Flight carbon offsets hit the high street

A high street travel agent is giving its customers the option to offset the carbon emissions of their flights, in the first over-the-counter scheme of its type in the UK.

All 340 branches of the Co-operative Group’s chain of high street travel agents will offer holiday-makers the option to offset all or part of their travel by the end of the year, but the service is already available at pilot branches following the launch this week.

Prices range from 60p to offset 20% – equivalent to the Government’s 2010 carbon cut target – of a flight to France, to £50 to fully carbon-offset a flight to Indonesia, with eight cost bands in total reflecting the distance traveled.

The flight carbon offsets, available to the 1.3 millions customers of Travelcare outlets, are the latest in the Co-op’s carbon offsetting services which were so far available in conjunction with mortgages and car insurance.

The company believes that bringing carbon offsets from the internet to the high street will make the service much more accessible, getting around some of the problems with internet-only sales.

“For the first time now UK customers will be able to just walk in from the high street and purchase a carbon offset on the spot,” Catherine Staveley, a spokesperson for the Co-operative Group, told edie.

“We think it’s actually been quite difficult for consumers to track an offset down on the internet.”

Trust is another major issue with internet buying, she said – especially when it comes to a new product whose quality is difficult to judge.

“As with anything there are good and bad offset projects. We go out of our way to ensure that our projects have proven additionality – we can prove that our money funds quantifiable carbon dioxide reductions.”

Money from the carbon offsets will go into the Co-op’s ‘Climate Care’ projects – from biogas ovens in India to tree replanting in Africa.

“The majority of our projects fund renewable energy so they prevent carbon dioxide being emitted in the first place.

“But this is also about technology transfer to the developing world,” said Catherine Staveley.

As they are based in developing countries, many of the projects cut biomass emissions and prevent deforestation caused by the gathering of wood for fuel, combined with other positive social and ecological impacts.

One example is the installation of household biogas heating systems – “basically cooking stoves that run on cow dung” – to provide renewable cooking fuel in the area around the Ranthanbore National Park in India.

Ranthanbore Park is one of the world’s largest tiger reserves, and the tigers’ habitat is threatened by the illegal gathering of firewood. So by buying carbon offsets a UK consumer is thus cutting out carbon emissions from the firewood and helping protect Indian tigers all in one go – Catherine Staveley explained.

As for objections to carbon offsets as a way of dodging the need to cut down on flying in the first place, we “have to be realistic,” she said.

“I think we do need make quantifiable emissions reductions. But at the moment, over the next 4-5 years, we really need to take action against climate change and we’re giving our customers the option to do something now.

“Carbon offsetting is not the solution to combating climate change in isolation but this is just one way that people can limit the impacts of going on holiday, of driving, of owning a home.”

Goska Romanowicz

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie