Until recently, my knowledge of carbon offsets and carbon neutrality was limited, but I knew they were important factors in adapting to climate change. This brought me to do some research, and what I found was interesting and helped me gain perspective. It’s no secret that carbon emissions have been on the rise, but there are more and more ways to bring them back down. Major companies now have the power and resources to work towards a solution, even the airline industry.
What are Carbon Offsets?
In simple terms, carbon offsets are investments into various projects that reduce greenhouse gases, like forestry or capturing emissions. These projects collect carbon and then convert it to energy, in the case of replanting trees it’s done by photosynthesis. Renewable energy certificates (RECs) are often categorized with carbon offsets, but are a different concept as they don’t remove carbon, but prevent it’s production by powering solar, wind, and other clean energy sources.
When a company is carbon neutral, it either means that they have invested into carbon offsets or RECs to bring their net emissions to zero or that they have found a way not to produce emissions at all. If they are investing into carbon offsets it doesn’t mean they don’t produce any greenhouse gases, they’re simply calculating their carbon output and paying to have that amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere.
How Carbon Offsets Apply to Air Travel
In 2019 the aviation industry contributed 915 million tons of CO2 emissions worldwide, a significant increase from previous years. It’s even expected that Airline emissions will nearly triple by 2050. I often feel guilty for traveling as much as I do and working in the aviation industry, when we are facing a big climate crisis. I’m sure I’m not alone in the sentiment that we desperately need a solution.
Just recently, a major U.S. airline has become the first in the country to claim carbon neutrality, which is a major step in the right direction. According to their website, they are investing in and fueling all flights leaving out of San Francisco with sustainable airline fuel (SAF) made by Neste, a Finland based company that produces renewable diesel and SAF from waste materials.
The airline is also investing into solar and wind energy farms, forestry conservation projects, and landfill gas capture. As this company continues to work with environmental groups, I hope it encourages other airlines to make this change of buying carbon offsets to balance flight emissions. While it’s important for us to do our best to reduce our carbon footprints individually, it’s time for major corporations to take accountability.