Should your startup start offsetting CO2 emissions for company travel?

Paranoid Internet has been thinking about how to take ‘going green’ seriously. After doing an internal audit of the CO2 emissions that we create as a company, we noticed that one of the biggest sources was our air travel. 

A Case for CO2 Offsets

As a digital agency, we travel to meet with clients, go to conferences, have offsite team adventures and so on. Within the context of contemporary life and the current state of business, it is oftentimes an unavoidable cost, not only in a financial sense but also in terms of environmental impact. A study by Air Transport Action Group confirmed that airplane travel is responsible for 12% of CO2 emission from transportation services. This totals into 2% of all human-made CO2 emissions. 

Recently, Responsible Travel issued a call for action on aviation emissions. CEO Justin Francis released a statement saying, “As the world focuses in on reducing carbon emissions aviation is getting a free ride. This has to stop if we are to keep global warming below 1.5 percent.”

One option we at Paranoid Internet have looked into is purchasing carbon offsets. The concept has been around for over 10 years now but has recently been met with a resurgence in interest and, naturally, some criticism.

“A carbon offset is a credit for greenhouse gas reductions achieved by one party that can be purchased and used to compensate (offset) the emissions of another party. Carbon offsets are typically measured in tonnes of CO2-equivalents (or CO2e) and are bought and sold through a number of international brokers, online retailers and trading platforms.”

David Suzuki Foundation, One Nature

The idea is to offset the CO2 emissions produced by contributing to initiatives to reverse the impact of emissions or climate change. It seems on the internet that for every article titled, Rich ‘eco-sinners’ can’t buy environmental absolution through carbon offsetting there is another one saying something like Carbon Offsets Booming Thanks to Greta Thunberg

  1. The Cons

Is the offset equivalent? Is it just throwing money at guilt? Is it a greenwashing PR move? 

Recently, Sir Elton John publicly stated that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex need no criticism for their use of private jets because their “flight was carbon neutral by making the appropriate contribution.” 

This implies, in the opinion of Sir Elton John, that not only is one’s environmental impact somehow perfectly calculated but can also be absolved if you additionally contribute positively to the environment. Throwing money at problems is one method to take, however, it may not be the perfect solution to climate change. 

UN experts argue that “in exchange for a clean conscience,” the symbolic or literal trees planted today will not grow quickly enough to cancel out contemporary habits. Although if traveling is a necessity and time is precious, could it be that an offset is better than doing nothing at all? 
Furthermore, since the market for selling offsets is unregulated, it is important to do due diligence before supporting a project. The David Suzuki Foundation released a helpful guide for vetting carbon offset sellers. You can access the guide in the article here.

ng offsets is unregulated it is important to do due diligence before supporting a project. The David Suzuki Foundation released a helpful guide for vetting carbon offset sellers. You can access the guide in the article here

  1. The Pros

Thanks to climate change activists, such as Greta Thunberg, the carbon offset industry has seen a resurgence. Myclimate, a Swiss nonprofit that works with Deutsche Lufthansa AG, has seen a five-fold uptick in credits just in the last year.

One of the more popular and credited carbon offset providers, Gold Standard, outlines their practices as simple, certain and with an amplified impact. Their website allows individuals or companies to purchase offsets that contribute to verified organizations. 

In effect, by quantifying the carbon emissions and providing a quantified solution, individuals and companies can have a very specific grasp on their pollution and are presented with a suggestion of how much they should contribute in an attempt to reverse it.
This can all change depending on who is making the calculations. A report from Bloomberg showed that some offsets can cost as low as 10 cents per ton of carbon dioxide while others cost more than €70. A report by Forest Trends concluded that global voluntary offsetting transactions reached a value of about $200 million a year

Case study: LYFT

In a recent blog post, LYFT announced its commitment to full carbon neutrality and 100% renewable energy in correspondence with its Green Cities Initiative that tracks climate change. 

Full carbon neutrality is done through their carbon offset program which was a multi-million-dollar investment in 2018 alone, making LYFT one of the top-10 voluntary purchasers.

On Twitter 

With the state of the climate crisis, individuals – or more importantly, businesses – should be partaking in initiatives to reduce and reverse climate change. Whether or not it is an offset or simply a donation, the importance is that people are doing something. After reviewing offsets that put the impact an individual or company makes in an easily understood number, the amount of CO2 that needs to be offset.