With an increasing awareness of environmental consciousness and concern over carbon emissions, more travelers are looking to the growing trend of buying carbon offsets as one way to become carbon neutral when they fly. Buying carbon offsets basically means paying someone else to reduce carbon emissions in your stead, so in theory, canceling out your own emissions.
More and more companies are emerging – which allows consumers to calculate and pay for carbon offsets online. The companies then invest that money into projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as building windmills, installing solar water heaters, or retrofitting buildings with more efficient lighting, among others. As this is a relatively new concept, the companies that sell carbon offsets are still widely unregulated and their practices can vary greatly – that is, how they calculate emissions, the price per offset, and where the money spent goes.
With this in mind, the Tufts Climate Initiative released a report last year surveying 13 different voluntary carbon offset companies (seven for profit and six non-profit), with the aim of developing ways for average consumers to evaluate such companies. The report itself, along with the more straightforward consumer handout, offers tips on how consumers can examine carbon offset companies before they invest their money. Detailed information on voluntary carbon offsets – including the full report and the consumer handout, is available on the Tufts Climate Initiative and Stockholm Environment Institute’s information portal on Voluntary Carbon Emissions at: http://www.tufts.edu/tie/tci/carbonoffsets/index.htm .
Carbon offsetting remains a complicated issue, and for travelers without a degree in environmental planning, figuring it all out can still be confusing. I spoke with Anja Kollmuss, the head writer of the Tufts Climate Initiative report, about her approach to the survey and the challenges that still face average consumers.
INTRAVEL: Was there something specific that prompted this report?
AK: I worked at the time for Tufts University, and we wanted to look for information on carbon offset companies. We couldn’t find anything on which companies were good and which were bad, so the report just sort of grew out of that.
INTRAVEL: When did you notice carbon offsetting becoming a trend?
AK: Well, it’s been just in the last year and a half. And of course it’s part of the Kyoto Protocol, but I really think the awareness of voluntary carbon offset companies has really exploded just in the past year and a half.
INTRAVEL: You surveyed 13 companies based on specific criteria – including overhead costs and pricing, among others – how did you come up with these criteria?
AK: I guess the things that I would be interested in evaluating – the quality of the project. But not all are equal; additionality, which is basically whether the project would have happened anyway, is particularly important because otherwise you’re still emitting carbon. If the project could have happened anyway, without your offset or contribution, then it’s not making a difference – your emissions aren’t really being offset.