Introducing the Treepoints Flight Calculator
It’s a well-known fact that flying is not good for our planet. And passenger flights are responsible for 85% of commercial aviation CO2 emissions, which in turn makes up 2.5% of total man-made emissions every year. That’s why we’ve created the Treepoints Flight Calculator so that you can accurately estimate your flight emissions and offset them.
The Flight Calculator
Mile for mile, flying is the worst form of transport for the environment, producing more emissions per hour than any other activity, apart from starting forest fires.
The industry is working on more efficient fuels and electric planes, but these are years off becoming a reliable solution for aviation pollution.
Of course, the best solution is always going to be to not fly at all.
However realistically this is not always possible. If you absolutely have to fly, you can offset your flight emissions so that your net impact on the environment is zero.
How does carbon offsetting work?
When a plane flies through the air, the engine burns fuel which releases greenhouse gases, particles and water vapour into the atmosphere. It’s these greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, that contribute to the greenhouse effect and global warming. This in turn has negative consequences for the environment including flooding, drought, temperatures rising, and more frequent natural disasters.
Carbon offsetting doesn’t affect the carbon dioxide produced from flying, but it allows you to cancel these emissions out elsewhere. This is either through removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or preventing future emissions.
By working out the exact amount of CO2 produced by your flight, you can offset the same amount so that your overall emissions balance at zero.
How much carbon does a flight produce?
Working out how much carbon a flight produces involves several key factors. These are: the type of aircraft, the length of the journey, and the number of passengers. For a more precise estimate, the class that you are flying is also useful.
For example, a Boeing 737-400 is one of the most common planes for short haul flights. We know that this type of plane uses about 3.61 tonnes of fuel for a flight of 926km, including take-off and landing. This last part is important because the landing and the takeoff are the two most fuel-intensive parts of a flight.
We also know that every 1 gram of fuel burnt results in 3.15 grams of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere.
Combine this with the number of passengers on the plane and we can work out how many grams of CO2 released per passenger per kilometer. This is the method used by our flight calculator.
Factors such as time of day and weather conditions which affect how much fuel is used.
How do you calculate carbon emissions?
Our flight calculator uses the latest flight emissions data released by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The calculator will ask you for details about these factors:
- Departure airport
- Arrival destination
- Seat Class (Economy, Premium Economy, Business, First)
- Aircraft model
Based on this information, we can calculate the carbon emissions that your flight and you as a passenger are responsible for.
Let’s take a closer look at how each of these factors affect the carbon emissions from your flight.
Calculating Emissions: Departure and arrival airports
This information is used to work out the distance travelled by plane. It is important to factor in any layover stops as this will affect the distance and fuel used. The two most fuel intensive parts of a flight are takeoff and landing, and including a layover effectively doubles these emissions.
Interestingly, mile for mile longer flights are more fuel efficient than short flights. This is because more of the flight is spent cruising rather than energy intensive takeoff and landing. However, this shouldn’t be taken as encouragement to fly long distances more regularly. Rather, you should think twice before flying a short journey that could be completed another way (Boris Johnson flying to Cornwall from London we’re looking at you.) Several countries including France and the UK are looking at banning domestic flights for this precise reason – it uses a lot of fuel for a very short journey, meaning the environmental impact is high.
Calculating Emissions: Seat Class
Seats that take up a larger area in the plane are more CO2 intensive and responsible for a larger share of fuel burn. This means that the impact per passenger is greater if you’re flying business or first class.
Make sure to have this information handy when using the flight calculator. Your seat class should be written on your ticket and booking confirmation.
Calculating Emissions: Aircraft design
A growing number of aircraft today have improved engine design, making them more fuel efficient than older models. If you do not know the type of plane, select ‘Not sure’ on our flight calculator and we’ll use an industry average.
Calculating Emissions: Radiative Forcing
Radiative forcing (RF) is a measure of the additional environmental impact of aviation. It’s really important to take this into account when working out the impact of your flight because emissions released at high altitude (when you’re flying) are more damaging than those released at sea-level.
