Commercial aviation has made global travel a reality for nearly anyone. But with this convenience comes a price beyond the ticket cost, which is the carbon footprint it leaves behind. While car, bus, or train travel often has fewer emissions, there’s no way to ride a train overseas, making air travel the only option for long-distance travelers.
Fortunately, airline carbon offsets allow travelers to purchase carbon reduction credits that help offset their portion of the CO2 emissions their flights create. Let’s explore airline carbon offsets, how they work, and if they are actually effective below.
How Much CO2 Does a Plane Produce Per Flight?
The amount of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), that a plane puts off per flight can vary greatly by the type of plane, its route, weather conditions, and more. However, it is possible to average out all commercial flights to determine how much CO2 emissions they produce.
According to BlueSkyModel, the average commercial flight emits 53.3 pounds of CO2 per mile (0.024 metric tons). So, a roughly 2,500-mile cross-country flight from New York to Los Angeles would create 133,250 pounds (60.44 metric tonnes) of carbon dioxide emissions.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of a Private Jet?
Private jets are another animal altogether when it comes to their carbon footprint. These smaller, typically less-efficient jets emit significantly more than commercial airliners. They dump CO2 into the atmosphere at an average rate of 2 metric tonnes per hour.
Are private jets eco-friendly?
At a clip of 2 metric tonnes of CO2 per hour of flight time — five to 14 times greater per passenger than a commercial airliner — private jets are anything but eco-friendly. Granted, they make up a much smaller amount of flight traffic, so their combined impact is less than commercial airliners.
Another way private jets are not eco-friendly is the number of passengers they carry. A midsize charter jet can hold eight to 12 passengers. Let’s say we maximize that number at 12 people on a five-hour cross-country flight. That’s a total of 10 metric tonnes of CO2 or 0.83 metric tonnes of CO2 per passenger.
As mentioned above, an average commercial cross-country flight would emit about 60 metric tonnes of CO2. If the commercial flight is carrying 100 passengers, this would come out to 0.60 metric tonnes of CO2 per passenger.
As you can see, private jets are less efficient than commercial flights.
How Do You Offset Carbon From Air Travel?
You can offset the amount of greenhouse gas emissions your flight produces— or your prorated portion of the GHG emissions — through carbon reduction credits or carbon offsets. You make contributions toward carbon-reduction projects, such as preventing deforestation, helping reforestation efforts, adopting renewable energy, and more.
The amount you contribute helps reduce or prevent a certain amount of GHG emissions, and this is the amount of CO2 emissions you offset from your flight. So, if you took the cross-country commercial flight mentioned above, you’d need to purchase enough carbon reduction credits to offset 0.60 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions, which is your share of the total emissions the flight produced.
What Is an Airline Carbon Offset?
An airline carbon offset is when the airline itself offers to sell you a carbon reduction credit to make you a net-zero traveler. This can be directly from the airline itself or through a third-party carbon offset seller. Over 30 IATA member airlines offer carbon offsets in this manner.
There’s no need to go directly through the airline’s program, though. You can buy carbon credits on your own through providers like Terrapass. We offer a range of carbon offset programs to help make your travel carbon neutral and offset its environmental impact, including a flight carbon offset product that goes by the number of miles traveled and the number of travelers in your party.
How Much Does a Carbon Offset Cost?
A carbon offset is typically priced per ton, meaning you pay a certain amount per ton or metric tonne of emissions reductions. The cost can range greatly from less than $1 per ton to over $50 per ton, depending on the type of carbon offset program, the verified carbon standard it was developed under, the offset’s location, and more.
Terrapass offers flight carbon reductions based on miles flown. For example, offsetting 2,001 to 4,000 miles of air travel would cost $16. If you took a long-haul flight of 10,001 to 12,000 miles, you’d pay $48 to offset it.
What Are Some Examples of Carbon Offsets?
