Airplanes and Algae: Could this Change Carbon Offsetting for the Better?

If you’re like me you probably know that your somewhat healthy travel addiction is not so healthy for the planet. You want to see the world but you feel guilty as f*ck knowing your air travel is polluting the Earth. So what the hell are you supposed to do? Luckily, I think I’ve found a solution. While it’s not perfect, I do believe that this could change carbon offsetting for the better. Hopefully it changes the travel industry as a whole too.

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What Even is Carbon Offsetting Anyway?

Carbon Offsetting Problems
Carbon Pollution in Action. Image Source: Pixabay



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The main idea of carbon offsetting is that for every bad thing you do to the environment, you do something good to ‘cancel it out’. In the travel community there is a way to do this that is quickly gaining popularity. All you do is visit a website where you calculate the carbon emissions you will be making by taking a flight somewhere. (You can also calculate emissions for other types of transportation). Then the website will tell you how much money you would need to donate to a sustainable initiative to cancel out the emissions you made. These websites will let you set up a donation to different sustainability projects with the click of a button.

The Two Main Problems with Carbon Offsetting

Algae and Airplanes
This photo is of a smog filled sunset I witnessed in Mexico City

Of course, you cannot realistically ‘cancel out’ the emissions you have made by flying or going on a road trip. Those emissions are in the atmosphere and we have to desperately hope that some trees somewhere are going to balance out all that CO2. Realistically you have caused some damage and now you want to do something to fix it.

The first major problem with carbon offsetting is that it is often used by travelers to simply remove their guilt. It is used as an excuse to keep using airplanes all the time without feeling bad about the negative environmental impacts this has on the earth.

The second major problem with carbon offsetting is that most carbon offsetting websites do not tackle the root of the problem. They simply let you donate money to plant a few trees or give people in developing countries LED light bulbs. While these are great things to help with, they do nothing to tackle the actual problem which is that airplanes are awful for the environment.

Airplanes and Algae: Could this Change Carbon Offsetting for the Better

Could this Change Carbon Offsetting for the Better
Winter Wonderland views from an airplane over Kelowna, BC last Christmas

A little while ago I came across a video by a company in the United States called Global Algae Innovations. It’s called ‘How Algae Could Change the Fossil Fuel Industry’ and in it, Dave Hazlebeck (the CEO and founder of GAI) talks about how his company is already making biofuels out of algae.

In the video, Dave explains that not only can algae be used as biofuel which emits zero greenhouse gases, but algae also absorbs tons of carbon while it grows! It’s super easy to grow and can survive in fresh water, salt water and brackish water. Plus there’s no toxic water runoff with algae either.

Algae is an amazing biofuel but it goes so much further than absorbing carbon and emitting zero toxins when used. It is also overflowing with protein. In fact, algae has the potential to be used as animal feed or simply as a substitute for animal proteins. If you’re familiar with the health benefits and protein power of the superfood, Spirulina, then you’re already familiar with how amazing algae is as a food.

Here’s the video if you want to watch it:

Why Algae Biofuels Are Not Readily Available Yet

Could this Change Carbon Offsetting for the Better
Green Algae. Image Source: PIxabay

The problem with creating algae biofuels is that they are much more expensive to use than oil. In the video above, Dave explains that many algae companies have gone out of business because they are constantly having to come up with new technology to make the production of biofuels more affordable. Imagine what would happen to the travel industry if suddenly, algae biofuels were more affordable than regular oil.

Algae & Airplanes: The New & Much Improved Method of Carbon Offsetting

Algae and Airplanes: Could this be better than carbon offsetting
Kelp and Algae. Image Source: Pixabay

Companies like Global Algae Innovations, that are constantly having to develop new technology to make biofuels more affordable, need support. Instead of donating money to plant a few trees, donate money to companies like Global Algae Innovations. The money you donate will help fund algae research that will not only absorb carbon from the air when grown, but could also be used as algae biofuels. This kind of carbon offsetting will actually tackle the root cause of the problem.

Algae Companies and Non Profits You Can Donate Money To

Algae and Airplanes
Greenery near Silver Lake Provincial Park in British Columbia

Most offsetting websites help you calculate your emissions so you know how much money needed to donate for offsetting. I contacted Tiffany Cannis from Global Algae Innovations, Barb Scheevel from the Algae Biomass Organization and Steven Murray from the Phycological Society of America to ask if it’s possible to make one time donations to any of them.

While some organizations said that you can make one time donations to them, none of them actually had an offsetting program where you can calculate your emissions. I suggested to a few of them that they set this up but we’ll see what happens. This means when you donate, you will have to guess how much money would be appropriate to give based on the extent of your flight or trip.

Unfortunately GAI does not accept one time donations but Tiffany Cannis informed me of an Algae Non Profit (The Algae Foundation) that does. Plus another organization I contacted accepts donations as well. Most donations go to support student research and education in the algae industry. To see how you can donate to various algae companies, just click on the links I have listed below: 

Phycological Society of America

The Algae Foundation

Remember to Reduce BEFORE You Offset

Land Travel is better than Air Travel
Choose to travel by land (did someone say road trip?) whenever possible.

If this kind of carbon offsetting is going to work, it still needs to be done as a last resort. Please don’t use this improved kind of offsetting as a means to remove your guilt and then not care further about your footprint. We say ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ in that order for a reason! Even if you’re an avid traveler, try to reduce the amount you fly and choose land travel whenever possible. Then, when you really must fly, make a donation to an algae organization listed above.

If you want some extra inspiration from someone who is amazing at reducing her carbon footprint, be sure to check out Evelina Utterhdahl on Instagram as Earth Wanderess or check out her blog here. She is an avid traveler, has been to over 70 countries and recently quit flying altogether. She now only travels by land and sea and is a sustainable traveller that I am constantly inspired by.

Do What You Can!

One of my favorite quotes is: “It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little, do what you can.” My hope is that this post inspires you to find more ways to minimize your carbon footprint. If you offset your carbon differently or have any other offsetting tips, let me know in the comments!

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About The Author

April Thompson

April is the founder and main author for Just Leaving Footprints. She has written for numerous blogs and publications such as Explore Magazine and Snow Pak. April loves writing about sustainable tourism, and promoting other sustainable travelers on her Facebook Group and Instagram Community, Ladies Leaving Footprints. Currently, April is living and teaching English in Mexico City with her husband Arturo and they don’t plan on stopping their travels anytime soon.

4 COMMENTS

  1. emma | 26th May 18

    Very interesting April! I think it’s a great idea. You’re right, any offsetting should be done as a last resort, but this is a great way to do it.

  2. Erika Ann | 16th Jul 18

    I actually laugh at people who try to promote sustainable travel when they would always ride airplanes to go from one place to another. I appreciate more those people who promote their country and traveling by land. Aside from that, algae are really great progress and i’ve heard of their capabilities for a while now. I find it sad that algae farms are getting funds from donations instead of support from governments. I think governments should give support to algae farms that provides alternative fossil fuels like how they support solar energy for alternative energy.

    • April Thompson | 7th Aug 18

      Hey Erika! I totally agree that land travel is more sustainable but for people who fly (I still do sometimes) it’s nice to have an alternative way to contribute. I also wish governments would fund projects like this more often. I think certain countries’ governments care more about the environment than others unfortunately.

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