Offset Your Flight’s Carbon Footprint Before You Even Take Off

San Francisco International Airport unveils new carbon offset kiosks

SFOHow much good can selling carbon offsets at airport kiosks have on a region’s economy and environment? The Bay Area is about to find out. According to a report by, San Francisco’s International Airport (SFO) and 3Degrees (a local carbon firm) initiated the Climate Passport program on Thursday, the first program of its kind. The program will allow passengers to purchase carbon offsets right at the gate, thereby mitigating the environmental impact of their flights. Whether the program will appeal to a wide range of passengers, and whether it will significantly impact the region’s economy and environment, have yet to be determined.

The Climate Passport program addresses several unavoidable problems: the necessity of air travel, the fact that the carbon footprint of air travel cannot be completely removed, the fact that some travelers do not know about carbon footprinting, and challenge of obtaining funding. It addresses these issues in several ways. First, it educates travelers about their flights’ footprints, listing each flight’s footprint at the kiosk. The program also obtains funding from travelers, which it distributes to carbon reduction projects in the area (including Garcia River Forest [a conservation-based forest management project] and the San Francisco Carbon Fund). Moreover, since the offsets will be used to support tree planting projects in San Francisco and surrounding areas, they will provide a visible representation of the value of sustainable travel operations.

As for the long-term impact or effectiveness of the program, only time will tell. However, as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom mentioned in a blog entry about the kiosks, understanding the climate impact of travel is a good first step in reducing that impact. (Newsom also encouraged travelers to use sustainable travel whenever possible, including public transport to and from the airport.)

My concern about the program is that it may be one more kiosk to avoid or “sales pitch” to ignore. After all, even travelers who are eco-conscious may not have the time, or the money, to contribute to the cause (kind of like the easily-skippable option to donate to a charity in the grocery checkout line). Moreover, while I would like to think that involving the public in a green endeavor could cement the endeavor into the public’s consciousness (thereby making the endeavor more effective and long-lasting), the success of bottom-up versus top-down approaches is one of frequent debate.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.

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