A guide to carbon footprints, carbon scoring and offsetting projects
Operations & Marketing Development
25 Sep 2020
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Hi, I'm Alex and I'm responsible for Far and Wild's sustainability project and helped build our carbon scoring framework which helps us give a carbon footprint score to every holiday itinerary we give to our clients.
Before we delve into different methods of carbon offsetting and how you can offset anything from your safari holiday to Africa to your everyday life, lets just quickly go over what offsetting actually is.
Carbon offsetting is predominately thought of as simply reducing the carbon dioxide emissions caused by an activity which has a negative impact on the environment. In actual fact, carbon offsetting also takes into account other gases such as methane and nitro us oxide which are also greenhouse gases and potentially more harmful than CO2.
Greenhouse gasses consist of:
Carbon dioxide (CO2). This is what most people think of when we talk about greenhouse gasses, since it makes up around 75% of all emission produced and mainly derives from burning fuels such as oil, coal, gas and wood. Trees absorb CO2 and ‘breathe’ out oxygen. Because forested areas around the world are being decimated, there are less and less trees to absorb CO2 meaning the build up increases daily.
Methane (CH4). Although percentage wise it’s far less than CO2 (around 15% of greenhouse gasses), it’s much more potent and according the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency has “an impact of more than 25% greater than CO2 over a hundred year period”, when measured in comparative amounts. Most methane is produced from agriculture and factory farms.
Nitrous oxide (N2O). Although nowhere near the same amounts are produced as with CO2 and CH4, this gas is far more toxic with every kilo produced having 300 times stronger effect than CO2 when it comes to having an affect on the climate. As with methane, the largest contributor to Nitrous oxide levels in the atmosphere are generated by agriculture and farming.
What is a carbon footprint and carbon offsetting?
What is a carbon footprint?
This is the amount a person or organisation’s activity impacts the planet with the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced from it. Whether it is the food you buy from the supermarket, the car you drive, the holiday you take, and so on… a carbon footprint and the greenhouse gases are measured in ‘CO2kge’ – the equivalent amount of greenhouse gasses in kilograms.
Is where people or organisations pay for their carbon footprints to balanced out by other organisations who are involved with carbon offsetting schemes. Independent organisations scrutinise and monitor the amount of carbon saving that a project will compensate for and then these savings are sold in the form of certificates which offsetting companies invest in on behalf of their partners.
Yes, it can make your everyday living a little more expensive adding a marginal amount with some projects and offsetting schemes being more expensive than others.
No, the cost is actually quite minimal in comparison. Depending on the offsetting partner and the project supported the cost of offsetting one tonne of CO2kge is on average £12.00. When you consider an average holiday to Africa using non-sustainably minded travel and accommodation options is around 6500 CO2kge – that will add on roughly £78.00 to your holiday bill. Not a huge amount when taking into consideration you’re helping the planet.
Why do we measure?
Calculating a carbon footprint is the first step in reducing it and it also makes sense from a business perspective, helping to improve cost and resource efficiency. By calculating a carbon footprint, it can show a means of commitment to having a positive impact on the environment rather than a negative one.
It also enables an organisation to be transparent about their sustainability credentials – more and more people are becoming aware of the need to travel and live responsibly and sustainably. This way an organisation already has all the info to hand.
Does carbon offsetting work?
Carbon offsetting is very complex with vast amounts of calculations behind the science. In short, yes, it does works to a certain degree, but we need to adopt the mentality of reducing the carbon emissions in the first place rather than just attempting to compensate for what is produced.
Maybe also think of the planet’s forested areas and oceans as a giant credit card, the more GHGs and carbon emissions we produce, the greater the balance we owe… what happens when the credit card gets maxed out and there’s no way we can pay it back? Maybe we need to use more saving mindsets, thinking about the planet like a giant piggy bank where we’re investing in the future of the world we so privileged to live in and share with remarkable diversity.
What are some the different carbon offsetting projects that are available?
There’s a lot of options to explore and a whole lot of science which goes behind determining if a project is considered sustainable. Sustainability projects can usually be categorised in to three main groups. Reforestation, renewable energies and community focused projects, the latter of which are focused around improving the lives of those living in poorer areas whether it's through social enterprise, education whilst at the same time improving the energy efficiency of these communities.
1. Sustainable forestry, tree planting and forest protection (REDD+) projects
These are considered to be the quickest and cheapest way to help reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses which are pumped into the atmosphere.
Forests store varying amounts of carbon depending on their location, with those being located in primary rainforests, mangroves, swamp and tropical forests being particularly high in ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere around them. Due to the astoundingly rapid decline of forested areas in recent decades, largely due to human encroachment for settlement, agriculture, farming, logging and mining these once vast forests are no longer capable of absorbing as many greenhouse gasses as they once were.
So, how do you go about protecting and establishing forested areas? By making them more valuable than if they were the victim of deforestation.
Essentially there are three main methods for creating and sustaining forested areas for carbon absorption.
Reforestation (also known as forestation) – Cultivation and replanting of trees in areas which previously may have been deforested for agricultural, farming or industrial purposes.
Sustainable forest management – The amount of timber harvested from a forest does not exceed the amount that can grow back over a period of time.
