Andy Cornish's Blog

Dr Andy Cornish was raised in Hong Kong, and gained a strong interest in wildlife through spending time in Pokfulam Country Park. He studied Zoology at Nottingham University in England, travelled extensively through Central America where he learnt to scuba dive, and later did his PhD on reef fishes at the University of Hong Kong. Since then, he worked for a year doing coral reef management for the government of American Samoa, and taught in the Dept. of Ecology and Biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong. He worked at WWF from 2005 to late 2012 as Conservation Director, and was responsible for four programmes: Climate, Footprint, Local Biodiversity and Regional Wetlands (including management of the Mai Po Nature Reserve). He remains involved in environmental issues on an independent basis.

Offsetting Your Flying

As easy as A, B, C
July 29, 2013

Calculating my carbon footprint on WWF’s then fledgling Climateers calculator back in 2007 was a revelation. I don’t own a car (nor sadly a motorcycle), so was relieved to see that using local transport was not contributing a great deal to my carbon footprint. Plus I’ve always been careful with using air-conditioning and switching my appliances off when I’m out of the house so my combined household and local transport wasn’t much greater than Hong Kong’s average of 2.7 tonnes. And this despite the fact that I live alone so won’t be able to enjoy the energy savings of shared living.
 
I’m procrastinating though as the shocker was my air travel. Sure I had an idea that it would be a major part of my carbon footprint, but it blasted all other components into oblivion. You can see the last time I calculated my carbon footprint here, which was partly 2011 and 2012. The air travel was more than 11x the rest of my carbon footprint, and didn’t even include my business travel!
 
I had to do something, and in fact did two things that everybody should consider doing. Firstly and most importantly I cut down on my personal and business travel. I won’t travel overseas for meetings unless the decisions are being made and I can really contribute in person in ways that others attending can’t and if the issues being discussed are worth traveling for. Within the past month I declined traveling to Europe for a one-day meeting for instance, important though it was. I also look for chances to travel by train or coach rather than air, and piggy-back holidays on the back of work trips.
 
Secondly, after I’ve cut down my flying, I then buy carbon credits to offset my personal travel, and have been doing this since 2007 (WWF purchases credits to offset the air travel of all of its employees globally – after setting targets to reduce that travel of course, so I didn't have to do that myself). Now I’m working independently I’ll offset my business travel as well, but I’ll calculate that at the end of the year.
 
The process is pretty simple. At the end of each year I collate my personal travel and look to buy Gold Standard credits to offset the travel. There are all sorts of wacky and downright dodgy carbon credit generating schemes out there, but Gold Standard is simply the best of the best. This is what HSBC and the WWF network buy, and what Virgin Airlines offers (as I noticed on a flight last year).
 
I then go to a credible site like Climate Friendly, add in all my flights and then pay the bill online. It really is as easy as that. That peace of mind has cost me between 800 and 1600 Hong Kong dollars per year. This year I bought from another smaller company that also does retail Gold Standard, New Zealand based AirShed. They'll even tell me my credits were generated at White Hill Wind Farm - cool.
 
Here's a few examples so you get the idea, generated using the ClimateFriendly calculator today.
HK - Manila Return (Economy) - 0.64 tonnes - HK$ 101
HK - Sydney Return (economy) - 3.52 tonnes - HK$ 544
HK - London Return (economy) - 3.52 tonnes - HK$ 722
 
What has been really satisfying is watching ClimateFriendly (sorry - no I'm not sponsored by them) go from having a very small number of credit generating projects (just one windfarm in NZ if I remember correctly), to a multitude of innovative schemes from biogas projects in Vietnam, to protecting tracts of forest in Tasmania. Its this investment in new projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the first place that is the real champion of the carbon offsetting model, and it seems to be working because people like me are buying the credits.
 
So, are you offsetting your air travel (after reducing it of course)? Does your company offset business travel, and if not why not? Try asking them.
 
Andy
PS Apologies for such a long gap since my last post. Its been a very busy few months

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