Carbon offsets have always been controversial, mainly because it’s difficult to verify their reliability. Chalk up Responsible Travel, one of the first travel companies to offer carbon offsets to customers, as one of the biggest skeptics. The company, which has been offering offsets for flights since 2002, has cancelled its program because it believes offsets actually just encourage people to consume more.
Responsible Travel realized just how ludicrous the offset industry had become after learning about carbon offsets being offered by helicopter tour operators and private jet companies. Of course, that makes no sense. Offsetting carbon use from a private jet may make a customer feel good, but it ignores the fact that taking a 200-person would save more CO2 outright.
At the same time, offsets in the airline industry commonly come from tree-planting projects that can take decades to start absorbing CO2. Customers don’t often realize that their offsets may not kick in immediately–another troubling part of the industry.
While Responsible Travel may have given up on offsets, the industry is still plugging away. San Francisco International Airport even installed an airport carbon offset kiosk recently. The offsets, provided by carbon firm 3Degrees, come from a local forest management program. This is a not a bad thing–SFO’s kiosk gets its offsets from a reliable firm–but the industry will have to start teaching consumers that a carbon offset isn’t a license to expend more CO2.