Traveling Ethically in the Philippines: Minimizing our carbon footprint

by Jérôme Gagnon-Voyer January 04, 2016

Traveling Ethically in the Philippines: Minimizing our carbon footprint

Philippines is, quite literally, on the other side of the world from our little home in Toronto (and 13 time zones away). Naturally, we took the plane to get here. Although practical, air travel is far from eco-friendly. Research shows that a single transatlantic flight may emit as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as a full year of driving (yikes!).

So, I was curious: what was the environmental impact of our 16+ hours flight to the Philippines? According to this carbon footprint calculator our round trip flight to Canada and Philippines will produce up to 3 metric tons of CO2. This didn't mean much to me as a measurement, so instead I found out they created an art installation during the UN Climate Talks 2009 in Copenhagen representing what a metric ton of CO2 was, which is a 3-story-tall high cube. This isn't small!

CO2 cube art installation in 2009 UN climate talks in Copenhagen
Photo credit United Nations Climate Change

Obviously, we don’t believe the world should suddenly stop traveling to avoid air pollution. When done right, sustainable tourism can vastly improve local economies and create more open-minded and accepting communities worldwide. But still, what can we do?

The Carbon Neutral Alternative

One option is to go "carbon neutral" in which you can offset the environmental impact of your flight by purchasing carbon credits. The whole thing can become very complicated but the gist is this: for every metric ton of CO2 you "created" during your flight, you can purchase carbon credits from an organization (they may be nonprofit or for profit) which then reinvests your money toward green projects (therefore offsetting the impact of your flight). In many cases, we have little choice but to fly, so it’s great that options exist to at least turn a bad situation into a positive one.

The carbon neutral approach is not without controversy, however. The main problem is this: we can't be "paying" our way out of pollution forever. At some point, the act of flying itself must become sustainable and less damaging for the environment. However, while planes slowly but gradually become more fuel efficient, there are still things we, as everyday consumers, can do to minimize our negative impact and buying carbon offsets seems like the best option.

Our Quest For Carbon Neutrality

As I researched carbon offsetting, it became increasingly unclear what exactly I should do. In Canada alone, there are multiple organizations offering similar services: Offsetters, Less Emissions, Carbon Zero, ZeroFootPrint and many more. How do we know which one to go with? And then, which environmental projects should we invest in? For example, there are competing opinions on whether planting trees is an effective way to offset your CO2 emissions. To make things even more confusing, each organization charges a different amount per metric ton of CO2. I found options ranging from $50 to $300 per person for our flight!

One thing we want to do through this blog is to show how easy and simple tasks can help each of us gradually lead a sustainable lifestyle. I really don’t imagine the typical person will spend hours researching how to be carbon neutral. That’s why I’m a big fan of airlines that offer the carbon neutral option during checkout. It’s simple and less likely you’ll get lost in the sea of information available. Air Canada does it with ZeroFootPrint and WestJet as well with CarbonZero. Both seem to be good and reputable organizations. If the cost is prohibitive to you, most of those organizations also allow you to pay the amount of your choice. This might not entirely cover your carbon footprint for your flight, but any kind of investment into green projects is a step in the right direction.

What We Ended Up Doing

As Canadians, we wanted to invest in local environmental projects so we chose ZeroFootPrint, a clean tech social enterprise from Toronto. They have been criticized in the past for putting too much emphasis on green projects related to tree planting, but they have since adjusted and now allow you to invest your money towards various projects in Canada related to sustainable forest, gas, organic waste, energy use, water and tire recycling. Since our particular airline didn’t offer the carbon offset option for our Philippines flight, I just went to ZeroFootPrint's Aircanada website and did my purchase. For the first time, our flight is carbon neutral!

Carbon Offset Purchase Receipt

Learning about carbon offsetting has definitely been enlightening. Gelaine and I are travellers at heart and after so many flights across the world, it’s rewarding to finally take positive action and make our flights to Philippines carbon neutral.

Have you ever tried to be carbon neutral? Tell us in the comments!

This blog post is part of a series about our ethical travel adventures in the Philippines. Click here to check out other posts in this series.

Jérôme Gagnon-Voyer
Jérôme Gagnon-Voyer


Jérôme is co-founder of Cambio Market – an online shop for handcrafted, ethical products that give back. He's also co-founder of ChooseSocial.PH – the go-to resource to learn about the social enterprise scene in the Philippines. He's been an IT professional for many years and worked for many e-commerce clients. He also used his technical skills with various non-profits during his free time.

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