For example, a return flight from London to LA releases 408,499kg of carbon dioxide emissions, but with radiative forcing this goes up to 776,148kg.
Our flight calculator takes radiative forcing into account (a multiplier of 1.9) when showing the emissions from your flight.
Which projects are you supporting?
When you offset your flights with Treepoints, we retire carbon credits on your behalf from world class carbon reduction projects. Essentially, this means that you are paying to permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere to counterbalance your emissions from flying.
Treepoints researches and selects the very best carbon offsetting projects to support. We base our selection on several criteria, including additionality and the sustainable development benefits brought by the project.
Additionality simply means that without the funding generated by the sale of carbon credits, the project would not have been possible. This is a way of making sure we are actively supporting the development of green technology and accelerating the removal and reduction of carbon. This is particularly important in developing countries where funding is scarce.
If the project would have taken place anyway, our contribution is of no help. Worse, this could mean we end up with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as no additional reduction is taking place. We ensure that our projects are additional, so the carbon removal would not have happened otherwise.
Sustainable Development Benefits
A project’s contribution to sustainable development is a key consideration when selecting our projects.
For example, one of our recent projects is generating clean energy from local biomass in Tongliao, China. This reduces CO2 emissions by replacing fossil fuels with waste biomass from farming as a source of energy.
Not only this, but the project also improves the livelihoods of local communities by providing a source of employment and training. What’s more, it creates a source of income for local farmers, from whom the project purchases the biomass. These are both co-benefits of the project that promote sustainable development, because they’re helping social and economic growth in local communities.
Now you might be wondering how we can possibly know about these benefits to local communities given that our projects take place around the world. The answer to this is that we only pick projects that have been verified to the highest standard by internationally recognised organisations including the Gold Standard and the Verified Carbon Standard. These standards confirm that the project is delivering what it claims to, monitor the project, and check its additional sustainable development benefits.
You can read more about how we pick our projects here.
Ready to offset your flight emissions?
So now you know everything you need to know about offsetting your next flight. Calculate your flight emissions with our flight calculator and offset them here.
And if you’re really committed to protecting our planet, perhaps you might like to offset your past flights too!
If you’re carbon offsetting your flights with your airline or through a different company, make sure to check carefully which projects your money is going to. If your impact isn’t additional, then your contribution doesn’t actually help.
And don’t forget, not flying at all is always the best option for the environment.
What else can you do to reduce your impact?
Making an informed decision when you fly can cut down the environmental impact of your journey.
Reduce short-haul flying
Short-haul flights include anything under 500km. These are worse than longer flights for the environment because of the amount of fuel burned in takeoff and landing. If you’re planning to take a short flight, especially if it’s a domestic one, consider whether you could use an alternative means of transport. For example, flying from London to Paris produces a whopping 55kg of CO2, compared to just 3.3kg if you go by train.
Although it might take you longer to reach your destination by train, there are plenty of benefits including cutting the time wasted in airports, and restrictions on your luggage.
Choose a more efficient airline
Not all airlines are created equal, and this is reflected in the variation in airline emissions. Certain lower impact airlines have more fuel-efficient planes and take more passengers on them (reducing the impact per person and number of flights necessary).
Our friends at Atmosfair have created a helpful rankings document so that you can compare the impact of different airlines.
Maximise the efficiency of your flight
Although it might be within your budget to fly first class, economy class is much better for the environment.This is because in first class and business class the seats are more spread out, meaning you can fit less people on the plane.
It’s also better to avoid flights that have stops if possible. A layover increases the fuel use by adding an extra takeoff and landing. Although direct flights can be more expensive, they are definitely better for the environment.
If you’re interested in understanding more about our flight calculator carbon offsetting calculations, you can see our data sources here:
CO2 Emissions from Commercial Aviation Report (International Council on Clean Transportation)
Government Greenhouse gas conversion factors for company reporting (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)
Singapore Airlines Monthly Operating Statistics (Singapore Company)