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Going Green in Flight: How to Offset Your Travel Carbon Footprint

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Flying is a privilege. Taking care of the planet is a responsibility.

Here at Thrifty Traveler, our goal is to help you travel more for less. And we love the idea that we've helped hundreds, if not thousands, hop on a plane for cheap. But there's still a cost, and one is to the environment. Carbon emissions from jet engines can be significant.

That's why our entire team has started offsetting our travel carbon footprint by donating to environmental charities for every flight we take. Here are a few ways you can do the same.


What is a Carbon Footprint?

A carbon footprint is a measurement of the carbon emissions stemming from the use of fossil fuels. That includes the use of energy, transportation, goods, and food consumption.

Calculating your own carbon footprint can be complicated. There are some obvious culprits, like heating or cooling your home, driving a car, buying gas, using public transportation, and flying. But then there are even larger, hidden factors: the emissions that come from producing goods like clothing, food, paper, and more. It can make it overwhelming to gauge your own true impact on the environment.


Offsetting Your Flight's Carbon Footprint

There are many ways to offset your carbon footprint in your day to day life: recycle, compost, walk or bike more, buy used consumer goods, and more. But we're a travel website, so we're going to focus on how to offset the carbon emissions from your flight.

First things first: You'll want to calculate the carbon footprint from your flight. Flying first or business class? Your footprint will be larger because of how much space your seat takes up. Plug your route and class into this handy calculator to get an estimate of the carbon emissions for your portion of that flight.



For example, a round-trip flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) puts your footprint at about 1 ton of carbon emissions. But flying business class from MSP to Tokyo-Haneda (HND), it jumps to more than 4 tons.

That's what you're responsible for. Now, what's the next step?


Buying Carbon Offsets

The goal is to balance out those emissions. And the way you do it is with an event like planting trees, installing solar panels, backing conservation projects … anything to decrease carbon emissions by the same amount. 

It's an elegant way to neutralize the environmental impact of your travels. And there are a couple of easy ways to you can do it.

The first way is to buy carbon offsets from reputable companies, which in turn fund projects that reduce carbon emissions. On most websites, one ton of carbon emissions costs about $11. 

Many carbon offset companies aren't transparent, making it difficult to track whether your money is being used for conservation projects or just administrative costs. Here are a few that you can trust:

  • Carbonfund.org: Carbon Fund has projects around the world, including multiple tropical forest conservation projects. JetBlue has partnered with Carbon Fund
  • Cooleffect.org: Cool Effect boast that 90% of the money donated goes directly to carbon offset projects. Their projects include bird sanctuaries, safe cooking stoves, renewable energy, and more, that you can directly donate to.


Donate to a Verified Environmental Charity

Rather than buying a carbon offset directly, you can donate money to environmental causes. Remember that one ton of carbon emissions equals about $11, then choose your charity to send that money to.

Use charitywatch.org or charitynavigator.org to find reputable charities. Both of these sites rate charities based on transparency, honesty, and the percentage of money donated that goes directly towards their mission. You can find projects to fund in your state or around the world. You can donate to projects focused on water, renewable energy, technology, animals, forests and more.




Volunteer to Plant Trees

Get your hands dirty and check out volunteering opportunities with your local Department of Natural Resources. Most state DNRs have plenty of projects aimed at preserving natural resources including planting new trees.

Or pitch in with your local neighborhood organization or parks department to plant trees or maintain green spaces. This method won't be as immediately effective in reducing your footprint, but it's a great alternative if you don't have extra cash to donate or you enjoy being outdoors.


Put Your Money Where…

Planes are getting more fuel efficient every year, but airlines need to do more. And many are.

Fly with airlines that are committed to offsetting their footprint and protecting the environment. Some even give passengers an immediate option to buy carbon offsets directly.

Here's a rundown of some of the biggest airlines committed to the environment and little bit about their initiatives.


carbon offsets


  • British Airways has partnered with a renewable fuel company to turn waste into jet fuel to be used in their aircraft. The airline has launched a customer carbon offset program and invested in more fuel-efficient planes. They have also announced that they will offset all of their domestic flights starting in 2020.
  • Delta allows travelers to purchase carbon offsets at check out that fund projects through the Nature Conservancy, all while prioritizing sustainability and trying to minimize environmental impacts through initiatives like cutting down on single-use plastics
  • Emirates has a host of ongoing initiatives to curb carbon emissions, use less fuel and water, and use more recycled materials. Meanwhile, the airline promotes ecotourism in the UAE while combatting illegal wildlife trading
  • JetBlue partners with CarbonFund, and has offset 52 billion tons of carbon emissions. The airline has one of the largest purchase agreements for renewable fuels in the aviation world and is working toward fully electric ground service equipment.
  • KLM is transitioning to use more and more biofuels in flight. Currently, all of their flights from Amsterdam (AMS) to Los Angeles (LAX) use partial biofuel. KLM is also cutting down on water consumption when cleaning airplanes to save 20 million gallons each year, and is on track to deploy a 75% electric ground equipment fleet by the end of 2019.
  • Singapore Airlines has new planes and new initiatives to cut down on waste, but the airline is also behind a massive effort to save the Harapan Rainforest of Indonesia.
  • Qatar Airways has one of the youngest fleets in the sky with 200 new, fuel-efficient aircraft. Qatar also fights to prevent wildlife trafficking.
  • Qantas flew the very first dedicated biofuel flight from the U.S. to Australia, a 15-hour flight. The airline has pledged to increase biofuel use, and also funds programs to conserve the Maori Rainforest and the Babinda Reef, along with any community projects throughout Australia and New Zealand.
  • United Airlines has a carbon offset program called Carbon Choice that allows travelers to contribute. It funds projects like conservation work in the Alto Maya Forst in Peru. The airline has also partnered with the Audobon society in a few major U.S. hubs to protect birds, and is moving to cut down on waste on board and in airports.


Bottom Line

There are a lot of ways you can offset your carbon emissions to ensure all the wonderful places we love to travel will be there for future generations.



Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

2 Responses

  • Thanks for this article! I think a lot of people know that flying isn’t good for the environment, but don’t know what to do about it without giving up travel. I’m honestly surprised at how little it would cost to directly offset a flight and plan to make a contribution when I take my next trip.

  • Well written and informative, thank you for including this most important of all subjects on your website.

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