REDD+ Projects – An initiative created by the United Nations to encourage countries to protect forested areas and reverse deforestation with financial incentives. The programs work alongside local communities, creating alternative sources of income – encouraging project participants to protect forested areas from negative influences or seeing them as disposable commodities.
2. Renewable energy and hydro power
The use of renewable energy reduce the need for local communities, who often would not be connected to a power grid, to (more often than not) illegally chop trees from the surrounding forest to be converted to charcoal, which has a triple negative effect.
Deforestation of wildlife habitats.
Deforestation leads to less trees available to absorb carbon dioxide.
Wood and charcoal burned leads to increases of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
Solar and wind power create energy without burning fossil fuels so are considered emission-free and with the majority of Africa being a sunny climate, it makes perfect sense for solar energy farms to be a popular choice for helping create renewable sources of energy.
Hydro power Emission free electricity turbines are set up along the paths of rivers, with the flowing water generating power for communities connected to the local grid, or in some cases to a national grid – boosting supplies.
Some African countries import a lot of their electricity from neighbouring countries which may be heavily dependant on burning fossils fuels to generate power. An example of this is Namibia who import up to 60% of their electricity needs from neighbouring countries such as South Africa. In Namibia up to 40% or rural communities are not connected to a grid system at all, meaning they are reliant on burning wood and charcoal for cooking and cleaning water.
3. Clean water and clean cooking
Clean cooking/cookstoves. In many of the world’s less developed and poorer regions, families are still reliant on traditional ways of cooking their food over open fires – often in enclosed spaces. Not only is this method of cooking inefficient as large amounts of heat are wasted, it can also lead to health issues due to inhalation of smoke. Thanks to carbon offsetting projects, households are given efficient cookstoves. These simple stoves are usually made from metal or clay and thanks to a specially designed combustion chamber can be up to 67% more efficient than cooking over an open fire – which in turn reduces the amount of charcoal and wood needed.
Clean water projects . Around two billion people around the world have minimal access to clean drinking water with many families having to boil their water to make it safe to drink. This is usually done over an open fire (usually indoors), which can lead to respiratory illnesses.
Clean water projects help provide in many ways:
Chemically cleaning the water, using small amounts of chlorine
Mechanically cleaned using filtration systems and
Water pumped from underground sources such as wells.
All these help reduce and avoid greenhouse gas emissions, again caused by the deforestation of wildlife habitats, reducing the number of trees and other vegetation which can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Carbon reduction and offsetting begins at home
By this we mean that although you can join offsetting schemes to help plant trees in other countries, why not look at ways in which you can be more sustainably minded at home.
Use more energy efficient home appliances, cars or alternative transport methods.
Use a service or utility provider which has green policies in place.
Reduce waste whether it’s from the amount of food, (annually the UK wastes around 4.5 million tonnes of food – data correct August 2020), or other household items such as packaging and plastics which could be recycled –
Avoiding single-use plastics wherever possible.
Responsible and sustainable travel – This can be done in so many ways and is easier to accomplish than you think. With some slight tweaks in the way that you travel, your can have a positive impact.
How can I offset my holiday? – There’s a lot of options out there and it can be a confusing minefield and as part of Far and Wild’s commitment to making sustainable travel more attainable, we’ve taken the stress of having to wade through a plethora of research yourself.
C-Level - our carbon offsetting partner
Travelling sustainably and being able to offer a transparent way to offset the carbon footprint of your holiday is something we take very seriously.
We’ve partnered with C-Level, a carbon offsetting organisation based in the UK which invests in offsetting projects which go beyond simple tree-planting. Their carbon offsetting solutions are also community-led, mixing tree planting with poverty reduction, education and conservation.
There is an alternative to the traditional carbon offsetting projects we’ve discussed above, called Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) – this relatively new technology actively works to remove carbon dioxide directly from the air.
The objective of this is to remove CO2 which is in the atmosphere already rather than, for example, planting trees, which will take many years to grow, remove and store carbon dioxide, which when they die, logged or burned their store is released back in to the atmosphere.
The basic way to explain how this technology works - air is sucked into a machine which filters and captures CO2 molecules as they pass through it. The filter then sends the CO2, which is mixed with water, deep underground (think of it as a giant bottle of fizzy water). The carbonated water is then passed through Basilic rock which is very porous – as the mixture passes through the rock the carbon dioxide is deposited, creating carbon crystals, in essence creating new rock.
Rather than working as a reactionary measure to reduce the CO2 emissions we produce by our activities, CDR is working to reduce those that we have produced already.
At the moment, this method of reducing our negative impact on the Earth is more expensive than traditional offsetting methods – 1 tonne of CO2 costs roughly £800 to remove or ‘offset’ where as the equivalent with a tree planting project is on average £15. But as the technology progresses and more and more people invest, the cheaper it will eventually become.
If you’d like to learn more about this amazing technology – head over to climateworks.org
If you would like to learn more about Far and Wild's commitment to promoting sustainable travel and championing those who are leading the way - head to our SUSTAINABILITY PAGE. We're dedicated to empowering our clients to make more sustainably minded choices when it comes to their holidays.