How and why to buy carbon offsets for travel

Some people may not realize the how and why to buy carbon offsets for travel – but it’s actually a pretty simple process! Find out how to make your travels “carbon neutral” in this post.

You’ve all heard of carbon footprints, right? Basically, the idea that all the stuff we use/consume that’s made with fossil fuels has a certain carbon emission associated with it. The total of all those things is your carbon footprint which we measure over time.

To cancel out the negative effects of carbon emission, individuals and businesses can purchase carbon offsets. An organization calculates the cost of your carbon emission and you pay the monetary equivalent. It’s not a perfect solution (this is a long-term solution that does nothing to lessen the immediate impact of your travel), but it can help you feel better and support worthy programs.

After you pay, that money is put toward an existing project that’s reducing greenhouse emissions such as saving forests from destruction, funding alternative energy sources, enhancing clean water initiatives, and more. The sites I recommend below will have lots of detailed information about the projects being funded.

How do I buy good carbon offsets?

Before you buy, there are a couple things to consider. I really liked this article which did a great job laying out the important bits when choosing where to buy from. The essential idea is you need to ensure you’re buying a legit carbon offset, and not just a project that sounds good:

To illustrate the difference between a quality carbon offset and a scam, consider a hypothetical example: The offset seller will give your money to a landowner in the Amazon who promises to leave his trees standing to maximize carbon sequestration.

The offset seller should make several guarantees in this transaction. First, that the offsets are real—that there’s an actual landowner who owns actual land with actual trees… the offset should be verified and enforceable—a third party should have laid eyes on the trees, and there must be a mechanism for penalizing the landowner if he doesn’t follow through. The offset should also be permanent.

Finally, the offset must be additional. This is the trickiest issue with carbon offsets. What if the Amazonian landowner never had any intention of clear-cutting his land in the first place? … Your transaction would have no effect on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

After reading that article, I immediately felt anxious. How would I know the right option to choose without doing hours and hours of intensive research?

Luckily, it’s pretty easy thanks to the Climate Action Reserve, an organization that’s already done the tricky research for you. While they focus mainly on large-scale carbon offsetting, they do offer several great options for individuals looking to make small offsets:

Native Energy also offers verified carbon offsets, although there’s less choice in what program you support. (I believe there’s only one at a time.) Carbon Fund also allows for individual donations – and even helps you calculate it very simply – but you do not get to choose which of their projects you support.

Finally, Cool Effect: I like that you can look through their projects and fund the one you like specifically. The cost per ton varies depending on the project, but it generally ranges from $5-10.

How do I calculate my output?

It’s pretty easy! Most of the companies mentioned below offer a carbon calculator that allows you to calculate your carbon emissions for a single trip or a whole year.

TerraPass and Native Energy both offer carbon calculators.

Using the Native Energy travel calculator for a single trip, it estimated I had created 20.59 tons of CO2 while driving from Indianapolis to Maine and back again. After doing some searching to find a project to back, I found what I’d have to pay. The total cost of my carbon offset? Just $9. Sold!


In the future, I’m planning to calculate my yearly carbon footprint and pay towards that. I’m also taking a leaf from @zerowastedork’s book and owning my carbon offset by doing additional, local community work!

First, though, I’m going to try to reduce my footprint as much as possible! Here’s a whole list of ways to get started on reducing your carbon footprint.

Buy carbon offsets for travel - Green Indy Blog
How and why to buy carbon offsets for travel - Green Indy Blog

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