What is actually a voluntary CO2-balance and how does it all work in practice? No matter how hard you try, it's not always possible to avoid emitting greenhouse gases - whether it's a flight to a well-deserved vacation or a business trip from Hamburg to a seminar in Munich. Nowadays, however, it is possible to offset your own emissions by supporting climate protection projects by making a donation equivalent to your own emissions.
But does this really counteract the environmental problem of global warming? Here I would like to tell you everything you need to know about CO2-offsetting and show you where you can safely offset your emissions.
Here is another short Table of contents for you:
Tip: Flight shame is a big issue these days! If a flight is absolutely unavoidable, you can use the CO2-compensation, by the way, flying more sustainably. I deliberately say sustainableER, because flying is not sustainable these days. But there are a few tips you can use to reduce the environmental impact of your flight.
What is (voluntary) CO2 compensation?
If you want to offset your activities that cause greenhouse gas emissions, you can invest the converted equivalent value in climate protection measures that lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. This describes CO2 offsetting.
Why should you do that? Through their daily actions, every person has their own CO₂ footprint, which contributes to a certain extent to the environmental problem of global warming According to the Federal Environment Agency, every German emits an average of around 11 tons of CO₂ per person per year.₁ However, science has calculated that every person on this earth is entitled to an average annual climate-friendly emission of only around 2.3 tons of CO₂.₂ This is the personal Climate Budget. So with our western lifestyle we are living on credit - the lender is the environment.
To what extent can emissions be offset?
Basically, you can't blame anyone. Many people simply don't realize that their own actions have a global impact and contribute to the environmental problems of our time. Nevertheless, the effects of your own CO₂ emissions can at least be offset. Here are some examples of activities that you can offset:
- Air travel: Due to the general shame of flying, most people compensate for air travel. Important details include the departure and arrival airports, whether it is a return flight and whether you are flying economy or business class.
- Car trips: The equivalent value is calculated on the basis of the distance traveled, the type of fuel and the fuel consumption of the car used.
- Cruises: A cruise is definitely not one of the sustainable ways to travel. The equivalent value of offsetting the emissions is ultimately determined, for example, by the size of the ship, the duration of the voyage and the type of cabin.
- Events: Yes, organizers of festivals and other events can also offset CO₂. For example, the number of visitors, the duration of the event or the size of the area with air conditioning are decisive factors.
- Budget: Energy consumption and the type of heat generation in the home play a key role here.
- Total CO₂ footprint: To calculate the equivalent value, you need to know how much meat you consume, how often you fly or how often you buy new clothes.
Notice: Many people are questioning their own lifestyle and, for example, are giving up driving as a matter of principle. In the article about the car free life you can find out more about it. But if you absolutely can't do without your car, take a look at my article with the Tips for sustainable driving.
What costs should I expect?
First of all, I would like to say that for me, CO₂ compensation not a cost but an investment represent. I am the cause of costs that our environment has to bear. If I cannot or do not want to prevent CO₂ emissions, then offsetting these costs with money from my own pocket is therefore an investment in a more climate-friendly future.
To give you a rough idea of the amount of your compensation, I've put together some Examples for you, which I have entered in recommended providers for CO₂ compensation:
- 43 euros (approx. 1.8 tons of CO₂) for a flight from Hamburg to Dubai (economy, scheduled, Airbus A319)
- 103 Euro (around 4.0 tons of CO₂) for 180 car journeys per year to work from Berlin to Potsdam. (petrol engine, 7 liters consumption per 100 kilometers)
- 112 Euro (about 4.3 tons of CO₂) for a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. (11 days, ship size 500 - 1000 people, one person, standard cabin)
Tips - How to compensate CO2 correctly
Not all CO₂ offsetting is the same. To ensure that your money ends up at the right address, where the most effective climate protection measures are taken, I would like to give you the following advice.
Tip: You can also take a look at my article about Climate protection tips in everyday lifewhich can be implemented quite easily.
Observe the quality standards
To make sure that your compensation amount ends up where it is needed, you should pay attention to the quality seals. For example, I make sure that the provider of my choice labels its offers with the CDM Gold Standard (Clean Development Mechanism) certification. The seal of approval is the strictest existing standard for climate protection projects.
Use an independent CO2 calculator
Of course, every provider also has their own CO₂ calculator. Nevertheless, an independent calculator will help you to make sure you don't use too much or too little CO₂. With the Calculator from the Federal Environment Agency you can, for example, store your own CO₂ profile with the number of people in your household or annual air travel and constantly adjust it. This way, you automatically know where there is still room for improvement and can also assess your personal, climate-friendly development.
Which providers are recommended for CO2 offsetting?
Trustworthy providers generally use certificates of a quality standard, such as the CDM Gold Standard. This gives you the certainty that you are at the right address with your CO₂ offsetting. Here are the two providers of my choice:
- atmosfair: atmosfair gGmbH is a non-profit climate protection organization based in Berlin. The calculator on the website works fairly and flawlessly. Around 90 percent of the organization's own climate protection projects are certified with the CDM Gold Standard. You can find out more at atmosfair.com.
- myclimate: The project is a non-profit foundation from Zurich. On the website, you can offset flights, car journeys, cruises or your entire carbon footprint at a glance. You can find out more at myclimate.org.
If you like, you can decide for yourself which projects you want to invest your money in. For example, support the installation of solar thermal heating systems in South Africa or the construction of a small hydropower plant in Honduras.
Are there companies that automatically offset the CO2 emissions of their guests and customers?
In fact, some companies are forging ahead and want to offset carbon dioxide emissions on behalf of their customers. Here are two examples:
- Unplanned: With this travel start-up, you get a tailor-made, unique trip without knowing where you are going beforehand. Those responsible want to make travel as sustainable as possible and therefore offset the entire CO₂ emissions of the trips offered.
- Easyjet: EasyJet wants to be the first airline to offset the CO₂ emissions of its own flights. However, scientists criticize the fact that flying emits not only the greenhouse gas CO₂ but also water vapour and nitrogen oxides, which are just as harmful to the climate and should be offset.₃
The danger always resonates with such advances that a company will use marketing-effective Greenwashing operates. In order to make a final assessment, you should therefore take a very close look before a company's environmental commitment finally convinces you to buy a service or product.
Does CO2 compensation make sense or is it modern indulgence trading?
Of course, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions should always take priority over offsetting them. This is also because the CO2-compensation to a certain extent inhibits the social debate that we actually need. Because you pay your compensation contribution, the general impression is that the problem has been solved. But of course that's not the case. Nevertheless, every CO2-emission better than any non-compensated one.
But one question remains: why don't we always compensate? In other words, automatically for flights, car journeys and products in the supermarket? Then many people would prefer to make climate-friendly decisions...
What do you think of the CO2-compensation and which activities have you already balanced? I look forward to your comment.
PS.: In the Mobility blog you will get many more tips! Learn, for example, how you can, if you can not do without a flight, nevertheless as plastic-free as possible fliegen simply by following your heart.
₁ Federal Environment Agency: Voluntary CO2 offsetting (as at 23.07.2019), available at https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/themen/freiwillige-co2-kompensation. [24.03.2020].
₂ atmosfair gGmbH: Air travel and the personal climate budget, available at https://www.atmosfair.de/de/gruenreisen/persoenliches_klimabudget. [24.03.2020].
₃ M. Zimmer; MDR: Easyjet wants to fly climate-neutral with immediate effect (as of 24.11.2019), available at https://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/wirtschaft/inland/easyjet-will-klimaneutral-fliegen-100.html. [24.03.2020].