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Eco-Friendly Travel Tips: What are carbon offsets?

This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on August 17, 2020.

Hello, friend!

I’m heading to Baja to join the Stars to Sea program! I’m leaving Thursday to join our ocean conservation partner, Vermilion Sea Institute, in their whale shark citizen science program to gather critical data on these beautiful animals that I fell in love with three years ago. And oh.my. GOODNESS am I pumped! I can’t wait to share the adventure with you when I return, and especially to bring you with me on our Baja EcoWarrior Retreat next summer.

When I talk about traveling, especially air travel, I often mention carbon offsets, but what exactly are carbon offsets and why do they matter?

A Drop in the Ocean Tacoma Zero Waste Sustainable Living Blog Eco-Friendly Travel Tips What are carbon offsets?


Airplanes produce a toooon of carbon emissions. About 0.55 pounds of carbon per passenger mile, according to Trees for the Future, our tree planting partner.

My flight from Seattle to San Diego is about 1,050 miles (2,100 miles round-trip). That’s the equivalent of 1,155 pounds of carbon dioxide. 😳😳😳 Yikes...

Why I'm Not Giving Up Flying

There are plenty of sustainability influencers who advocate for completely removing air travel from your life. I’m not one of them. I’m glad that they have found a solution that works for them, but it’s not a solution that works for me.

I believe that traveling is critical to expand our worldview. To see other lifestyles, cultures, and peoples. To experience the world is to foster empathy and compassion for people other than ourselves and those that look and think like us.

Quite simply put, I would not be nearly the person I am today were it not for travel.

Check out the blog for our 6 best zero waste travel tips, too!

So how do I reconcile my immense wanderlust with my vision of a sustainable future for all living things?

Helloooooo carbon offsets!

What are carbon offsets?

Carbon offsets do exactly what they sound like. They offset the amount of carbon we produce.

I like to imagine carbon offsets as little earth tokens. Every token you buy is the equivalent of a certain amount of carbon. These tokens can be “redeemed” for carbon produced by airplanes, cars, public transit, or electricity.

Because this isn’t a perfect system (the emissions are still being produced), I offset my air travel through two different types of “tokens” - tree planting and renewable energy investments.

Tree Planting Offsets

I do all of my tree planting offsets through Trees for the Future. They have a handy calculator where you type in how many miles you’re flying and it tells you the carbon emissions from that flight and how many trees you need to plant to offset those emissions. Just click “Offset my Footprint” and it automatically takes you to the donation page.

(It does not transfer the donation amount from the calculator to the donation page, so just make sure you keep that number in mind.)

I like using tree planting to offset because it directly offsets the carbon footprint of my adventures. It feels more instant-gratification-esque (#millennial).

Renewable Energy Investments

TerraPass, on the other hand, uses your donations to support long-term renewable energy projects. One of their really cool projects supports methane capture systems in abandoned coal mines. Apparently coal mines release methane into the atmosphere, but these projects create systems that capture the methane and turn it into electricity. What!? Science is so cool. 🤓

TerraPass also has an emissions calculator, and transfers the donation amount from the calculator to the checkout page.

I like using TerraPass on top of tree planting because I want to support long-term renewable energy developments. These projects may not directly offset my trip like the trees do, but they can make a huge difference for the health of our planet in the long-run.

But, Krystina, isn’t that expensive?

I’m so glad you asked, friend! Noooope. My total for both of these offsets was less than $9 - and I rounded up to plant a few more trees.

Like I said, this isn’t a perfect system. My flight is still creating emissions, but these are the best options I’ve found to mitigate my footprint on our planet.

Have you used carbon offsets before? Drop a comment below with your experience!


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