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Reducing your carbon emissions

A bit of background and some helpful tips.

Reducing your travel emissions

Unfortunately there are a lot of cowboys when it comes to carbon offsetting. Estimating emissions is as yet an uncertain science and no consistent regulatory standards exist for carbon offsetting, though methods like the gold standard are gaining interest. Some carbon offsetting has been done by buying up permits for the emission of carbon dioxide. However when this permit scheme was introduced, it was based on estimates of industry carbon emissions, which partly relied on estimates of emissions by industry. The idea was to then issue permits that were just under current emissions rates, so forcing industry to cut their emissions. This would drive a market for permits. However carbon emissions were over-estimated, so permits became almost worthless[1]. Carbon offsetting firms who had brought permits in the anticipation that this would force industry to cut emissions even more, ended up with worthless permits that had no impact on industry emissions. So firms selling carbon offsetting based on permits did not deliver their promises. Emissions trading and permits are now becoming better established so this situation is changing.

Other offsetting schemes have included planting trees which has its own problems. Delays in offsetting can occur since tree growth is required, yet tree growth and health is dependent on location, fertilizers and pesticides. Fertilizers and pesticides have their own environmental cost. Some tree planting projects have been poorly placed so disrupting local water supplies or evicting local communities from their land.

Yet more offsetting schemes have tried to introduce a variety of schemes abroad e.g. changing cooking stoves used in some communities in lesser developed countries so they emit fewer emissions. Such firms support a number of projects of the type usually undertaken by non-profit and charitable organisations. Firms that are administrating carbon offsets through managing such projects, should at least warrant their commission by providing a reliable and rigorous approach to ensure projects deliver carbon savings. But this typically hasn’t happened. For example one firm distributed free energy saving lightbulbs in Africa to find that another firm was already doing this. Firms cannot claim to help save carbon emissions through initiatives that would happen anyway. They should be creating initiatives that otherwise would not occur, a term known as additionality.

So what can you do about carbon emissions from flights?


  1. When booking your flight, try and get as few flights to your travel destination as possible
  2. Short flights, typically within country, have a particularly bad carbon footprint. When travelling, try exploring the local area thoroughly, and try other forms of transport other than flying if you want to cover bigger distances. See Ed Gillepsies ‘slow travel’ for some ideas [ ].
  3. Some carbon offsetting firms are better than others. They are not perfect, but they are striving to be better and the majority of their projects do save carbon emissions. We consulted with an expert who recently conducted a study on carbon offsetting who recommended the following firm (it’s not perfect, but is getting there):
  4. Give money to projects that you think are doing ‘good’ directly e.g. Oxfam, WWF etc.
  5. We the consumer need to put pressure on the aviation industry to develop more sustainable forms of aviation[2]. Technologies already exist e.g. Boeing have worked with Intelligent Energy to build a two seater plane powered by fuel cells[3].
  6. Try and minimise your own carbon emissions at home so reducing your carbon footprint overall (