Features

Guide to airline carbon offset programmes

17 Apr 2021 by Tom Otley
Easyjet-offsetting-infographic

Most airlines now offer the opportunity for you to voluntarily offset your flight. Some airlines offer this at the time of booking, while many will give you the choice of doing so separately from the booking.

We have written previous articles on the subject of offsetting – see The Offset Debate.

Although the principle of offsetting is simple, the more you look into it, the more complicated it can become. To simplify matters, and also to give a diversity of voices, we have included the answers to some common questions under each one of the airlines listed below, with the information taken either from their website or the partner they are using for their carbon offsets.

This article rounds up what the airlines are currently offering. We will keep it updated as things change.

Air-France-Horizon-2030

Air France

Since the beginning of 2020, Air France has offset its domestic flights. It also offers passengers the chance to offset flights, both domestic and international, in partnership with A Tree for You , through the Tree and Trip programme,

The emissions calculator does not have options for specifying the cabin you are flying in, and the payment for offsetting is on the separate Trip and Tree site, and leaves it up to you how much to donate, rather than using the emissions calculator to suggest an amount.

From the site…

How many trees must be planted to offset a journey?

“A trip generates several types of environmental impact: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially CO2; pollutant emissions; an impact on territories through the footprint of ground infrastructure (roads, airports, ports…); an impact on the material resources used to manufacture vehicles and infrastructure; an impact on the energy used, etc. This is why the best trip for the environment is the one we can avoid!

“Looking at just the impact on CO2 emissions, you need two pieces of information to calculate how many trees to plant: the amount of CO2 emitted during the trip and the carbon capture capacity of the trees to be planted.”

“Put simply, 1 tree = about 100kg of CO2 captured over 10 years.”

Air France aims for sustainability

airfrance.com

Aer Lingus-offset-Leapfrog

Aer Lingus

Like British Airways, Aer Lingus is offering offsets through a partnership with Pure Leap Frog. The emissions calculator is separate from the booking procedure, though there is the intention to integrate it in future. Instead you go to the home page of the Pure Leapfrog Aer Lingus page and then enter your flight details, including the class you are flying in, select your preferred project (or all three of the ones on offer) and then pay for the offset.

From the site…

What is CO2eq?

“Emissions of greenhouse gases are typically expressed in a common metric so that their impacts can be directly compared, as some gases are more potent, i.e. have a higher global warming potential than others. The international standard practice is to express greenhouse gases in carbon dioxide equivalents.”

“Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) stands for a unit based on the global warming potential (GWP) of different greenhouse gases. The CO2eq unit measures the environmental impact of one tonne of these greenhouse gases in comparison to the impact of one tonne of CO2.”

aerlingus.com

American-Airlines-and-Cool-Effect

American Airlines

American Airlines has partnered with Cool Effect for its carbon offset programme. The emissions calculator is separate from the booking process.

From the site…

How much does it cost to buy carbon credits in the voluntary market?

“Carbon is an unregulated market and pricing is often confusing. The price per tonne on Cool Effect ranges from $3.50 – $14. Here are the components that factor into the price of a carbon credit:

  • Location of the project
  • Type of project
  • Supply and Demand
  • Secondary Benefits
  • Age of credit

“Cool Effect is dedicated to transparency in pricing and encourages the industry to do the same.”

aa.com

British Airways Pure Leap Frog Melosheb-school-Zambia

British Airways

Like Aer Lingus, British Airways is offering offsets through a partnership with Pure Leap Frog. The emissions calculator is separate from the booking procedure, though there is the intention to integrate it in future. Instead you go to the home page of the Pure Leapfrog British Airways page and then enter your flight details, including the class you are flying in, select your preferred project (or all three of the ones on offer) and then pay for the offset.

From the site…

What do you charge for offsetting?

“As a not-for-profit, Pure Leapfrog provides offsetting as a service. We seek to cover our costs and make a small contribution to our mission of helping communities to benefit from low carbon energy systems.”

“As part of covering our costs we charge a small handling fee to take account of transactional costs. Handling fee is 30p for transactions up to £10 and 50p for transactions above £10. This means that we also have a minimum offset charge of £1 to be sure these costs are covered alongside your offset purchase.”

“We track our transactional costs and the fees we charge and any ‘profit’ made on handling fees or minimum charges is passed to the British Airways Carbon Fund on a regular basis.”

Cathay-Pacific-Climate-Care

Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific’s Fly Greener programme allows you to offset your flight.

From the site…

How do you calculate the volume of emissions from a flight?

“For every 1 kg of jet fuel burnt in the operational phase of the flight, approximately 3.15 kg of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. The total volume of fuel consumed on a flight depends on factors such as the distance travelled, wind speeds, the loading of passengers, baggage, and cargo on the aircraft. For our calculation methods, we use historic fuel consumption to derive carbon dioxide per passenger kilometre.”

cathaypacific.com

Delta-forest

Delta

The emissions calculator is easy to use but does not allow you to specify the cabin you are travelling in. Projects which can be offset include the Guatemalan Conservation Coast Project, Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project, Southern Cardamom REDD+ project and the TIST programme in Kenya.

There are no frequently asked questions on the Delta site, so perhaps no one asks them.

Interestingly, Delta’s offset programme is ‘powered by CBL Markets’ – of which you can read more in our piece.

