Green holidays

In the face of growing evidence on climate change, an understandable desire to get away can leave us feeling guilty about what our regular week in the sun is doing to the planet. Even one short-haul plane flight can produce as much carbon dioxide as a year’s car use. One way to ease the guilt is by participating in a carbon offset scheme.

What is offset?

Carbon offset schemes (sometimes called CO2 offset) aim to balance the amount of a whole bunch of gases – called ‘greenhouse gases’, which includes CO2 – created by holiday travel, with initiatives that make an equivalent saving. Essentially, you are donating money to projects that are helping to reduce the production of these environmentally harmful gases throughout the world.

Although offsetting can’t reverse harm already done by our past actions, it can at least mean that our future travel doesn’t add to the problem. Offset schemes are sprouting up everywhere, and some travel providers will now help you calculate your potential emissions and pay for an offset scheme as part of your travel package. The Good Travel Company is one of the companies that offer this service with an offset scheme that supports a wind farm project in northern China.

Responsibletravel.com is another holiday provider that is committed to offering holidays that limit the impact of tourism on the environment. The company offers hand-picked holidays that focus on sustainable tourism. The site also has formed a partnership with Climate Care to offer an air travel calculator to measure your flight’s impact and a number of schemes to provide offset options. These include energy education programmes in Kazakhstan and providing biofuel stoves in India. Even airlines are getting into the offset act, with Virgin Atlantic offering schemes available onboard and online during ticket purchase, that benefit projects in Indonesia and India.

Importantly, Virgin has chosen Switzerland-based ‘myclimate’ as a partner for this initiative, an offset provider that has been highly rated by an independent study of providers by Tufts University in the US.

Check your carbon offset scheme carefully

Due to the high profile of carbon offset now, there are plenty of cowboys trying to get in on the act, which means that it is crucial to investigate your chosen scheme provider before you part with any money.

What should you look out for? Myclimate is a holder of The Gold Standard, an independently managed label that is the high-water mark for carbon offset projects. A project worthy of this standard will have been scrutinised on its environmental performance and contribution to sustainable development. While all providers will not meet this standard, the government advises consumers to look out for Certified Emissions Reductions (CER) to ensure a scheme provides recognized and reputable credits, verified by the UN and meeting the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol.

The UK government has also recently initiated a Code of Practice, which is intended to provide a quality mark for schemes in the near future. This code will help consumers be sure they have made a useful choice by looking at accuracy of pricing and emissions calculations, how clear information is, verifiable reduction credits and setting timescales for cancelling credits. Until the Code takes effect, you’ll have to access the credibility of your provider yourself. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Is the provider open about its aims and management?
  • Are there clear explanations of how your money is spent?
  • Is the pricing in line with other schemes in the market?
  • Is the solution you are funding permanent?
  • Will the project cause any pollution elsewhere?
  • Would the offset have occurred without my funding?

Truly green holidays

Of course, you could cut out the middleman and take a holiday that actively contributes to the welfare of the environment. Hands up Holidays is just one provider of experiences that combine an exotic destination with eco-friendly volunteering. Current options include sessions restoring native flora and fauna with the Maori in New Zealand, or planting trees with an NGO in Turkey alongside free time to do fun stuff like snorkeling or sunbathing.

Once you’ve explored the world of carbon offset for your holidays, why not extend your efforts to try and reduce your everyday energy consumption at home? This is the best way to ensure that your family does its bit year round.

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