July 15, 2022

By The Delphi Group’s Stephan Wehr, Vice President, and Jonathan Taylor-Ebanks, Sustainability Consultant


As pandemic restrictions ease across the globe, many people are returning to regular travel. With climate change top of mind, travellers are increasingly aware that flights and road trips have a significant impact on the environment. While unfortunately we can’t help with flight delays and disruptions, we do have a suggestion for how you can reduce the impact from your travel if a staycation or electric vehicle are not part of your plans: carbon offsets.

What is a Carbon Offset? 

A carbon offset represents a tonne of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that is either not emitted (an “emission reduction”) or that has been pulled from the atmosphere (a “carbon removal”) as a result of some kind of activity (or what the offset world calls a “project”). Because climate change is a global issue, this reduction or removal could be made anywhere in the world, not just in your own province or territory.

There are many different types of offset projects. Some are industrial- and built environment-related, such as switching to lower-carbon and renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and reducing leaks of GHGs in industrial systems. Increasingly, nature-based offsets are attracting attention and for good reason. These projects focus on enhancing the management of natural systems and lands, such as forests, agricultural lands, wetlands, and others.

Nature-based projects can often involve both emission reductions, such as from avoiding deforestation, and enhanced carbon removals, such as managing a forest in a way that pulls and retains more carbon from the atmosphere as it grows.  

These and other projects can also offer additional benefits, such as better biodiversity or positive social impacts. A classic example is improved cookstove projects, which provide health and ecosystem benefits in addition to reducing emissions 

When it comes to selecting and purchasing offsets, it can be hard to know where to start. We have a couple of recommendations to simplify the process and to help you figure out the best path for you. 

Recommendation #1: Use an online emissions calculator to figure out how many offsets you need to cover your travel 

Emissions calculators are handy and simple tools that work out the carbon footprint associated with a trip, an event, a service, a product, or an entire household. You typically enter in basic data, such as the starting and end points of your trip, and the tools calculate the amount of carbon emitted. While these tools can’t provide you with an exact footprint, they are great for getting a general sense of the climate impact that your trip will have.

When to comes to travel, we like to use calculators that are specifically designed to measure the associated emissions.

  • If you’re travelling by air, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) calculator does a great job. You can even enter multiple-leg trips. Travellers interested in how the data is calculated can easily access the methodology on the same page.
  • Sustainable Travel International’s calculator allows you to work out the emissions associated with different modes of transportation, such as plane, car, or boat trips.
  • Although Carbon Footprint Ltd.’s calculator is not exclusively for travel, it makes our list because it allows travellers to enter up to three separate flight itineraries.

Recommendation #2: Make sure the offsets you purchase are making an impact

Carbon offset projects come in varied sizes, types, and locations. They can include Amazon reforestation in Brazil, wetland conservation in Germany, and mangrove reforestation in Madagascar. Not all offsets or offset providers are created equally, however, and it’s not always clear whether they’re delivering real emission reductions. Fortunately, there are several standards against which offset projects can be measured and verified by a third party, including the CDM Gold Standard, Verra, Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance, Climate Action Reserve, CSA GHG Registries and American Carbon Registry.

You have different options for how to purchase offsets. The CDM Gold Standard is one of the few offset programs that sells offsets directly to the public through their website. Project developers and offset brokers (which are sometimes the same entity) will sell offsets directly to the public; Ostrom Climate and Carbonzero are just two examples of these. Third parties, such as airlines, also partner with offset brokers to provide convenient buying options.

No matter who you choose to buy from, the most important thing to look for is whether the offsets are (1) quantified using reputable standards such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14064-2 standard or the World Resource Institute’s and World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s GHG Protocol standard, and (2) third-party verified in a way that is consistent with ISO 14064-3. If it’s not clear where the offsets are coming from, be sure to ask or look elsewhere to make your purchase.

As we return to regular travel, carbon offsets are just one part of the equation in mitigating your impact on the environment. We help many organizations develop their GHG reduction plans, and offsets tend to be the final option after all other reduction opportunities have been exhausted.

When it comes to business travel, consider whether you can achieve the same results virtually (we know this isn’t always the case; there are some things you can only do in person). If you’re going on a road trip, consider using an electric vehicle (which also helps keep costs down given the high price of fuel right now) or taking the train or bus. There are lots of ways to be a responsible traveller, and it’s a great conversation to have with your kids (who might also have some good ideas). We wish you all a great summer!


Stephan Wehr is Vice President of Climate Change Services and Jonathan Taylor-Ebanks is a Sustainability Consultant. For more information on how The Delphi Group can help you meet your ESG and net-zero goals, reach out to Stephan at swehr@delphi.ca or Jonathan at jtaylorebanks@delphi.ca

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