RetreaTours is Climate Positive!
We purchase triple carbon offsets for your travels with us—that’s from your home, through the entire tour, and back to your home again, times three.
You may have heard the term “carbon neutral,” which means that a company offsets as much carbon as it produces. With this 300% offset, RetreaTours is actually offsetting more carbon than we produce each year, making us “carbon negative” (or “climate positive,” which has a nicer ring to it!)
Since 2012 we’ve focused on making travel safe and easy for our guests; with our triple carbon offset tours, we’re pleased to make our trips as sustainable as they are memorable.
Our Carbon Offset Commitment
Triple carbon offsets for all transport while on tour (flights, vehicles, trains, boats, and hotel stays)
Triple carbon offsets for economy class flights for each guest to get to the starting point of the tour and back home thereafter. (If you choose to fly business or first class, we can help you make sure your flights are completely offset.)
Triple carbon offsets for all travel, activities, and daily lifestyle for RetreaTours as a company and the daily lives of BJ & Lauren.
What are Carbon Offsets?
Carbon offsets are programs and efforts that reduce or sequester carbon emissions to “offset,” or balance out, what you have emitted. These aren’t intended to be viewed as indulgences a la the 15th-century Catholic church. We all still have to own the fact that we are producing carbon through our travels and in our lives, but offsets can help to mitigate the effect on the environment as a whole.
RetreaTours believes that traveling the world to engage with cultures different from our own can be an important part of the human experience. However, we recognize the impact that travel has on the environment and feel the need to mitigate that impact. Airline travel contributes roughly 2.5% of the total carbon emissions worldwide. That might not seem like much, but an economy class flight from NYC to Delhi, India emits 2.3 tonnes of CO2 (1 tonne = 1,000kg/2,204lbs), whereas the average American emits a total of about 16 to 25 tonnes of CO2 in a whole year (compared to the average person in Kenya who emits about 0.4 tonnes per year).
Scientists say that we have to reduce our 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030, then we must reach net zero emissions by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5°C and prevent catastrophic climate change. We believe our commitment to purchase 300% door-to-door offsets for all our guests helps us to get there.
Carbon offsets are not a silver bullet that will solve the climate change crisis. They should be seen only as a part of what we all need to do to reduce the environmental impact of our lives, including our travel. We feel (and much research backs up our feeling) that single carbon offsets are insufficient to truly offset travel by flights, especially considering factors like radiative forcing. Therefore, we have committed to triple offsetting—that is, 300% of the calculated carbon emissions (tonnes of CO2) from all of your travel during our tours, as well as to and from these tours from your home.
It should be noted that we are the only tour operator that we know of that purchases carbon offsets from the time the guest leaves their home until they return again. What’s more, we’re the only one that triples the recommended offset.
Here’s an example: If we have a tour in Egypt and you are coming from Chicago, that means there are nearly 4 tonnes of CO2 emitted for you to get to Cairo and back. During the tour, there are three domestic flights, plus time on a boat, plus time in our bus, for a rounded-up total of 1 more tonnes of CO2. The total CO2 equals 5 tonnes for this particular trip, and we would pay to offset 15 tonnes of CO2 for you, every other guest, and ourselves.
Does this affect the price of your tours?
We have not raised our prices to account for paying for these offsets. For many years we purchased single and double carbon offsets on behalf of our guests because we felt it was the right thing do to. Going forward, we believe that it is important for our guests to be informed and to have the opportunity to donate beyond what we have already offset.
Who do you partner with?
We have two primary partner organizations through which we purchase our carbon offsets:
- Carbonfund.org has many third-party certifications, as well as a platinum certification by GuideStar as one of the top non-profits in the USA. Charity Navigator has given them a perfect score of 100 on their Encompass Rating System. We are a Carbonfree® partner of Carbonfund, and we offset 300% of our business and lifestyle emissions through them, renewed annually.
- Cool Effect is where we purchase most of the offsets for our tours. They have many great projects around the world, as well as a gold certification by GuideStar. Here is a good article about their efforts and the organization.
