This article is an excerpt from our full article on How To Offset The Carbon Footprint Of Your Flights, and shares only the equation to do so.
The 747 Formula
We’ve created the “7-4-7” formula (yes, a pun on the Boeing 747), which breaks your carbon offset into three categories, all of which have their pros and cons, but combined, strike a balance that is effective and approachable, increasing the likelihood of adoption. The first two categories are based on the “durability” of the solution as defined by Microsoft’s Corporate Sustainability Group, whose effort to not only fundamentally understand and report on their impact on climate change, but take a strong stance in reversing it, has been a cornucopia of knowledge, while the final category focuses on awareness and education, vital components in solving this little conundrum we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Immediately remove 7% of your emissions with Direct Air Capture
Direct Air Capture can sequester carbon for thousands of years, literally sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and putting it deep in the ground where it originally came from. This “engineered” technology is as close to a permanent solution as possible, making it extremely resilient and earning the label of “high durability”. Pulling air via massive industrial fans through filters to capture and process carbon dioxide and then placing it thousands of feet underground is expensive to operate, but it’s the most effective solution available to immediately reverse the emissions we cause and needs to be a part of any offset strategy. This component kickstarts your offset nicely and immediately removes 7% of your emissions.
Climeworks—$1.30 per kg of CO2 removed. Founded in 2009 in Switzerland, Climeworks has developed state-of-the-art technology for directly removing carbon from the atmosphere at scale. Climeworks provide a calculator on their website, making the calculation of this contribution straightforward.
Note: First calculate your emissions using an online calculator, like this one from carbonfootprint.com.
Example: Our economy seat going from LAX to JFK and back is responsible for 1300 kg of emissions. 7% of this is 91kg, meaning $120 USD needs to be paid to immediately pull those 91 kgs of carbon out of the atmosphere.
Plant 4 trees for every hour you travel
Tree planting is defined as a “low durability” solution—an initiative that sequesters carbon for less than 100 years and has inherent reversal risks (such as trees burning prematurely). The math of offsetting carbon emissions with tree planting is extremely difficult to nail down. One mature tree will absorb roughly 50 lbs or 22 kg of carbon dioxide each year, but how long that tree lives before it burns or begins to decay and emit sequestered carbon right back into the atmosphere is a complete unknown. It also takes 20-30 years for a tree to mature, so this solution kicks the can down the road quite a bit. Fortunately, planting trees is the cheapest carbon offset option available, so we feel it’s best to just vastly overshoot this component of your contribution, and calculate based on how many mature trees it would take to sequester your emissions in one year, aiming to offset 63% of your travel’s emissions over time.
One Tree Planted—$1 USD per tree.
The Nature Conservancy—$1.50-$3 USD per tree.
Example: Our economy seat going from LAX to JFK and back would take 12 hours of air travel and is responsible for 1300 kg of emissions. 63% of this is 819kg, which would take 48 mature trees to sequester over the course of one year, or 4 trees for each of the 12 hours flown. This would cost $48 through One Tree Planted.
Donate $7 for every hour you travel to awareness & education initiatives
The amount of information and misinformation flying around us at all times is dizzying and causes serious climate change confusion. Knowledge is the ultimate power, so it must be a part of the solution. While awareness and education don’t pull carbon out of the air directly, they certainly help reduce how much is emitted in the first place, which is actually the quickest solution to our problem. This element is extremely hard to quantify, but this donation needs to eventually offset 30% of your emissions. We have interpolated between the other two solutions to arrive at our recommended donation amount of $7 per every hour you travel.
Example: Our economy seat going from LAX to JFK and back would take 12 hours of air travel. We should donate $84 to climate change awareness and education to aid in offsetting future emissions.
Total Example: In total, our roundtrip LAX-JFK economy ticket costs $252 USD to offset (as of 2023), and a business class ticket costs $492 USD.
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