Eco-Smart Travel: What You Should Know



Avoid — Reduce — Offset

  1. Apply the “Avoid-Reduce-Offset approach: fly less frequently (AVOID), choose non-stop flights that have less take-offs and landings (REDUCE), and choose to purchase carbon offsets (OFFSET).
  2. Calculate your travel carbon footprint at Carbon Offsets.
  3. Select a carbon offset provider from a green-e certified partner.
  4. Click here for list of offset providers. (Note: while not an endorsement, Terrapass makes the carbon offset process easy!)
  5. Read article below to understand how airports, airlines and travelers impact our world.
  6. Congratulations! Feel GREAT about your decision to travel GREEN!



With business and convention travel in full bloom and summer leisure travel on the horizon, airports are in full swing handling passengers traveling to all corners of the globe. Travel and tourism are BIG business — according to Deloitte, nearly $1.6 trillion of bookings occurred in 2017 and business travel is projected to grow 6 percent in 2018. With fierce competition among carriers, favorable exchange rates for U.S. travelers, and experiential-not-consumption-based mindsets prevailing, travel of all kinds is on the rise.

It’s no secret that flying is bad news for the environment. Global efforts are underway to reduce emissions, but as emerging economies become more affluent, more people will have the means to travel and GHG emissions will continue to increase.

Airports, airlines and travelers all play an important role in reducing these emissions.



According to the Sustainability Management Association, airports are putting themselves on a carbon diet, with many U.S. airports working toward carbon neutral growth in the next decade by improving operations, technology and utilizing sustainable alternative fuels and market-based reductions (carbon offsets, tax measures, etc.). The International Civil Aviation Organisation reports that CO2 aviation emissions are approximately 2 percent of global GHG emissions, but that CO2 emissions are expected to grow at 3 to 4 percent per year. Some experts say 2 percent is low because it doesn’t factor in pollutants in addition to CO2 that add to global warming.

The aviation industry has identified climate protection goals: the industry is committed to achieving carbon-neutral growth by 2020 and a 50 percent absolute reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 (2005 baseline). The Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) Program, similar to LEED for buildings, sets the global standard for carbon management at airports and offers airports the opportunity to track their carbon footprint and make improvements toward achieving carbon neutrality and offset. There are currently 34 airports participating in the program.

(Source: — DFW)

Some airports are leading the charge. In 2016, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was first to host United Airlines as the first airline to have Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) incorporated into normal business operations. Today, SAF (biogas from feedstock from food production waste) is blended into all jet fuel supplied at LAX. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) is achieving neutrality through 100 percent renewable energy from wind power and carbon offsets from Texas landfill and wastewater treatment plant methane capture projects. San Diego International Airport (SAN), in addition to their ACA carbon neutral/offset goals, is committed to net-zero for all new construction.



There are 31.5 million flights/year by over 200 airlines. Green travel information is ubiquitous online and interpretations of the plethora of data can be overwhelming. Bottom line, most U.S. carriers are moving toward green technologies, sustainable fuels and carbon offsets with their fleets and operations. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and The Climate Registry work with airlines for tracking/reporting GHG emissions. American, United, Delta, Alaska, Hawaiian, JetBlue and others have green initiatives albeit some less robust than European carriers. For specific ratings, Atmosfair, a climate justice group, published an Airline Index in 2017 that ranks the efficiency points of an airline for short, medium and long distance flights.


So what about eco-conscious travelers concerned about their carbon footprint as they jet off into the friendly skies? Consider buying carbon offsets to “offset” your carbon metric ton usage for your flight.


Only 5 percent of the world’s population flies. If you do, consider the “Avoid-Reduce-Offset” approach: fly less frequently (avoid), choose non-stop flights that have less take-offs and landings (reduce), and choose to purchase carbon offsets (offset). You can calculate your carbon footprint to help determine the cost of the offset needed based on your airline itinerary.

A Test Case…

To see how easy it is to locate and buy (or plan to buy) carbon offsets when booking a flight, three airline sites were visited: United, American, Alaska. The hypothetical excursion was a round trip from Philadelphia, PA (PHL) to San Francisco (SFO). United Airlines did not make purchasing carbon offsets easy; in fact, it was not evident where to find this information on their site. Ditto for American Airlines. While holding out hope for Alaska, a top-rated eco-airline… still, no luck. Locating where to buy offsets during the ticketing process proved futile. So research ensued.

First, using the Carbon Offsets site, calculating the carbon footprint for this flight was necessary and easy. Only this information was required: departure and arrival destinations, round trip or one-way, decision to select the high altitude option because higher altitude further increases effect on global warming. The carbon footprint for this flight is 1.12 metric tons or 3,251 lbs CO2e. Far more difficult was figuring out where to purchase offsets.


Important step!

Make certain the offsets are purchased from a green-e certified partner. Green-e certified carbon offsets and renewable energy “meet the most stringent environmental and consumer protection standards in North America.” A list of certified carbon offset providers is here. Still, not all providers make it easy, especially if you don’t know how much your offset should cost. Terrapass makes it easy! Terrapass offers personal carbon offsets at $5.95 per 1,000 lbs CO2e by helping support clean energy projects.  To offset the roundtrip flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco, a total of $16.22 of carbon offsets would need to be purchased. These carbon offset purchases help fund environmental projects domestically and/or internationally, and for the most part, the choice is yours.

Sustainable travel is grabbing traction in recent years, but it will take a global shift in accountability to bring green travel to the forefront of the average traveler. Airports and airlines are embracing change to varying degrees in support of the triple bottom line theory of “People, Planet, Profits.” Educating the typical traveler will take time as the idea of carbon offsets are mainstreamed into the airline ticketing process. But, it is possible at a relatively LOW cost, to offset your CO2e, today. If you fly, consider flying green!

Mary Connor, LEED Green Associate, is a principal at 21GO Communications, a multimedia marketing-communications firm and previously, founder of a Philadelphia-area association management company.

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