Can I travel without expanding my carbon footprint?

Ecotourism: Buying Yourself Green

People planning carbon-neutral vacations sometimes buy green tags to offset their flight's emissions.
People planning carbon-neutral vacations sometimes buy green tags to offset their flight's emissions.
Mike Flokis/­Getty Images

­There are a lot of ways to arrange a potentially carbon-neutral trip.

The travel company REI Adventures, for instance, offers completely planned adventure trips with the green tags built right in. The company works directly with a nonprofit called Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which offers two different products: Cooler Future carbon offsets that buy 99 percent wind power and 1 percent solar power; and Brighter Future offsets for a 90/10 distribution (solar power costs more than wind, so the percentage of solar is lower across the board).

Other travel companies, such as Ecoventura adventure travel and Living Routes study-abroad programs also offer trips with carbon offsets built into the price. You don't have to go with one of these specific companies, though. If you've been on travel Web sites like Travelocity and Expedia lately, you may have noticed that you can buy carbon offsets for your trip as part of the online booking process. And you can buy offsets directly from organizations like Bonneville or TerraPass. You just go to the Web site, calculate your trip's emissions and buy enough green tags to offset your trip.

And just how much is it going to cost you? It's certainly not going to put you over your trip budget. That 6,300 pounds of CO2 you're emitting with your flight to Tanzania only costs about $40 to offset [source: TerraPass]. Green tags for flying across the United States, from New York to Los Angeles, will only run you about $18.

It's hard to be exact, of course. You can pretty easily figure out the number of miles you'll be flying, but it's harder to know how much gas you'll be using at your destination. You may have to call the people who'll be directing your tour to find out, or if you'll be renting a car, just keep track of your mileage and buy the green tags when you get home.

­It seems almost too good to be true to think that just $40 can negate the emissions of a flight to the other side of the world. And maybe it is. It's hard to prove the environmental benefits of carbon credits -- it's an inexact science. There are some who believe that green tags are mostly offering a way for people to assuage their eco-guilt about taking advantage of such a polluting travel method as plane flights. But considering that the other option is foregoing travel entirely, green tags are probably a good start toward truly eco-friendly tourism.

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More Great Links


  • Conlin, Jennifer. "Going Green, One Spring Break at a Time." The New York Times. Feb. 25, 2007.
  • "Green Power: Tags vs. Delivered Products."
  • Higgins, Michelle. "Carbon Neutral: Raising the Ante on Eco-Tourism." The New York Times. Dec. 10, 2006.