Compensating your carbon footprint

The threat of climate change is no longer theoretical or a distant reality. This article shows you how carbon compensation works, how to become carbon neutral, and how to select the best compensation scheme.
Compensating carbon footprint

Manage, measure and reduce CO2 emissions

Over the last years we have all experienced weather becoming more extreme all over the world. Businesses from all sectors, including tourism, are working hard to protect their operations and supply-chains from the consequences of climate change. A fast-growing group of tour operators are already including carbon management in their daily operations in an attempt to slow down global warming.

Those who have taken the first steps to measure and reduce their CO2 emissions can take it one step further by compensating their carbon footprint. They can aim to become carbon neutral or even climate positive.

Compensating your carbon footprint

The concept of offsetting your carbon footprint means measuring your emissions and buying offset credits from compensation schemes. These schemes basically allow businesses to invest in environmental projects with their credits to compensate their carbon footprint. These projects are founded to remove or reduce future emissions and are in most cases located in developing countries.

Compensating CO2 emissions by investing in tree planting projects such as forest management and reforestation is a popular and efficient way of offsetting. By planting new forests, CO2 is soaked up from the air directly by the trees. As a tree grows, it can consume over 20 kilos of CO2 before releasing enough oxygen (O2) to supply a single person with clean air for two years. Tree planting is a very effective way of compensating carbon footprints and at the same time also improves the environment with fresher air, shadow and fertile land.

Compensating CO2 by planting new forests

Many certification schemes have also started to invest in projects that focus on:

  • Sustainable energy (wind, solar and hydro)
  • Clean cooking stoves
  • Biogas
  • Water purifying

These projects are not only there to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but created to quicker and more permanently prevent CO2 emissions. Thereby, they also offer social benefits and positive impact in developing countries. These projects directly contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and focus on creating a better future for all.

Compensating your carbon footprint

Becoming carbon neutral

Offsetting your CO2 emissions literally means compensating. We are investing in projects that are good for the environment because we want to make up for our negative impact. While some tour operators aim to neutralise the impact of booked flights, others offset their entire carbon footprint. They aim to become carbon neutral.

This can be achieved by reducing emissions as much as possible and compensating the remaining share via environmental projects. In the end, they have compensated all their CO2 emissions by investing their full carbon share into environmental projects. This results in a net zero carbon emissions.

Some tour operators even have higher ambitions and go beyond achieving net zero carbon emissions. They are over-compensating their carbon footprint and are thereby creating environmental benefits by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. This is called carbon negative and climate positive. These tour operators are not only compensating their own share of footprint but taking responsibility for the environment and slowing down global warming!

Note: Climate positive is not to confuse with carbon positive, whereby more renewable energy is produced than needed, which is then fed back to the grid.

Carbon management model

Costs of CO2 compensation

Until the moment we reach a zero-carbon tourism industry, the most cost-effective, efficient and quickest solution is to buy credits and to invest in projects that reduce our carbon emissions. The key question remains, how much does it cost to compensate your carbon footprint? This turns out to be rather tricky as its extremely hard to put an exact price on all the damage caused by climate change.

There is no agreement on how much it costs to compensate one tonne of CO2. Thereby, most certification schemes charge different prices for their compensation, which is often a point of confusion. There are two main reasons for the different prices between schemes:

  1. There are several ways to estimate the impact on the climate. For example, different calculations will show various impacts for taking a flight as opinions are divided in how it truly affects global warming
  2. Not all compensation schemes invest in the same projects and some are more expensive than others. Especially those projects that are not only there for CO2 impacts but also aim to create a better future for all, are more expensive.

The industry is full of cheap ways to compensate emissions, and it’s fairly easy as well. Environmental economists estimate that in order for us to be in line with Paris Agreement Objectives we would need a price between €35 and €65 per tonne of CO2 to reach our target. In reality, the price is lower and determined by market supply and demand.

Selecting the right compensation scheme

Now that climate change is more visible than ever, the money involved grows and therewith the need for accountability. Everyone who invests in environmental projects would like it to be most effective and cost-efficient. Characteristics of a good compensation scheme are as follows:

  • It’s a not for profit organisation
  • They are transparent (e.g. annual reports online)
  • They have strong underlying standards and objectives
  • Their projects all hold certification and are measurable
  • Their projects only exist because of the carbon credits

A selection of certification schemes that have proven to be effective and reliable are:

Compensation is not the final solution

In the end, compensating your full carbon footprint is not the final solution as it threatens our attempts to reduce our emissions. Compensation can’t be seen as the easy way out. In order to actually slow down global warming, we really need to reduce our CO2 emissions. Compensating must go hand in hand with a strong internal reduction strategy.

Our first priority should be to reduce your own footprint as much as possible, before compensating the remaining share. Take small steps at the time, be transparent, involve employees as much as possible and keep in mind that you are working on your own future by slowing down global warming.

Steps to take action

Step 1: Measure and identify your carbon footprint

Step 2: Reduce to minimise your carbon footprint

Step 3: Compensate your remaining carbon footprint

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Good tourism trends 2023

Prepare for the future in our online workshop. Join us on 9th February 2023, 3PM CET for a practical action plan full of ideas and tasks to respond to tourism trends in 2023!

Join our free introduction course

This course guides you through the first steps to become a better tour operator. It teaches you how to run a successful and sustainable business!