Yes, flying is one of the worst forms of transportation from an environmental impact side. But, if you must fly, here’s one thing you can do to offset the impact of your flights. First, here’s an article explaining why flying is so destructive to the worsening climate crisis:
Second, since few people will stop flying in all cases, here’s what you can do to offset, at least partially, some of the impact of your flights. Each airline has its own approach to allowing passengers to voluntarily act.
As some passengers become increasingly concerned about the carbon emissions associated with their travel, various organizations have stepped up to help calculate your carbon footprint and provide ways to carbon offset your flights. Most airlines have internal practices to decrease their carbon footprint, but some airlines also offer customers the opportunity to get involved.
This article describes some carbon offsetting programs offered to customers by airlines. For each of these programs, participation by customers is completely voluntary and independent from the flight booking process. This article was originally part of a four-part series on carbon emissions from travel, but has been updated recently to include additional airlines and up-to-date information. Other articles in the original series include:
- The Basics of Offsetting the Carbon Emissions From Your Flights
- The World’s Best and Worst Airlines for Carbon Efficiency
- How to Be More Eco-Friendly While Traveling
Alaska Airlines has partnered with Carbonfund.org to allow customers to offset part of the carbon footprint from their flights. Details aren’t provided about the specific projects except that they are third-party validated projects that reduce carbon emissions elsewhere in the US.
Alaska Airlines customers can calculate a suggested offset based on their route. To offset round-trip flights between JFK and SEA, a donation of $8.21 is recommended.
Delta became the first US carrier to launch a carbon offsetting program for customers, in 2007. Customers can support three of The Nature Conservancy’s carbon offsetting projects. The Rio Bravo Climate Action Project protects forest lands threatened by conversion to agriculture, the Clinch Valley Conservation Forestry Program protects and manages 22,000 acres of working forestlands in southwestern Virginia and the Valdivian Coastal Reserve supports traditional land use and forest restoration on Chile’s southern coastline.
To offset round-trip flights between JFK and LAX, a donation of $10.33 is recommended. Delta also provides the ability to donate miles to The Nature Conservancy, but doesn’t suggest a particular number of miles to offset specific flights.
JetBlue says it is proud to have offset more than 2 billion pounds of CO2 since 2008. JetBlue has partnered with Carbonfund.org to allow customers to offset part of the carbon footprint from their flights. The carbon offsets purchased by JetBlue and its customers help fund technology and forestry projects designed to reduce the environmental impact of aviation and prevent harmful greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.
JetBlue customers can calculate a suggested donation to offset specific flight itineraries. To offset round-trip flights between JFK and LAX, the calculator recommends a $8.40 donation.
United’s Eco-Skies CarbonChoice program supports two projects: Renewable Energy in Texas and Alto Mayo Conservation Initiative. The Renewable Energy in Texas project provides financial incentives to develop clean energy projects. The Alto Mayo Conservation Initiative works to reduce tropical deforestation in northern Peru. Both projects are validated under the Verified Carbon Standard.
United’s calculator takes into account the carbon footprint of flying specific routes during certain seasons. To offset round-trip flights between New York (EWR) and Los Angeles (LAX) in May, you could donate $7.23 or 964 miles to Capricorn Ridge Wind farm or $8.68 or 1,157 miles to Alto Mayo Conservation Initiative. TPG’s latest valuation values United miles at 1.3 cents, but donating only values them at 0.75 cents.
Air Canada partners with Less Emissions to give customers the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets to reduce the environmental impact of their flights. No details are provided about the projects that are supported, but Less Emissions notes that the projects are chosen from Gold Standard-Certified International Offsets and VER+ Standard-Certified Canadian Offsets.
The Air Canada calculator estimates that round-trip flights between JFK and Vancouver (YVR) create 0.760 tons of carbon emissions per passenger. It costs CAD 32 ($24) per ton to purchase Gold Standard-Certified International Offsets and CAD 24 ($18) per ton to purchase VER+ Standard-Certified Canadian Offsets. So, based on their calculator, it costs CAD 24.33 ($18) to use international offsets or CAD 18.25 ($14) to use Canadian offsets to carbon offset these flights.
