Making my carbon offset count – which provider to choose?

I often travel to Stockholm through Eindhoven, as it is quite accessible from Brussels and also has Ryanair connections. Eindhoven Airport is really working hard on their green image, with everything from onsite carbon offsetting to collecting and reusing rain water to flush toilets. The carbon offsetting caught my attention this time, and I played around with the machines that they had put up that allows you to calculate and offset your emissions.

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I have read and heard a lot about carbon offsetting, and being a person who aspires to be an asset for the planet rather than a burden, I figured it would be interesting to give it try. However I wasn’t ready to simply trust the machine at the airport but rather I wanted to be a conscious shopper in the field of carbon.

So, I set out to compare and try to understand the market for consumer offsetting.

Now, carbon offsetting as a concept can be challenged in many ways that I won’t discuss right now here. My opinion is that I think the most important part of this is to start pricing carbon into your life. Currently, unless you’re a corporation in one sector covered by an emission cap-and-trade scheme, carbon is free of cost. The idea is that if you start pricing your carbon emissions, this will create a real incentive to start cutting them (unless you adopt a “pay and forget” attitude AND unless the price is too low, more on that later).

I compared ten different carbon offsetting services that are open to consumers on a trip from Brussels (where I live) to Stockholm (where I come from) and I will try over the next couple of posts to figure out how to ensure that you do carbon offsetting right

How much carbon?
When trying to figure out how to offset your emissions you are first struck with the challenge of how much you actually emit. There are countless calculators out there, however they can really differ in the way that they calculate the distance. The most naive way (which also leads to shortest distance) would be to simply calculate a straight line from point A to point B. Of course this doesn’t really get the right result as the Earth is certainly not flat and airplanes certainly don’t fly completely straight.

A calculator should take into account the curvature of the earth as well as how the airplanes fly. The curvature is a simple formula that you need to incorporate into the calculator. The part about airplanes is harder, since the exact route taken might vary from flight to flight – additionally domestic flights will have a higher carbon emission per passenger than mid or long range ones (as the main emissions are during take off and landing). Furthermore releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has a larger impact than on the ground, which is another effect that has to be taken into account.

All in all, you should make sure that the calculator you are using takes this into account. 

Case in point: for my trip from Brussels to Stockholm, I got such varying estimates from 0.28 tonnes (www.carbonpassport.com) to 0.63 tonnes (www.nativenergy.com). The average was 0.49 tonnes and the median 0.52 tonnes, and I would tend to go for the higher estimate of 0.5 tonnes and use this as my basis. 

For the spreadsheet I used to compare providers, you can see it here.

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