How to Develop a Carbon Offset Program

11 September 2018

Climate action and carbon neutrality are not new concepts to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) or the travel industry in general. Recognizing the very act of travel contributes to increasing greenhouse gases, three years ago we as an organization realized we needed to understand the language of carbon neutrality, carbon offsets, and mitigation programs and share our learnings with ATTA members and the industry at large.

An increasing number of travelers seek out companies engaged in social and environmental actions such as cutting carbon emissions.

Our approach to date has been deliberate and measured. Both the 2016 Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) in Alaska and 2017 Summit in Salta, Argentina, were certified carbon neutral. Since 2016, with the support of partners such as Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau, Costa Rica-based Rios Tropicales, and Visit Wales, we have planted more than 9,000 trees to offset the impacts of hosting these large-scale annual events.

With support from Visit Sweden as our 2018 ATWS Sustainability Partner, we will continue our commitment and make the 2018 Adventure Travel World Summit in Tuscany, Italy, carbon neutral. Further, the ATTA plans to offset the impact of all staff travel throughout 2018. In 2019, we will continue to offset all ATTA team travel, and we will offset AdventureELEVATE in Lake George, New York, and ATWS 2019 in Gothenburg, Sweden. By 2020, we have pledged that all our staff travel and our entire annual portfolio of events around the globe will be carbon neutral.

As we continue on this journey, we aim to share with our members some of the considerations and decisions we’re making along the way. Our goal is to inspire members to act so they, too, can mitigate and offset their carbon footprints as we collectively look for ways to reduce carbon emissions through every aspect of our collective operations.

The ATTA recently contracted with the South Pole to advise, oversee, analyze, and report on our climate action efforts. The company has kindly offered some advice on how ATTA members can start on their on their own climate action journey.

According to South Pole, the decision to offset greenhouse gas emissions is about taking responsibility and climate action, but it is also about measuring and understanding your environmental impact and looking at ways to manage and reduce your carbon footprint. It is important your carbon neutrality initiative suits your company and strategy and that it is well understood. With that in mind, here are a few steps to keep in mind when designing a carbon offset program:

Step #1: Initial Considerations

Internally, you should have a clear vision of the scope and volume of emissions your company hopes to offset.

For example, you might choose to measure and offset all aspects of your tours, including transportation, accommodations, and food during the tour. A major consideration when thinking about offsets in travel is the cost of client travel from the point of departure to the starting location of the trip. Typically, 80 percent of the emissions from travel originate from air travel so this is clearly an important factor in your planning.

Some of the key questions to ask when considering the scale of emissions are:

  • Where do the emissions originate from? Transportation, accommodations, or something else?
  • How much do you need to offset, and what is the volume you need? South Pole uses a simple carbon calculator you can access to calculate emissions.
  • How will you fund your offset program? Will the costs be funded from internal sources, by increasing the cost of the trip, or by offering an opt-in contribution to help support carbon neutral activities?

Step #2: Combine Emissions Assessment With Corporate Values

Now it is time to develop an offsetting project portfolio based on a credible greenhouse gas emissions assessment aligned with your corporate objective and values.

There are many different ways you can offset. Depending on your budget and specific interests, select a single project or a portfolio of projects that meet your business objectives:

  • Geographical focus/location: Do you want to focus your offsetting portfolio on a certain geography or region, perhaps a region in which you operate tours?
  • Sustainable development goals: Does your organization have a strong stand on specific societal or environmental objectives such as biodiversity protection, women’s empowerment, education, or poverty alleviation? For example, ATTA member Better Places supports a project in Ghana assisting with the production and distribution of modern, fuel-efficient cooking stoves at subsidised prices to private households.
  • Technology: You’ll also need to decide what kind of technology to utilize in offsetting emissions. There are numerous hi-tech carbon-capture solutions available, with more becoming available all the time.
Numerous companies can help your company select a project to support. The ATTA is currently working with South Pole, which has headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, and 16 offices around the world. In the past we worked with Vancouver-based Synergy Enterprises and can also recommend Natural Capital Partners based in the United Kingdom.

Step #3: Communicate Your Initiative

Not sure how to spread the word about your company's environmental commitments? Check out these budget-friendly PR tips.

Making the decision to offset carbon emissions is a great first step — now share that news with others! Educate and engage your staff and clients about the global impacts of carbon emissions. Let current and prospective customers know how your company has committed to climate action and about the projects it supports. An increasing number of people actively seek out companies with a social mission, so dedicate a page on the company’s website to detail how and why cutting carbon emissions aligns with your company’s goals and values.

Step #4: Continue To Reduce Impact

Using information learned from the carbon emissions assessment, work through every aspect of your company’s tours, operations, and supply chain, looking for ways to reduce or eliminate emissions. Though offsetting emissions is important, it is just one part of the process of becoming a more sustainable and environmentally friendly company. It is important to actively reduce our environmental impact in all aspects of our businesses. During ATWS 2018, we’ll discuss this topic more in depth during the session Extending Adventure’s Impact.

Is your company involved with carbon offsetting and climate action projects? Are there companies you recommend that can assist adventure travel operators with this process? Please share your stories, questions, and comments below.

This article is part of an Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) initiative addressing important topics identified as critical to the protection and continued advancement of the adventure travel industry. Each initiative — eliminating plastics, women in leadership, climate action, and young leaders — has a dedicated team focused on building awareness of, advancing educational opportunities in, and creating a lasting impact on each of these areas within the adventure travel industry. We invite you to visit the ATTA’s initiatives page where you can access reports, read the latest news, participate in active projects, and join conversations within the membership community.