Air New Zealand
Air New Zealand partners with ClimateCare to support two types of projects: (1) native forest restoration projects in New Zealand that reward landowners for permanently preserving forests and (2) international projects chosen to create community as well as climate benefits.
The Air New Zealand calculator estimates that round-trip flights between JFK and Auckland (AKL) create 2.272 tons of carbon emissions per passenger. Based on their calculator, it costs NZD 51.50 ($35) to carbon offset these flights.
Austrian Airlines partners with Climate Austria to support three types of projects: renewable energy projects in Austria, efficient cook stove projects in Kenya and forest conservation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Climate Austria calculator estimates that round-trip flights between JFK and Vienna (VIE) create 1.734 tons of carbon emissions per passenger. Based on their calculator, it costs €43.35 ($49) to carbon offset these flights.
Brussels Airlines partners with CO2logic to support two projects: efficient cook stoves in Uganda and water treatment in Kenya. Both projects are certified by the United Nations and/or Gold Standard.
CO2logic’s Greentripper calculator considers the class of service when calculating carbon offsets. For round-trip flights between JFK and Brussels (BRU), an estimated 1.3 tons of carbon emissions are allocated to each economy seat, 3.06 tons are allocated to each business seat and 4.59 tons are allocated to each first class seat. The Greentripper calculator estimates that each ton takes €10 ($11) to offset, so a business class seat on this route would cost €30.60 ($35) to offset.
Cathay Pacific’s FLY greener program was launched in 2007 and supports two projects that are verified according to The Gold Standard. The first project focuses on converting animal waste into clean energy via biogas digesters in Vietnam while the second project supports efficient cook stoves in Southern India.
For round-trip flights between JFK and Hong Kong (HKG), Cathay Pacific’s carbon emissions calculator allocates 2.24 tons of carbon emissions per economy seat, 2.8 tons per premium economy seat, 3.36 tons per business class seat and 4.48 tons per first class seat. The carbon offset price is set at HKD 23.56 ($3) per ton or 581 Asia Miles per ton, so a business class seat can be offset for HKD 79.16 ($10) or 1,951 Asia Miles. This values Asia Miles at 0.52 cents while TPG’s latest valuation values Asia Miles at 1.3 cents.
China Airlines has partnered with ClimateCare to support environmentally friendly and sustainable carbon reduction projects, although details aren’t provided about the specific projects. The China Airlines calculator considers your class of service. For round-trip flights between JFK and Taipei (TPE), a seat in economy is allocated 1.91 tons of carbon emissions and a seat in business/upper is allocated 3.76 tons. The 3.76 tons allocated to a business/upper seat can be offset by a $38.95 donation.
EVA Air has also partnered with ClimateCare to support various projects that reduce carbon emissions, although no details are given regarding the specific projects. The EVA Air calculator considers your class of service. For round-trip flights between JFK and Taipei (TPE), a seat in economy is allocated 1.5 tons of carbon emissions and a seat in business/upper is allocated 3.01 tons. The 3.01 tons allocated to a business/upper seat can be offset by a $31.11 donation.
Japan Airlines (JAL)
Japan Airlines supports two carbon offsetting projects: one in Brazil and one in Kumamoto, Japan. The Kumamoto project, certified by J-Credit, is focused on forestry management after earthquakes in 2016. The project in Brazil, certified by The Gold Standard, is focused on harvesting biomass plants to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
The Japan Airlines calculator considers your class of service. For round-trip flights between LAX and Tokyo Narita (NRT), a seat in economy is allocated 1.8 tons of carbon emissions, a seat in business is allocated 3.4 tons and a seat in first is allocated 5.3 tons. The 3.4 tons allocated to a business class seat can be offset by a JPY 46,299 ($413) donation to the Kumamoto project or a JPY 7,720 ($69) donation to the Brazil project.
Lufthansa partners with Myclimate to support two projects: solar lighting in rural Ethiopia and energy-efficient cook stoves for Siaya communities in Kenya. Both projects are registered under The Gold Standard.
