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Last week we covered the basics of carbon offsetting flights. Many airlines have internal practices to decrease their carbon footprint, but some airlines also offer customers the opportunity to get involved.

This article — the second in a series of four on carbon emissions from travel — describes some carbon offsetting programs offered by airlines. For each of these programs, participation by customers is completely voluntary and independent from the flight booking process.

In This Post

Delta

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.

JetBlue

JetBlue says it is proud to have offset more than 1.5 billion pounds of CO2 since 2008. Offsets by JetBlue and its customers are currently going toward the Seneca Meadows Landfill Gas to Energy Project outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. This project follows the American Carbon Registry standard and is verified and validated by First Environment, Inc.

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

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 with the Peruvian government 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. To offset round-trip flights between New York (EWR) and Los Angeles (LAX), you could donate $7.37 or 983 miles to Capricorn Ridge Wind farm or $8.84 or 1,179 miles to Alto Mayo Conservation Initiative. TPG‘s latest valuation values United miles at 1.4 cents, but donating only values them at 0.75 cents.

Austrian

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 1,513 tons of carbon emissions per passenger. Based on their calculator, it costs €37.81 ($47) to carbon offset these flights.

Brussels Airlines

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 ($12) to offset, so a business class seat on this route would cost €30.60 ($38) to offset.

Cathay Pacific

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 1.4 cents.

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 1.4 tons of carbon emissions, a seat in business is allocated 2.6 tons and a seat in first is allocated 4.4 tons. The 2.6 tons allocated to a business class seat can be offset by a JPY 38,382 ($352) donation to the Kumamoto project or a JPY 4,742 ($43) donation to the Brazil project.

Lufthansa

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 allocates different carbon emissions to passengers in economy, business and first. For round-trip flights between JFK and Frankfurt (FRA), Myclimate’s calculator allocates 0.925 tons of carbon emissions to economy passengers, 1.8 tons to business class passengers and 2.9 tons to first class passengers. The carbon offsets cost about $26 per ton, so it costs around $46 to offset a business class seat.

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)

SAS partners with CarbonNeutral to support wind power projects in China and India. The SAS calculator — the only calculator mentioned to consider the aircraft type — estimates that round-trip flights between EWR and Oslo (OSL) on a A330-300 produce 0.91 tons per passenger. CarbonNeutral recommends a €9.67 ($12) donation to offset the flights.

Qantas

Since 2007, Qantas and its customers have offset over 2.5 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. Offsets purchased toward all four projects are accredited under the National Carbon Offset Standard.

To offset round-trip flights between LAX and Sydney (SYD) a donation of AUD 37.12 ($30) is recommended.

Comparison Table

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
JetBlue Carbonfund.org Methane destruction $1.70
United Sustainable Travel International Renewable energy $1.50
United Sustainable Travel International Land use $1.80
Austrian Climate Austria Energy efficiency, land use, renewable energy $5.32
Brussels Airlines CO2logic Energy efficiency $2.13 economy, $5.18 business, $7.51 first
Cathay Pacific none Energy efficiency, renewable energy $0.42 economy, $0.52 premium economy, $0.62 business, $0.83 first
Japan Airlines (JAL) Myclimate Japan Land use $16.78 economy, $32.28 business, $53.41 first
Japan Airlines (JAL) Myclimate Japan Renewable energy $2.08 economy, $3.94 business, $6.60 first
Lufthansa Myclimate Energy efficiency, renewable energy $3.12 economy, $5.96 business, $9.77 first
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) CarbonNeutral Renewable energy $1.62
Qantas none Land use $2.00

Bottom Line

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, like British Airways and Virgin Australia, only offer the ability to add a carbon offset donation during booking. Whether you’re booking a flight or making a donation, make sure you’re using a credit card without 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. Some of these airlines, such as Emirates, expressly claim that the aircraft operator is responsible for minimizing emissions and that this responsibility shouldn’t be passed onto customers. However, you could easily use most of the programs described in this article when flying on any airline.

Featured image by Image Source/Getty Images

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