term you might have heard before, but not one that’s immediately clear. What is carbon offsetting, how does it work, and why does it matter? Read on for everything you need to know.

What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is the process of investing in projects or initiatives that offset the carbon you contribute through a certain activity. In this case, for travel.

For example, if you book a return flight from London, UK to Auckland, NZ, this would add 5.50 tonnes of CO2e to the atmosphere. In order to offset this, you can pay to support reforestation, clean energy or other projects that positively impact the environment. This investment, in theory, offsets the damage caused by your flight.

Carbon offsetting for flights

How do I offset a flight? 

Now that you know what carbon offsetting is, here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Question your flight. Carbon offsetting is a plaster, not a cure. Do you really need to take that trip? It’s important to remember that the motto ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ is a hierarchy. The most sustainable solution is to reduce your use. 

  2. Seek alternative methods to reach your destination. Again, carbon offsetting is only part of the solution. If there are more sustainable ways to make your trip, such as train or carpooling, try this option. Long distance train journeys are luxuries of a bygone era that are most certainly coming back in style!

  3. Find out how much carbon this will contribute to the atmosphere. If you do need to travel by plane, the next step is to figure out what it is you want to offset. This means identifying the carbon footprint of your flight. There are lots of tools and calculators you can use to find this out. Here are a few: 
  4. Choose how you want to offset this. Now that you have the total, you can decide how you want to offset this trip. Here are a few sites that offer suggestions for projects: 
  5. Share with others. Spreading the word about sustainability is important. Discuss with your friends and families why you made the choice to carbon offset and share how you did it. Just starting a conversation helps to make us think more about our choices. 

Why does it matter?

Carbon offsetting may not be universally popular (read on to find out why!), but it is an important step in balancing your carbon footprint. Supporting initiatives and projects through offsetting directly funds efforts to tackle climate change. 

By donating to these projects, you are benefiting both the environment and the communities they are in. You are helping to build a better world through your support. 

Carbon offsetting not only helps projects in the immediate future, it also provides much needed resources for investing in new and greener technologies. By funding research and innovation, carbon offsetting may, in fact, be unnecessary in the future. 

It also has the added benefit of ensuring you reflect on your travel and sustainability choices. Do you really need to take that trip? If so, how can you make it as sustainable as possible? 

Finally, it helps you identify what it is that drives your sustainable lifestyle. When looking through projects you can support, you’ll discover which type of impact you feel most passionate about. This will help you see why sustainability matters to you, and hopefully be a source of inspiration to make more sustainable choices in the future. 

Is carbon offsetting a good idea? 

The answer is yes and no. Yes, in that you are supporting the development of greener lives and livelihoods through contributing to sustainability projects. No, because you are still emitting carbon through your activities. 

The biggest criticism of carbon offsetting is the ‘phew’ factor. That is, people – or companies – thinking that this is the answer to the climate crisis. This can mean that the desire to reduce usage is itself reduced, as offsetting is seen as the answer to being more sustainable.

Really, we need to use, fly, and destroy less in order to save the earth. Bear this in mind as you choose your mode of transport.

There is also a question around meaningful investment in sustainability. If airlines were forced to change their habits due to a reduction in demand of the status quo, this would necessarily drive investment in innovation. While carbon offsetting also supports this kind of funding, would it be more effective to change our habits and require change from the top? 

Carbon offsetting is only part of the solution, a plaster for a much bigger problem. But it is a good way to support sustainability while still living and enjoying your life. As always, it’s about being the greenest you can be. It’s not about being perfect!

Carbon offsetting for flights

What next? 

Enjoy your holiday! You’ve earned it. 

Not convinced by flying? Have a look at my tips for alternative methods of travel. 

Now that you have your trip planned, get booking and get buying (carbon offsets, that is!). Then check out my tips for having a more ethical holiday. 

Bon voyage!