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To offset or not to offset?

This month, behind all the news of the UK government back-pedalling on their green policies, the European Union announced that businesses would no longer be able to claim to be ‘climate or carbon neutral’ without robust evidence that doesn’t rely on offsetting to make a claim. What a win!

One of the questions I am asked the most is ‘What’s the best offsetting scheme?’ - this is an increasingly difficult question to answer as offset schemes are numerous, and all will come up with a different figure for the ‘cost’ of your carbon emissions. Currently, the only way to achieve Net Zero is to offset, but this comes in many forms, and I prefer the broader approach of mitigation to offset.

If you are a signatory of the Glasgow Declaration, you will know that two pillars are to decarbonise and regenerate. Offsetting through carbon removal schemes is a last resort, so the first step is to know your carbon emissions and find ways to reduce them.

Climate Action should be at the top of every tour operator's tourism strategy to set goals. Calculating carbon emissions is a specialist task, so I recommend Ecollective. Then, you need to reduce negative impacts within your office and product portfolio, and a supplier review will be required as part of your sustainability strategy. A few tweaks and minor changes across your product range could make a significant difference.

But without a planet where flights, hotels and vehicles are operating on clean energy, there will be carbon emissions to mitigate. And here comes the minefield, and who is responsible?

In a study over three years in Australia, approximately only 2.5% of the tourist arrivals voluntarily offset their emissions - shocking! Although, arrivals from the UK were the best at it. Another study found less than 10% of tourists will offset - higher but still low. The demographic of those offsetting were young people between 23 and 34, nature-based travellers or experience seekers. I’m sure many of my readers have a higher age bracket than that, but do have clients that fit the type of tourist. Barriers to offsetting include not understanding carbon emissions and not trusting carbon offsetting schemes.

As with most things in sustainable tourism, the consumers want their tour operators to act responsibly and do the hard work for them. They want to be guided by people who know more than them (are you listening, Rishi and chums?). So, it is up to you to invest in reversing biodiversity loss and mitigating carbon emissions as part of your business model.

Choosing your mitigation scheme is personal to your business; you may find a scheme that is based where you operate, or you may want one that covers the world or is local so you can go and have a volunteer day. I’ve been looking at what I want to support in my business and have created a list of ones I like the look of. I’ve decided to support Carma Earth for UK tree planting due to their work with veterans, Mossy Earth every month and World Land Trust for offsetting my office/home and any ad hoc flights and trains I take.

When looking at schemes, consider these questions and make sure my three favourite words are spinning around - transparency, methodology and measurement.

Think about the following:

  • Does this scheme have a robust science-backed methodology?

  • Is it transparent where the money goes? If it is a business rather than a charity, that is OK.

  • Do you like the look of the projects they support? For example, having a passion for restoring sea kelp makes supporting this scheme easier.

  • If it is tree planting, what are they planting? Is it a monoculture or a diverse range of native species to ensure thriving biodiversity

  • Is there social value? Is the local community involved in the project? Having stewards of the land will mean a higher success rate.

  • Is the project monitored and protected?

Below is my non-exhaustive list of places to invest to make a positive environmental impact:

The three I will be using are:

Mossy Earth - a good mix of projects worldwide to support a mix of land and sea/water-based projects.

Carma Earth - I will plant trees in the UK for each project I work on; my reason for choosing this is that they work with veterans for the planting to improve mental health. I'm part of the military community, and its great to be able to support veterans and the planet.

World Land Trust - a charity with some excellent schemes. They do calculations if this is the methodology you prefer. It is easy for simple travel or household/home carbon mitigation.

Others that look interesting:

Please note I have done some top-line research into these. Once you have identified ones that you like, please do your research to ensure it is suitable for your business. And let me know who I should add to my list!

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