Carbon offsetting for business aviation: What you need to know


Air bp is supporting the aviation industry’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions, writes the company’s Samantha Webb. It will take all of us working together to achieve the industry’s ambitious targets. As a business we are working to reduce our own emissions and supporting our customers’ efforts to reduce theirs. And this is where carbon offsetting has a role to play. Here are four key questions and answers about the topic.

Question (Q): So, what exactly is carbon offsetting and why do we do it?

Answer (A): Everyone has a carbon footprint and a variety of factors impact it; from the heating system used in your home, to the type of transportation you take, and even the food you eat. Carbon offsetting is used to compensate for your emissions by funding an equivalent amount of emissions savings elsewhere. Carbon offsetting can help as part of a broader carbon reduction approach.

In aviation, carbon offsetting starts with measuring how many tonnes of carbon are produced by a flight. This creates the carbon ‘footprint’ for the flight. Once this is measured, carbon credits can be purchased for the same amount of emissions either for the total flight or on a per passenger basis. This effectively balances out the carbon emitted, so the net impact on the climate is neutral. For example, looking at the carbon footprint of the fuel: A typical Gulfstream 500 flying from Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles to London Luton will burn around 4,000 gallons of fuel, with this fuel burn emitting around 48t of CO₂e. To offset that today, via bp Target Neutral – bp’s carbon offsetting programme, would be around $192.

Carbon credits are purchased from projects around the world that are reducing emissions, including initiatives such as: forest planting, replacing open fires with more efficient cooking equipment and biogas installations. These projects often have a broad range of socio-economic and environmental benefits. Each project is assessed based on its contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. For example, when cookstoves replace open fires, wood consumption is reduced, carbon emissions are reduced and respiratory health may be improved. Installing solar panels in countries like India can support thousands of new jobs and environmental education classes in Zambia can help communities learn more about sustainable farming practices.

Q: Am I really helping by offsetting my individual carbon footprint?

A: Whilst your individual contribution might be small, as a whole, this makes a significant impact. For example, in 2019 bp Target Neutral offset more than 1m tonnes of carbon, which is equivalent to taking half a million cars off the road for a year.

Alex Durand, CEO of one of our business aviation customers, SaxonAir Charter Ltd, comments: “We were introduced to carbon offsets through bp Target Neutral. While the offsetting itself is valuable, the process of mapping our emissions has changed us as an organisation and offsetting is now only part of our sustainability strategy. We augment offsetting with electrical vehicle use, LED lighting, and solar projects, but it has also made us understand that small changes do make a difference. If all our employees, their friends and families can change the way they live and work, the cumulative effect is even greater than the offsetting we started out with.”

Q: Doesn’t offsetting encourage people to continue polluting by easing their guilt?

A: Offsetting is part of a broader approach. It should be done in conjunction with other actions in the industry to reduce carbon emissions, including improving aircraft technology and the efficiency of aircraft operations, improving infrastructure, and increasing the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). For example, all of Air bp’s 250 operated sites are certified carbon neutral. As part of this certification we have put a 10-year carbon reduction plan in place. Only after we have reduced our carbon footprint do we offset emissions that remain.

Q: How can I be sure the carbon offsets I purchase will genuinely reduce carbon emissions?

A: Not all offsets are created equally, so it’s important you check that the offsets you purchase come from vendors who comply with the requirements of ICROA’s (International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance) code of best practice. The standards set out in the code ensure a project’s emission reductions are real, additional (i.e. that they would not have happened without the project), permanent and unique. Air bp Target Neutral adopts these standards. In addition, bp Target Neutral visits each carbon offset project to ensure the carbon accounting work of the auditors is of the highest quality and to examine aspects outside the auditors’ scope such as human rights, health and safety. These visits also enable our staff to assess the various socio-economic benefits for local communities, such as long-term employment and better energy security.

Pictured above are beneficiaries of  bp Target Neutral’s carbon offset projects. Left: a delighted customer shows her new cooking stove funded by the BIRU domestic biogas programme. Right: Jessie is benefiting from forest conservation classes at her school, paid for through carbon finance from The Lower Zambezi Community Forest Conservation Project.

To understand more about Air bp’s carbon offsetting programme, click here .

  • Samantha Webb, pictured below,  is Air bp’s low carbon global offer development manager.