British Airways announced last week they will offset the carbon emissions from all flights within the U.K. starting next year, joining a long list of airlines around the world taking steps to minimize their environmental impact.
British Airways is the first airline in the U.K. to take this step, and a massive addition to the roster of environmentally conscious airlines worldwide. Although its domestic flights are just a small fraction of its environmental impact, it's still a good move.
It comes as more consumers are getting more vocal about the need for airlines and travel companies to prioritize the environment, and could spur more airlines to join their ranks.
Here's what you need to know about British Airways' announcement.
What is a Carbon Offset?
Let's start with the basics.
Anything that you do that burns or uses energy releases carbon emissions. It spans from simple things like heating your house, driving, or flying on a plane, to more complicated processes like the production and distribution of any consumer good you buy. Add it all up, and you've got your own personal carbon footprint.
And a carbon offset is exactly what it sounds like: a way to balance out the emissions you create. You can purchase carbon offsets, donate to environmental charities, or plant trees to help minimize your impact on the environment.
Jet fuel emissions are just one part of airlines' environmental impact. Airport energy use, including lounges and ground equipment, food production, waste, and more all negatively impact the environment. This makes aviation a sizeable player in the production of carbon emissions.
According to the Air Transport Action Group, aviation accounts for 2% of the world's total carbon emissions caused by humans – and 12% of emissions created by transportation.
According to The Guardian, the U.K. ranked third in the world's total aviation emissions in 2017, when it was responsible for 4%. The U.K. follows the U.S., which creates a staggering 24% of all aviation emissions, and China with 13%.
British Airways Carbon Offsets
Starting in 2020, British Airways will offset each of its roughly 75 domestic flights daily by donating and investing in worldwide carbon emission reduction projects. That includes reforestation projects, renewable energy, and rainforest preservation programs.
As a whole, the airline has committed to becoming carbon neutral, having no net impact on the environment by 2050.
These initiatives are just a part of British Airways' overall plan, which also includes a partnership with a renewal fuel production company that the airline hopes will eventually power its fleet.
“British Airways is determined to play its part in reducing aviation's CO2 emissions,” CEO Alex Cruz said in a statement.
Is it Enough?
Any move by an airline to offset its environmental impact should be applauded. An airline the size of British Airways taking this step just gives those efforts more attention, increasing the odds that others will take notice and follow suit.
But it's also worth pointing out that this initiative will cover a tiny fraction of British Airways' overall carbon footprint. With more than 800 daily flights, including many long-haul flights that consume far more fuel, zeroing out emissions for a few dozen regional flights is more symbolic than anything.
Still, it's a start.
Flying takes a toll on the environment, and mitigating that impact starts with airlines. We hope this announcement from British Airways is only the beginning, and expect to see other airlines in the U.K. and around the world follow suit. In the meantime, Thrifty Traveler is offsetting all of our flights. And we hope you consider offsetting your own travel carbon footprint, too.