Offsetting is a term used commonly in the context of carbon trading and is the term most people use when they talk about doing something about the CO2 impact of a journey they have taken.
Mitigation is a term also sometimes used in the context of climate change – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change_mitigation. Defined as ‘The action of reducing the severity, seriousness or painfulness of something,’ mitigating actions are different from offsetting in that the net result is to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, whereas offsetting aims to balance the production of C02 so that the net contribution is zero.
Compensation is a term used by the UN’s Climate Neutral Now project – see https://unfccc.int/climate-action/climate-neutral-now – that asks people to:
– Measure their greenhouse gas emissions
– Reduce them as much as possible; and
– Compensate those which cannot be avoided
Compensation can be defined as ‘Something, typically money, awarded to someone in recognition of loss, suffering, or injury.’ This is a useful term when we wish to talk about combating harmful emissions that we are unable to reduce, such as those caused by flights. It implies a cost but also a victim and in this context fits nicely with the UN’s sustainable development goals.
Carbon neutral is a term that encompasses both CO2 reduction and offsetting. It can be used as a verb. For example: ‘This is part of a wider initiative aiming to neutralise the carbon impact of English Language Teaching.’
Travel (to the UK)
Planes are getting cleaner and more efficient. Perhaps in the future there will be a technological solution to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions caused by flights. However, there is currently no avoiding the fact that the flights our students take to come to the UK constitute the main environmental impact of our industry. Further information here and here
There is some nervousness about this in UK ELT and a feeling that we may be biting the hand that feeds us. However, there are language learners (and their teachers) right now questioning the wisdom of flying to the UK to study English. We need to be brave about this, justify the value of what we do and firmly grasp the nettle of air travel.
It is good to remind ourselves that international trade has a long history in human affairs and is generally a good thing. When one area exchanges what it is good at producing with a product or service best produced in another area, everyone benefits. There is no point in growing oranges in greenhouses in England when they grow perfectly well outdoors in Spain. What the environmentally responsible consumer needs to know is that the carbon impact of producing and transporting that good or service has been properly accounted for.
UK education is no different. People come to the UK to learn English because we do it well. To the extent that learning English in the UK is part of a wider experience of the country whose language our students are learning, it cannot be replicated. We should be proud of what we offer but at the same time reassure students that we understand and are reacting to the environmental impact of their flights.
To some extent we can do this by advising students on the best ways to travel: choose alternatives to flying, choose airlines with the lowest carbon impact, take direct flights if possible, choose UM in preference to being accompanied by a relative, fly economy, pack light. See for example https://www.countryschools.co.uk/files/Get_Real.pdf
Having done what we can to reduce the impact of travel we need to measure and compensate for the flights that cannot be avoided. To do this:
- Measure your students’ travel to and from the UK. Many schools meet their students at the airport and know the details of their journeys. If not, think about how you might obtain their travel details. If possible include information about indirect flights and class of travel – business travel, for example, contributes to a much larger carbon footprint.
- Calculate the greenhouse gas emissions of your students’ return journeys using recommended calculators here or here. The latter is currently preferred as it includes the option to include radiative forcing which recognises the increased effect on global warming from planes at high altitude. Here is a list of airport codes that you might need for the calculator. This will give you a number in kilos or metric tonnes of the CO2 emissions of your students’ flights.
- Enter the total at a reliable carbon offset platform such as https://www.carbonfootprint.com/ or https://offset.climateneutralnow.org/ The platform will give you a monetary value for the emissions you wish to compensate for.
- The platform will provide you with a range of projects you can support that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in many cases do social good at the same time. Choose your project – you can involve staff and students in this – and send your payment.
- You will receive a certificate as evidence of your commitment to environmental responsibility. Display this together with details of the CO2 reduction projects you are supporting: see example here
Choosing an offset project
There are many different kinds of offset projects and you need to be careful. For example, it might sound a great idea to plant a tree for every student that attends your course and there are organisations offering to do this for as little as $1 per tree. But the schemes are difficult to verify and raise questions about where and what kinds of trees are planted, for how long, how they will be used, ongoing costs of forestation, etc. For a well balanced article see here.
The advice is to choose Gold Standard projects that support the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This way in addition to reducing CO2 production you are also helping to give people a better life. You can buy Gold Standard Certified Emissions Reductions directly through the UN platform at https://offset.climateneutralnow.org/
- A description of the various Carbon Offset Standards
- A credible UK charity working to halt deforestation: Cool Earth
- Another well-respected UK organisation: The Woodland Trust
- If you want to plant trees, Mossy Earth also looks highly credible
- Whatever type of scheme you choose, go in with your eyes open but don’t let an absolute lack of clarity put you off
- Join ELT industry market leaders in celebrating your efforts