Carbon Offsets for Flights: Travel Sustainably in 2021 [Guide]

In today’s environmental climate, carbon offsets are taking off in a BIG way and getting rid of the guilt that has always accompanied air travel. We’ve always been told flying and massive carbon footprints go hand in hand…but the good news is they don’t have to!

Luckily, several carbon offsets programs are now making it easy for flyers of every airline to go completely carbon neutral.

P.S. Looking to Calculate the Footprint of Your Next Flight in Seconds? Click Here.

A graphic image with an 8 Billion Trees logo at the bottom showing a plane flying above a city with smoke in the shape of “carbon footprints(total greenhouse imprint someone or something creates)” being released from jet engines.

Top 5 Airline Carbon Offset Programs

According to research from the EPA, personal transportation in the U.S. accounts for nearly 30 percent of total carbon emissions.  While cars are by far the worst offender, commercial airlines have emerged as a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon offsets for flights give passengers the opportunity to balance out the carbon footprint of air travel, supporting critical ecology projects in the process.

Here are some of the leading carbon offset programs for commercial flights:

American Airlines Partners with Cool Effect

American Airlines is one of the oldest and most respected names in the businesses, so it is no surprise that they were one of the first to offer carbon offsets for flights. But now, by partnering with the San Francisco-based nonprofit Cool Effect, AA is taking their clean energy missions to the next level.

Passengers can use the AA / Cool Effect Website to calculate the carbon footprint of their next flight, as well as directly purchase an offset for that amount.

8 Billion Trees: Carbon Offsets for Flights Supporting Global Reforestation

As a social enterprise company, 8 Billion Trees is looking to make big global change in a really simple way: by planting trees. A lot of trees.

Carbon offsets purchased through 8 Billion Trees fund carbon-forest projects all over the world. This includes reforestation efforts that can increase the earth’s capacity to store carbon, as well as critical habitat protection programs.

The International Flight Carbon Offset eliminates 1.4 tons of carbon footprint by funding the planting and caretaking of 15 trees.

Emirates

While the Emirates airline does not operate its own in-house carbon offset program, it has developed a comprehensive fuel-efficient program designed to actively and effectively reduce emissions.

The Emirates Fuel Efficiency Program operates such initiatives as:

  • Efficient flight planning: Taking advantage of tailwinds and weather systems to reduce fuel burn.
  • Advanced fuel monitoring: Using big data analytics to reduce discretionary fuel uplift among pilots
  • Aircraft weight management: Reducing fuel burn by re-evaluating aircraft weight.

Delta

Delta Airlines passengers can use their free carbon offset calculator to estimate their flight’s CO2 output. Once you have your “Offset Cost,” you can make a direct donation to one of Delta’s carbon project partners.

But what is even more exciting: Delta has announced that they intend to become the first carbon-neutral airline in the world, backing up their claim with a cool $1 billion investment.

Air Canada

The Canadian commercial airline Air Canada has joined Delta and other airlines in an effort to make international flights 100% carbon neutral. To do this, Air Canada is investing in large-scale emissions mitigation measures that include an in-house carbon offset system.

In addition, Air Canada has formed a partnership with Less Emissions Inc to bring high-quality carbon offsets to their customers.

British Airways

Like other UK airlines, British Airways purchases carbon offsets for all their UK flights. But anyone traveling internationally can visit Purple Leapfrog.

Purple Leapfrog is British Airways’ partner in reducing carbon emissions. Their international flight carbon offsets can be used to fund forest protection in Cambodia and Peru, or emission-reducing cook stoves in Sudan.

The Problem with Air Travel Carbon Offsets

If there’s one thing that these offset programs have in common, it’s that they only account for the carbon emissions of your flight, but not the rest of your trip. That means that things like rental cars, taxis, bus trips, and even boat tours are still leaving a big carbon footprint.

What If My Preferred Airline Doesn’t Have a Travel Offset Program?

As more and more airlines decide to fund their own carbon offsetting projects, it’s not always possible to find  and buy a carbon offset for your flight. Fortunately, there are a number of independently operated offset retailers who are equipped to offer flight carbon offsets.

8 Billion Trees is one of several reputable carbon offset companies offering standalone International Flying Carbon Offset.

A graph showing the United State’s vast economic growth between 1970-2018 yet the six most common pollutants (PM2.5, PM10, SO2, COVs, CO, and PB) dropped by 74% during this time. Between those 48 years GDP (gross domestic product) increased by over 250%, many more vehicle/air miles were traveled, energy consumption and population increased but CO2 and aggregate emissions still decreased.

Take the Guesswork Out of It: Calculate Your Carbon Footprint for your Next Flight

Looking to calculate the carbon footprint of your next flight?

The process is easy:

  • Visit the FLIGHT CARBON OFFSET CALCULATOR here.
  • Input your flight details, including origin, destination, number of passengers, and seating class.
  • Click ‘Calculate’ and receive an estimation of your trip’s carbon footprint, presented in total tons of CO2.
  • Purchase a carbon offset big enough to cover your estimated CO2 emissions (Sites like 8 Billion Trees make this easy).

Now There’s a Catch … Did You Know Offsetting Your Flight WON’T Entirely Offset Your Travel Footprint?

While carbon offsets for flights are an effective way to cut the carbon out of your next vacation, it’s not going to make your vacation carbon neutral. Taking a taxi to the airport? A city bus to the hotel? A high-speed yacht to your secret island getaway?

No matter what form of transportation you’re using, combustion engines will always introduce harmful greenhouses gases into our atmosphere. Cars are the worst offenders, but boats, buses, and even motorcycles all will have an impact on atmospheric carbon.

The good news is that you can minimize the travel footprint of your next vacation.

Eliminating Your Rental Car Emissions Has Never Been Easier

Cars are responsible for well over 50% of total transportation emissions. Commercial flights, on the other hand, are only responsible for about 12.4% (Source: EPA [PDF]).

Fortunately, if your travel plans include the use of a car, there’s an easy way to offset the resulting carbon emissions. A Road Trip Carbon Offset is designed to offset 1 ton of CO2 pollution, or about 5 hours of drive time. The proceeds from an offset like this will go to critical reforestation projects, funding the planting of 11 trees for just $22.

Renting a car for multiple days? You can purchase as many offsets as you need to cover the estimated CO2 emissions.

Reducing the Emissions of a Boat or Yacht Trip

Considering the ocean’s key role in balancing the Earth’s atmospheric CO2 cycle, it’s imperative that boat owners, yacht trippers, and luxury cruise-goers consider a carbon offset for their boat travel.

Like other forms of travel, your next boat trip could be completely carbon-neutral, and for a lot less than you might think. Carbon offsets for boats can even be used for “blue carbon” projects, protecting and encouraging carbon-storing seagrass groves on the ocean floor.

Still Not Sure Who to Trust? How to Verify the Authenticity of Carbon Offset Programs Yourself

Because carbon offsets are still a relatively new way to fight climate change, there are few rules or regulations in place to protect consumers. This has led to a number of scam organizations emerging, taking offset funds and either misusing them or stealing them outright.

Protecting yourself from scams is about finding the answers to a few questions:

  • Who is selling the carbon offset? Is this a well-known organization?
  • What are the specific carbon-reducing projects or programs that your offset will fund?
  • What kind of guarantees or oversight is in place that your carbon footprint is actually being negated?
  • Does this organization have any carbon offset partners that might support their legitimacy?

A trustworthy, high-quality carbon offset company will provide the answers to all of the above questions. Most legit carbon offsets will provide thorough documentation, and will make it easy to find on their website. (See this 8 Billion Trees writeup as an example).

Certified Carbon Offsets: Research & 3rd Party Reviews

Thankfully, there are a growing number of independent carbon offset verification programs designed to protect consumers from scam companies and ineffective operators.

You can visit any of the following review programs for more information on carbon offsets for flights:

  • Green-e Climate Standard
  • Verified Carbon Standard (Verra)
  • Gold Standard
  • American Carbon Registry