Tell me more–how do carbon offsets work?
Carbon offsets offer a way to balance out your pollution by investing in projects that reduce (or sequester) emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Offsets are measured in metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (or the equivalent). You can calculate how much carbon dioxide-equivalent you are responsible for by using online calculators such as this one, though many vendors calculate the amount on their sites as well.
Thereafter, you would find a carbon offset project to donate to. When done correctly, carbon offsets have many benefits, as the organizations work directly with communities to clean rivers, plant trees, lessen dependence on oil, and invest in clean energy. Some projects help the environment and humans simultaneously, such as making cooking stoves in rural communities abroad that require the use of less wood than a traditional stove. In this example, less wood means less cost to the family, less toxic smoke and carbon emissions in their house, as well as forests being spared. This example above is one program that we support on behalf of our guests. Here are a few articles about that project that you might find interesting.    
Since climate change is a global problem, it doesn’t matter what the carbon offset project is as long as it matches (or exceeds, as in our case) your carbon output. However, we try to focus our efforts in the locations that we bring our guests.
Why should travelers buy carbon offsets?
You should be aware of and concerned about your carbon dioxide emissions at all times in your life. That said, travel often produces considerably more carbon than in your usual daily life. It is also very easy to calculate, and therefore offset, the carbon produced through your travels. When you’re traveling with us, we take care of it for you!
How can travelers determine which programs are legitimate?
Purchasing carbon offsets for your travel pollution is noble, but can be pointless if you don’t find a good organization. There is a great variance in the effectiveness of carbon offset programs. There is little regulation and transparency in the industry as a whole and there are some well-intended, but poorly executed programs.  
We only use third-party-verified, reputable, highly-rated programs. It is imperative that the offsets we purchase are verifiable and lasting. Each project must be a new offset, meaning it is not an already-existing effort that is now being labeled and sold as a carbon offset. For example, if a landfill is legally required to capture the methane they produce, they cannot be allowed to sell that as a carbon-offset.
How do I buy my own carbon offsets for travel or my daily lifestyle?
Well, you already know that we use and love Carbonfund.org and Cool Effect. For your personal offset, we believe you should consider Carbonfund.org since they make it incredibly easy for you to calculate the carbon you produce in your life.
Here are some more organizations that we feel are also worthwhile (that is, good programs and low administrative expenses):
- Gold Standard Auditor of carbon offset programs that is also a vendor for offsets with many interesting & exciting programs to choose from
- Sustainable Travel International US carbon offset vendor that many people rank highly
- MyClimate Swiss/EU carbon offset vendor that is expensive, but has some great programs including one we use for our Madagascar tours
- Atmosfair German/EU carbon offset vendor has some great programs and many people rank highly
- Climate Friendly Australian carbon offset vendor
You can easily calculate your own carbon emissions at this site or on most of the organization sites and then send them money, which they then put towards programs they have identified. Many organizations allow you to find a specific program that speaks to you that you can then support directly. We strongly suggest that any program you support be audited and certified by organizations like Gold Standard, Verified Carbon Standard, and/or Green-e. The certifiers look to make sure that programs are:
- Additional and would not have occurred without the funding of that offset.
- Not double-counted
- Avoids “Leakage” (meaning that this program/offset does not make another environmental or social problem worse)
- Have low administrative expenses
Wait, isn’t this just “greenwashing”?
Many people (including us) feel that companies that purchase single carbon-offsets at the lowest possible cost might be doing so strictly for optics and public perception. That is one of the many reasons we have chosen to offset three times the recommended amount, going beyond any other travel company we have yet found.
Are carbon offsets tax-deductible?
If you’re supporting a project that’s registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, please talk to your tax specialist about a tax deduction.
Don’t airlines have to offset the carbon they produce?
