The true cost of travel

Local company helps clients purchase carbon-offset credits

Mindy Rappoport | Boulder Weekly


By paying less than $14, you can offset the carbon emissions you produce from one round trip flight from Denver to Los Angeles in economy class.

According to Sustainable Travel International’s Personal Carbon Footprint Calculator, .5507 tons of carbon dioxide are produced from that round trip flight. But you can offset that flight’s negative effect on the environment by giving STI a $13.96 donation to invest in renewable energy and carbon-offset projects that their website says are validated by independent third parties.

One example of a project STI might fund with such donations is replacing coal pots in parts of Ghana with more efficient stoves, reducing charcoal consumption by 25 percent, according to the STI website.

But how do you know if you’re purchasing credits from a reputable company?

Eco-Cycle Communications Director Marti Matsch advises travelers purchasing offset credits to make sure that they’re not accidentally contributing to a company that lists capturing greenhouse gas emissions from landfills qualifies as a source of green energy. Matsch said that in a recent Eco-Cycle study, Program Developer Kate Bailey found that most companies offering carbon-offset credits count trapping methane at landfills as contributing toward renewable energy.

“There are some companies that will let you choose what sort of project you want to support with your carbon offsets, but most of them include [methane from] garbage,” Matsch says.

But Matsch says Eco-Cycle purchases offset credits from STI because they’re one of the credible companies that don’t include garbage as renewable energy. Eco- Cycle will also be selling offset credits in the eco-store they plan to launch.

Natural Habitat Adventures, a nature travel company based in Boulder, also offsets their travelers’ flights by purchasing credits from STI.

“Here we are saying, ‘Let’s protect our planet,’ but just the very act of what we do has a negative effect on the planet,” says Ben Bressler, founder and director of NHA. “We know that people aren’t going to stop traveling, and this is what we do as a company, so we wanted to do something to offset all the greenhouse gas releases that we are giving off through the act of purchasing our product.”

Bressler says that NHA pays to offset all of their travelers’ trips to and from each excursion’s official starting destination, but that travelers are responsible for offsetting their flights to and from their hometowns, if they choose. But after a traveler goes on 10 trips with NHA, Bressler says the company will pay to offset that traveler’s flights to and from the starting point of their trip.

“I would say that we average $50,000 a year to carbon offset,” Bressler says.

In 2007, NHA became the world’s first carbon-neutral travel company when they decided to gauge the amount of fuel they used, then worked with STI to calculate how much it would cost to offset the carbon they produce and purchase those offsets.

Tom and Linda Nolle have been traveling with NHA since the late ’90s. Tom Nolle says NHA focuses above all else on making sure trips are valuable and entertaining, and that other benefits like carbon offsetting are “icing on the cake.”

“But once you’ve looked at the quality experience, it’s really good to know that a company understands that you’ve got to protect this thing that you’re visiting,” he says. “You can’t create a travel experience that plays a role in destroying the environment if it’s environmental travel. It’s like suicide, and it’s irresponsible.”

While purchasing carbon-offset credits does contribute positively to the environment, Matsch says it’s important to keep in mind that participating in the program won’t offset travel’s negative impact.

“The first order of reduction is to minimize use as much as possible,” Matsch says. “When you do have to travel, then I think it’s important you go with a reputable offset company.”

For more information about Natural Habitat Adventures, go to For information on Eco-Cycle, go to www.