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A guide to carbon offsets and how they work

Plus, 3 easy-breezy ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

The content on this page is sponsored by Aspiration, an eco-conscious financial services brand committed to making your wallet — and the planet — greener.

The US is the second-largest producer of carbon pollution in the world, according to the World Bank. And while carbon emissions negatively affect the climate, carbon offsets can help cancel out these emissions.

What are carbon offsets?

Carbon offsets are practical ways that you can reduce and neutralize your carbon emissions produced by driving, flying or even throwing out garbage. Offset strategies encourage a more sustainable future by fighting climate change and promoting low-carbon, sustainable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

Many companies like neobank Aspiration and airline carrier Delta purchase carbon offsets to reduce the environmental impact of its customers. Examples include planting trees and making donations to environmental initiatives that support conservation and other green efforts.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, you emit through your actions and the products you use. It’s a way to measure how your lifestyle impacts the environment — everything from the temperature you wash your clothes to how much meat you eat.

Examples of carbon emissions

Here are a few common things we do every day that produce carbon emissions and contribute to our carbon footprint:

  • Driving. Gas-powered vehicles account for about 15% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the US.
  • Flying. Air travel churns out the most carbon out of all the modes of transportation.
  • Electricity and heat. Burning fossil fuels, like natural gas, for energy produces carbon emissions.
  • Shopping. Buying new products, including clothing and appliances, require energy for manufacturing and transporting items to you.
  • Throwing out trash. Landfills release greenhouse gases as organic materials decompose.

3 ways to offset your carbon emissions

Here are a few ways you can lower your carbon output:

  • Support companies that buy carbon offsets. You can help cancel out greenhouse gas emissions by supporting forestry projects or green businesses that simultaneously help the environment by purchasing carbon offsets. For example, online-only fintech company Aspiration has several green initiatives to lower its customers’ carbon footprint through planting trees and buying carbon offsets based on customer’s gas purchases.
  • Track your carbon footprint. Calculating how much carbon your lifestyle emits can help you identify areas where you can cut back on. You can use a Carbon Footprint Calculator from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or get more personalized results using eco-friendly apps like Capture.
  • Reduce your carbon footprint. Lower your environmental impact by making changes to your lifestyle, which can be as simple as adjusting your thermostat temperature or bringing a reusable bag when shopping.

5 companies that help consumers with carbon effects

These green businesses keep the environment at the forefront and give customers the opportunity to use their money as a vehicle for positive change.

1. Aspiration

Aspiration is an online-only fintech company with a couple of environmental initiatives. Its “Plant Your Change” program gives customers the option to round up purchases to the nearest dollar on their Aspiration card. For every roundup, Aspiration pledges to plant one carbon-soaking tree to help offset your carbon footprint.

And to make your Aspiration card even more powerful, Aspiration’s “Planet Protection” program automatically buys carbon offsets for every gallon of gas you purchase for Aspiration Plus members. So you can have peace of mind knowing that you’re neutralizing the carbon your driving produces with every fillup.

2. Etsy

Etsy, the global marketplace for independent crafters of unique and creative goods, offsets 100% of carbon emissions generated from shipping. And it doesn’t cost anything to buyers and sellers.

Every time you buy an item on Etsy, it’ll automatically purchase emissions offsets that support environmental projects, including protecting trees that would otherwise be cut down and sponsoring green energy farms to replace fossil fuels.

3. Delta

Delta’s carbon calculator allows customers to choose from four carbon offset projects. Enter your flight data, and the calculator will determine the amount of carbon dioxide emissions generated from your travel. You can then choose a project that you would like to support.

Each project has a verified emissions reduction and aligns with the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals.

4. Enterprise

If you rent a car from the Enterprise family — Enterprise Rent-a-car, Alamo Rent-a-car or National Car Rental, you can opt in to contribute to a certified offset project. Enterprise promises to match your contribution dollar for dollar, up to $1 million.

The carbon offset donations work to fund environmental projects to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and support renewable energy initiatives, including trapping and destroying methane gas from landfills to projects that convert animal waste into electricity.

5. Mom’s Organic Market

Mom’s Organic Market is a small grocery store chain on the East Coast that offsets its customers’ gas mileage to and from their stores. It collects ZIP codes once a year during checkout and calculates the average number of roundtrip miles its customers would drive to its market locations. It multiplies the average miles by its yearly customer count to determine the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it pledges to offset.

Mom’s Organic Market invests in various carbon offsetting initiatives, including renewable energy projects and landfill gas methane capture, which collects and converts methane gas from landfills into heat or electricity.

Bottom line

Carbon emissions are intricately intertwined in our daily lives. But by consciously choosing to support businesses that strive to reduce carbon emissions, you can make your money an effective channel for change.

Compare environmentally-friendly banks and green brands to find more ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

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