CORSIA offsets – how do they work?

co2delta.com/offset

Easyjet offset

Easyjet

We shouldn’t, strictly, include Easyjet, since you can’t offset flights with them since it says it is already doing it for you. (You could always use one of the independent offset sites listed at the end of this article.)

Easyjet says that it pays (on our behalf) to offset with “… highest standard carbon offsetting projects, that meet either the Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) accreditation. This means working with EcoAct and First Climate; companies that are globally recognised and respected for their standards of offsetting.”

The projects it supports include forest regeneration in South American and Africa, solar energy in India (Tamil Nadu) and in Uganda and Eritrea, helping provide access to clean water.

In its annual report, it says that in the financial year ending 2020 it ‘retired’ (paid for) “3.1 million carbon credits to offset carbon emissions from all fuel and operations” and these seem to have been with the Bale Mountains Eco-region REDD+ Project which is also known as the Oromia Forest and Wildlife Enterprise in Ethiopia which “will work to improve government and community partnerships on one hand and facilitate the development of community based local institution on the other to result in an improved forest ecosystem and landscape management in the Bale eco-region.”

From the site…

How do we calculate how much to offset?

“We will do this by calculating the total carbon equivalent using industry standard “global warming potential” values of each greenhouse gas, and multiplying them with estimated amounts of released NOx, methane, etc., which adds up to another 1-1.5% on top of the CO2 calculation. We then offset the total amount.”

Iberia-offset

Iberia

Iberia did have a voluntary offset programme, but with the onset of Covid-19 had to suspend it because of the low take-up during the pandemic and the IT costs. It does, however, still have a voluntary offset programme for enterprises (companies), and details of that can be found here (note that this is in Spanish).

The emission-offset project is in partnership with Climate Trade, and offsets emissions through a VCS (Verified Carbon Standard) certified reforestation project located in Peru.

Lufthansa-offset

Lufthansa

Lufthansa launched its voluntary carbon offset programme in a partnership with Compensaid, an independent offsetting site. (Swiss has done the same – see below)

Lufthansa launches Compensaid carbon offset platform

The advantage of this approach is that it allows for a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to offsetting. The CO₂ calculator provided by the climate protection organisation, myclimate, helps you to calculate your journey’s carbon footprint with the result based on the fuel consumption of the Lufthansa fleet.

Compensaid then offers “two options for offsetting: through the use of CO₂-neutral, synthetic jet fuel and through reforestation projects. With the purchase of innovative sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), the emissions can be captured immediately as SAF causes up to 80 per cent less CO₂ in comparison to conventional jet fuel. Reforestation projects, in contrast, capture the CO₂ resulting from flights over a longer period.”

Qatar Airways Fatanpur-1

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways launched its voluntary carbon offset programme at the end of 2020. You can read more about it below

Qatar Airways launches voluntary carbon offset programme for passengers

Swiss

As with Lufthansa, Swiss has a partnership with Compensaid. You can offset the flight with Sustainable Aviation Fuel, or by contributing towards a reforestation project in Nicaragua.

From the site…

How does this work exactly?

“We will transfer the contribution of your money less administrative and transactional costs to our partner myclimate, so the community in Nicaragua gets the most out of your contribution.”

swiss.compensaid.com

Swiss-offset

United

United now offers the option of purchasing SAF (not offsetting your flight). It uses “your donation to purchase additional SAF or to invest in promising SAF producers we believe can move us one step closer to flying sustainably.”

“How does it work?

  1. We’ll collect your donation in a designated SAF account.
  2. At the end of the year, we’ll total the amount of donations, so be sure to check back to see how much we raised.
  3. United will use 100 per cent of the donations for the future purchase of SAF and/or SAF-blended products, or to invest in SAF development.”

united.com

Wizz Air

Wizz Air has launched a voluntary carbon offset scheme. You can read more about it here

Wizz Air launches carbon offsetting scheme

TIST-Offset

Independent sites

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of sites which will offset your emissions, for travel, for your household and for your purchases.

The list here is not comprehensive, and it does not recommend these organisations. Note that there is a strong argument that donating directly to charities which help those affected by climate change is the best way to spend your money. Carbon offsetting involves buying carbon credits and then ‘retiring’ them. As the Financial Times points out “The voluntary offsets market is… fragmented and lacks consistent best practice guidance. A number of standard setting bodies exist, such as Verra and Gold Standard, which have different rules and methodologies.” Nevertheless, the market is growing each year, and Mark Carney believes the market for them could be worth $100 million by 2030. (You can read more about this here The Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets)

Taskforce-on-Scaling-Voluntary-Carbon-markets

You should also ask how much money is going towards the project. trees4travel, for instance, says that of the money donated for an offset, “67% tree planting & distribution, 18% development & income, 15% overheads.” Pure Leapfrog says “Handling fee is 30p for transactions up to £10 and 50p for transactions above £10. This means that we also have a minimum offset charge of £1 to be sure these costs are covered alongside your offset purchase.”

bulb

Works out your carbon footprint including your gas, electricity, what you buy and how much of it.

compensaid

A sophisticated calculator that also offers the chance to offset your travel by purchasing SAF – which is very expensive, but much closer to what the true price of our travels is.

Fly Green

Fly Green is an online booking engine that offsets the flights you buy through it using part of its commission.

myclimate

Myclimate’s calculator also offers the chance to work out your complete carbon footprint, or just your travel footprint.

trees4travel

Dedicated travel offset site. Recommended by the Business Travel Association for its members.

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