In his day job, Jeffrey Engler runs Wright Electric, a startup designing electric airplanes. Now, in a side project, Engler wants to help cut carbon emissions before his own technology comes to market. The “Polar Bear Protection Plan,” the first project in a collaboration called LiveNoTrace, is a holiday present for the environmentalist you know who doesn’t actually want a physical gift: a yearlong carbon offset.
“We realized that the average person’s carbon footprint is about 15 to 16 tons a year,” he says. “And then you could offset each ton for about $10 to $15 per ton.” For a little less than $200, it’s possible to pay for tree planting and other projects that can suck in as much carbon pollution as a typical American emits in a year. A “frequent flier” version of the plan offsets more carbon for those who tend to travel and consume more than usual.
Carbon offsets aren’t new, of course. But they aren’t used as often as they could be. “It’s a relatively underserved market,” Engler says. By packaging offsets as a present–along with a polar-bear themed certificate–he hopes to convince more people to take the step to pay for pollution. The money goes to projects managed by Cool Effect, a nonprofit that supports everything from wind turbines in Costa Rica to digesters that help family farmers in rural Vietnam turn poop into clean energy.
It’s a gift that might be in particular demand in the wake of a year of disastrous hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves, and landmark reports talking about how much worse the situation could get if we don’t make radical moves toward a low-carbon economy now. Instead of despairing, Engler says, people can do something. “There’s something nice about feeling like you can take action as opposed to just feeling bad.”