You can choose from a range of carbon offset programs in the carbon market, but they all fall under one of two categories: carbon reduction or carbon sequestering. Carbon reduction is actively lowering the carbon emissions of an organization, business, or community. This can include:
Installing renewable energy, such as hydroelectric power, wind turbines, or solar panels
Installing new, more energy-efficient machines in a factory
Funding the updating of an aging fossil fuel power plant
Greenhouse gas sequestering initiatives capture or absorb CO2 and other GHG emissions, preventing them from entering the atmosphere or absorbing existing emissions. These carbon offset programs may include:
Installing a methane gas capturing system in a landfill
Forestry projects, such as preventing deforestation or funding reforestation
What Is the Most Effective Carbon Offset?
An effective carbon offset leaves the world the same as or better off than it would have been had you actively reduced your own carbon footprint. In the scope of a flight, this means an effective carbon offset at least accounts for your portion of the CO2 emissions your flight created or more.
However, there’s more to it than just the offset amount. You must also choose a quality carbon offset project. A quality carbon offset meets five key criteria:
Additional: This means the carbon reduction program is not part of the organization’s normal plans, and it would not be doing this initiative without the funding the program provides it.
Not overestimated: This means the carbon reduction amounts are estimated and vetted by a certifying agency using accepted standards, such as the Gold Standard.
Permanent: This means the organization cannot change its mind later and reverse its actions, such as cutting down trees planted to sequester CO2 emissions.
Unclaimed: This means the carbon offset has not been claimed by another entity or organization.
No social or environmental harm: Finally, a quality carbon offset program harms nothing else socially or environmentally. For example, a reforestation project’s land use cannot displace local native peoples or plant life or pollute local ecosystems.
As long as the carbon offset you chose meets these five requirements, it’s high quality and effective. From there, it’s all about choosing a carbon offset air travel program with methodologies and benefits you agree with.
Which airline is best for carbon emissions?
Not all airlines are created equal in terms of their carbon footprint, as some work harder than others to minimize their GHG emissions. Let’s review some of the best airlines for carbon emissions and what they are doing to improve sustainability.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines: This airline has been hard at work reducing its carbon footprint since 2008. It has a plan in place to reduce its footprint by 15% (compared to 2005) by 2030. KLM also participated in a 2020 initiative to improve fuel efficiency, enhance in-plane technology, and shift to sustainable aviation fuel.
Alaska Airlines: This airline is one of the most fuel-efficient in the world and is consistently the leading U.S.-based airline in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Alaska Airlines is also working with sustainable aviation fuel to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Delta Air Lines: Delta Air Lines is a household name in the U.S. and is a leader in reducing its carbon emissions. In 2020, Delta committed to investing $1 billion over 10 years to cancel out all its fossil fuel emissions. It also committed to reducing all carbon emissions by 50% by 2050.
American Airlines: Another household name in the States that is among the best airlines for CO2 emissions is American Airlines. The company made many small-scale changes, such as adding winglets, switching to paperless cabins, and reducing weight to improve efficiency. But it’s also invested heavily in more efficient narrow-body jets and targets a 50% emissions reduction within 30 years.
Cathay Pacific: This Hong Kong-based airline is not only consistently among the highest rated in the world, but it also focuses on being eco-friendly. It added a handful of new, more efficient planes to its fleet and plans to switch to sustainable aviation fuel, reducing its fossil fuel use by 80% over time. It also cut its fuel use by 28% since 1998 and switched to apps in place of paper in its cockpits.
Airline Carbon Offsets Can Make Travel Green
Traveling is a hobby for many people worldwide, but the carbon emissions related to air travel can turn off many environmentally conscious travelers. Carbon reduction credits can help ease your mind and make air travel an option again.
At Terrapass, we offer various carbon offset options for air travel. Simply find out how many miles you’re traveling, and our flight carbon offset calculator will determine the right offset amount — no complex emissions calculator is needed. We can also work directly with private airlines to offer carbon reduction credits at the point of sale.