Take a Flight, Save The Environment


On Monday, both Travelocity and Expedia announced that they’re going to be the first travel sites to save the world. Awwww, how sweeet.

treehuggerSeriously, that’s very nice of them.

What they’re really doing is partnering with two different types of programs that are dedicated to reducing carbon emissions. Expedia has partnered with a company called TerraPass (TP) while Travelocity is working with The Conservation Fund on their Go Zero (GZ) project. For these companies, having Expedia and Travelocity partner with them just enhances their visibility. If you really like these programs, you can easily buy your travel anywhere and then pay TP or GZ directly for the same exact thing.

To sum up what these guys do, they both have the same basic goal of offsetting carbon emissions. In other words, when you take a flight, they say you are responsible for a certain portion of emissions that the plane is spewing forth. This program enables you to pay a nominal fee to fund a project to counter the pollution you’re said to be creating.

If we’re talking about who really should be paying for this, I’d say the stronger argument is to get the airlines and aircraft manufacturers to pony up here. It’s not like people have a choice if they’re going long distances, but let’s get beyond that. This specific product is aimed at the person who really does care about this, regardless of whether it’s ultimately their responsibility or not. It enables them to do something about it by helping reduce emissions.

It’s definitely a feel-good idea, and it works for me. I like the idea of being able to offset carbon production, especially since it’s not mandatory. If you care, you now have the option. Actually, you have at least two options, so let’s look at both of them.

Basic Premise
TP takes your money and funds projects to reduce emissions. For example, you could be funding wind-created electricity or a methane cultivation plan at a dairy farm. They also purchase emissions credits and retire them so that companies cannot purchase them to increase the amount of pollution they are allowed to produce. GZ, on the other hand, uses your money to plant trees which in turn absorb carbon dioxide.

Advantage: TerraPass

I like tangible results, and TP definitely offers that. The GZ program is too fluffy for me personally.

Company Structure
TP is a for-profit company while GZ is a non-profit. That means your purchases from GZ are tax deductible while the ones from TP are not.

Advantage: Go Zero

Duh. People will probably see this as more of a charitable donation, so I would expect people to be more accepting of a non-profit organization.

Types of Passes and Cost
TP ties this directly with the length of the flight. That means that on Expedia you can buy a TerraPass at one of three levels. For short haul flights (up to 2,200 miles roundtrip), you can buy a $5.99 pass per person. Cross-country flights (up to 6,500 miles roundtrip) will cost you $16.99 per person. Finally, international flights (up to 13,000 miles roundtrip) are $29.99 per person.

There’s something fishy here though. According to the site, “Expedia believes so strongly in supporting the environment and sustainable tourism, we are offering TerraPass to you at our cost.” Well, if you go to TP’s site, you can find a pass for up to 6,000 miles roundtrip at a mere $9.95. I’m not sure if TP is overcharging Expedia or if Expedia is overcharging us.

Update on 8/31 (245p): I did neglect to mention that with Expedia, you get a decal at the lowest level and a luggage tag for the two higher levels. That at least partially explains the cost difference. So if you really like luggage tags, then stick with Expedia. Otherwise, just do it on your own. (See comments below for more info.)

Meanwhile, Travelocity only gives you the opportunity to buy for entire trips. You won’t even be asked if you’re only buying a flight. They offer a $10 pass for air, one night’s hotel, and a rental car for one person; a $25 pass for air, 4 nights hotel, and a rental car for two people; or a $40 pass for air, 4 nights hotel, and a rental car for four people. If you go to the GZ site directly, you can calculate your personal output for the whole year and just pay for it all at the same time.

Advantage: TerraPass

It’s much easier to tie this directly to your flight. When you include the whole vacation package it gets confusing. What if there are two people staying 2 nights but no rental car? The harder you make it to use, the less likely people will be to use it.

TP and GZ are both sold as a part of the purchase process. TP will show up any time someone purchases a flight like this:


GZ only shows up if you purchase a vacation package. They also have a clunky interface as you can see. . . . It shows up as an activity, so you have to choose your “Dates & Times.”


Advantage: TerraPass

It’s easier to find on the page and the different amounts are explained right there. The same can’t be said for GZ.

As I said before, I really like this idea personally. As an airline dork, I’m bummed that they use such generic metrics though. For example, let’s say you’re on one of Northwest’s gas-guzzling DC-9s vs. a United 777 for a flight of the same distance (it could happen). You’d be polluting far less on the 777, so you should get to pay less. Practically though, I do understand how that it’s probably way too specific for most of the traveling public.

For more info on TerraPass

For more info on GoZero

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1 comment on “Take a Flight, Save The Environment

  1. Yeah, I’m commenting on an old entry, but regarding “For example, let’s say you’re on one of Northwest’s gas-guzzling DC-9s vs. a United 777 for a flight of the same distance (it could happen).” If you’re going to get that specific you probably should start throwing in the average load factor, since a 777 flying 10 people is likely to be less fuel efficient than a full DC-9.

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