Social Impact Traveller Carbon Offset

When it comes to the environment, I am, by no means, an eco-warrior. Nor am I an expert on the topic of carbon offsets or the impact airplanes are having on the environment. I certainly care about the environment and I’m trying to take steps to ease my impact. When it comes to carbon offsetting, I am researching and trying to understand the issue.

As much as I love to travel, I don’t want my actions to further damage the environment. I confess that much like many of you who also care about climate change and the environment, I’m not ready to give up flying altogether – and exploring new countries and new cultures. But, I am certainly open to changing my travel habits.

And while carbon offsetting doesn’t eliminate the problem created by air travel, it certainly is worth exploring as an option to balance out the impact.

I know many of you are also curious and trying to better understand carbon offsetting, so I’ve prepared this post with Social Impact Traveller recommendations (to the best of my knowledge to date – and thankfully I have friends who work in the enviro sector to guide me on this post!).

Here we go:

Let’s start with the problem.

In short, the environmental impact of air travel is substantial.

Commercial aviation produces 4.9% of the total human contribution to global warming due to the nitrogen oxides, contrails and cirrus clouds it generates in the atmosphere that have a further warming effect. A Guardian analysis reports that: “Taking a long-haul flight generates more carbon emissions than the average person in dozens of countries around the world produces in a whole year.”

The International Air Transport Association predicts that by 2037 passengers are expected to double to 8.2 billion, making matters worse. The UN-backed International Civil Aviation Organization says the annual aviation emissions could be more than six times higher than in 2010.



What is Carbon Offsetting?

The basic idea behind carbon offset programs is that when you fly, you should calculate the carbon emissions from your flight and offset that by making an investment in an organization focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon offsets are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms. Carbon offset purchases aid in creating new non-polluting energy and also nature-based solutions (i.e. planting trees and restoring land to be a carbon sink) which mitigates greenhouse gas emissions.

When we do choose to opt for carbon offsets, there are various organizations to purchase from. So, how do we choose?

Thankfully, trusted environmental groups like World Wildlife Foundation have made it easy for us by supporting Gold Standard carbon offset programs.


Options for Social Impact Travellers to purchase carbon offsets

Gold Standard is a third-party verification process designed to ensure that carbon credits are real and will make measurable contributions to emissions reductions. It sets the standard for climate and development interventions to quantify, certify and maximize their impact.

The following Gold Standard projects are a few notable community impact projects or carbon offsetting that are in line with Social Impact Traveller and the places we travel to.

Clean Water Projects in Uganda

  • The Lango Safe Water Project ensures rural communities in the Lango region of Northern Uganda have access to and build their capacity to maintain safe water for years to come.
  • Another project in Uganda is treating water with chlorine at the source to improve water quality and reduce the impact of child diarrhea.

Clean Energy

Environmental Protections

  • The timber trade has significantly depleted tropical rainforests. CO2OL Tropical Mix is working toward sustainable timber production while reforesting degraded pastureland with a mix of native teak and tree species.
  • The Sodo Forestry Project aims to protect the degraded forests of Ethiopia and plant new trees, supporting the long-term restoration of the ecosystem in the region.

The projects are great. But how does a traveller measure their carbon footprint?

It’s easy to do.

Measure your carbon footprint

Try a calculator to measure your impact. It’s easy. Just add your flight route to calculate your air travel emissions and determine how much you need to invest to offset your carbon footprint. (It really does not cost that much).

WWF has one.

And here is another from Sustainable Travel International


Why Now?

Carbon offset programs have been around for some years now. Airlines around the world are already incorporating offsets into their business models, like Air New Zealand. British Airways will offset all domestic flight emissions from next year. Its owner became the first to commit to net-zero carbon flying by 2050. Much work is also underway within the airline industry to help make travel greener through technology and clean energy.

Newsworthy in Canada

In Canada, carbon offsetting is only recently starting to catch mainstream attention thanks to some recent news stories.

First, there was Prince Harry, criticized for excessively using jets to get around, while he launched Travlyst. He was called a hypocrite for advocating for climate change when jets are among the worst culprits. Elton John defended him, saying that he had made offsets on his behalf for him to travel.

Canada’s PM

And then there was Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He was criticized by opposition for using two planes to campaign across the country prior to the election. Trudeau reportedly purchased carbon offsets with a Canadian company, Less. Less sells Gold Standard-Certified Emission Reductions and supports two projects in Canada.


It’s not just the elite who are driving carbon offsetting into the news. Young Greta Thunberg arrived in Canada, having sailed across the Atlantic to bring her message of climate change urgency to the Americas. Greta has given up flying altogether.

She certainly makes many of us think twice about our own flying habits.

If you continue to fly, consider these tips to reduce your impact

Travel Responsibly

  • Take a train, bus or drive (electric or hybrid is best) instead of flying
  • Fly economy class as packing more passengers in each plane increases efficiency
  • Take direct, non-stop flights. Fuel burns during takeoff and landing
  • Take more daytime flights
  • Explore your own backyard: travel closer to home