Myclimate’s calculator for Lufthansa allocates different carbon emissions to passengers in economy, business and first. For round-trip flights between JFK and Frankfurt (FRA), Myclimate’s calculator allocates 0.758 tons of carbon emissions to economy passengers, 1.6 tons to business class passengers and 2.4 tons to first class passengers. The carbon offsets cost about $21 per ton, so it costs around €33 ($37) to offset a business class seat.
Since 2007, Qantas and its customers have offset over 3 million tons of carbon emissions through Qantas Future Planet, which they claim makes them the largest offsetter of any airline.
There are four offset projects featured on the Qantas Future Planet website. Carbon Neutral Kangaroo Island focuses on restoring native landscapes on Kangaroo Island. Reinvigorating Indigenous Traditions uses traditional fire management techniques to reduce emissions in North Kimberley. Empowering Rainforest Communities supports the April Salumei project in Papua New Guinea. And, Conserving Tasmania’s Wilderness protects over 7,000 hectares of native Tasmanian forest from selective logging or conversion to pasture. All four projects meet strict international standards.
To offset a round-trip flight between LAX and Sydney (SYD) a donation of AUD 37.12 ($27) is recommended.
Each airline program described in this article supports different projects that have different costs for carbon offsetting. The table below compares the projects. For simplicity, the route examples from this article are used to calculate the average rate to carbon offset 1,000 miles for each program.
|Airline||Partner Organization||Project Type||Rate Per 1k Miles|
|Delta||The Nature Conservancy||Land use||$2.09|
|United||Sustainable Travel International||Renewable energy||$1.47|
|United||Sustainable Travel International||Land use||$1.77|
|Air Canada||Less Emissions||Unspecified||$3.68 international offsets, $2.86 domestic offsets|
|Air New Zealand||ClimateCare||Energy efficiency, land use, renewable energy||$1.96|
|Austrian||Climate Austria||Energy efficiency, land use, renewable energy||$5.78|
|Brussels Airlines||CO2logic||Energy efficiency||$1.95 economy, $4.77 business, $6.88 first|
|Cathay Pacific||none||Energy efficiency, renewable energy||$0.42 economy, $0.52 premium economy, $0.62 business, $0.83 first|
|China Airlines||ClimateCare||Unspecified||$1.26 economy, $2.49 business/upper|
|EVA Air||ClimateCare||Unspecified||$1.00 economy, $1.99 business/upper|
|Japan Airlines (JAL)||Myclimate Japan||Land use||$20.06 economy, $37.88 business, $59.05 first|
|Japan Airlines (JAL)||Myclimate Japan||Renewable energy||$3.35 economy, $6.33 business, $9.87 first|
|Lufthansa||Myclimate||Energy efficiency, renewable energy||$2.06 economy, $4.80 business, $6.53 first|
After researching how to donate to carbon offsetting projects — and finding many projects and organizations that seemed ready to take my money but had little evidence of verification or certification — I was surprised by the high quality and standards of many of the projects supported by airlines and their customers. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised though: airlines have the resources to find high-quality partner organizations which in turn have the resources to find and vet high-quality projects.
All of the airlines discussed in this article offer the ability to carbon offset flights independent of a specific booking. Some other airlines, including British Airways, JetStar, Thai Airways, Tigerair and Virgin Australia, only offer the ability to add a carbon offset donation during booking or for a specific reservation. Whether you’re booking a flight or making a donation, make sure you’re using a credit card with no foreign transaction fees if there’s a chance the charge may be processed outside the US.
Many airlines don’t offer carbon offsetting programs for customers. But, this doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in environmental concerns. For example, SAS no longer offers the option for customers to carbon offset their flights — but the airline is paying to offset all youth and EuroBonus member flights. And, other airlines note sustainability efforts including efficient aircraft and fuel-saving practices, but don’t offer the ability for passengers to carbon offset flights. If you want to offset your flights, but aren’t flying on an airline that offers carbon offsetting, you can easily use most of the programs described in this article or TPG’s article describing carbon offsetting to carbon offset your flight.