Beginning in 2021, some airlines that fly internationally will voluntarily offset any emissions under a UN agreement (called the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation). This program will not be mandatory until 2027, however. It has been reported, however, that the airline industry has weakened and cheapened this program in a number of ways. Though airlines will offset all their flights automatically for you in the future, this is in addition to what we are offsetting on your behalf (meaning your flights in the future will be quadruply offset!)
What more can I do?
We encourage our guests to visit one of the organizations listed above to offset their other travels and activities in their everyday life. It’s worth mentioning again that the offsets we purchase are just a small part of the greater picture. In addition, there are so many things that one can do to reduce their carbon footprint. Here are some ideas below which you can try to work into your lifestyle (and we’re guessing many of you already do!)
Here are some specific things that you can do in your life to reduce your carbon footprint [generally in order of how often you can do each of these things]:
- Eat low on the food chain. Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans. Animal products (like meat and dairy) are responsible for 14.5% of manmade greenhouse gas emissions. If you go even one day per week (like “Meatless Mondays”) you can reduce your carbon footprint by 2,920 pounds (1,324kg) per year.
- Choose local and organic foods that are in season. Transporting food from afar (by truck, rail or plane) uses fossil fuels for transport and refrigeration.
- Buy foods in bulk using your own container.
- Bring/use your own reusable bottle and avoid single-use plastic water bottles. Look into a Steri-Pen or filters such as the BeFree (Katydyn) which we love.
- Reduce your food waste by planning meals in advance and eating the leftovers.
- Don’t buy “fast fashion.” The fashion industry accounts for more than 8% of global climate impact (compared to 2.5% for the airline industry). The average American discards 80lbs (36kg) of clothing each year (85% of that ends up in landfills). Also, most fast fashion comes from distant places like China, Bangladesh, India, using fossil fuels to get to the consumers. Instead, buy quality clothing that will last, and consider vintage & used clothing from thrift stores and consignment shops.
- Wash your clothes in cold water. The enzymes in cold-water-detergents are designed to work better in cold water. Doing two loads of laundry per week in cold water versus hot water saves up to 500lbs (226kg) of carbon dioxide per year.
- Buy less! Buy less of everything and buy used or recycled if possible.
- Bring your own reusable bag when you shop.
- Avoid products with excess packaging.
- Buy the most efficient (Energy Star) appliances for your home.
- Line dry your clothes. Line drying is America’s least favorite way to save on their carbon footprint, yet running a dryer for an hour is the equivalent of running 225 incandescent light bulbs for the same period (savings of up to 2,400lbs/CO2/year)
- Do an energy audit for your home to see how your home can be more energy efficient.
- Change your bulbs to LEDs (they use as little as 1/10th the energy and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs and don’t have mercury like compact fluorescent bulbs)
- Switch your lights off when you’re not in the room and unplug electronic devices when they are not in use.
- Turning your water heater down to 120°F (49°C) can save you 550lbs (250kg) of carbon dioxide/year.
- Look into a smart thermostat for your home and consider not keeping it so warm in the cooler months or cool in the hotter months.
- If you install a low-flow showerhead to reduce hot-water usage you can save 350lbs (159kg) of CO2/year. You can also take shorter showers or even turn off the water while you lather up if you want to save more CO2.
- Ask your electricity company if you are able to purchase clean energy. Go here to see what’s available in your community.
- An average car produces five tons of CO2/year (varies based on your type of car and how much you drive, but the average is 10,000lbs (4,535kg). You can drive less—walk, take public transportation, carpool, rideshare, or ride your bike when possible. This will reduce CO2 and will lessen traffic congestion and cars idling on the roads due to that congestion.
- Avoid unnecessary braking and rapid acceleration. Many studies have found that aggressive driving can result in 40% more fuel consumption than more relaxed driving.
- Keep your car well-maintained. Keep your tires properly inflated (which can increase your fuel efficiency by 3%) and remove any extra weight from the car.
- When doing errands, try to combine them to reduce your driving.
- Use apps like Waze to avoid getting stuck in traffic.
- Use cruise control.
- Use less air-conditioning while driving.
- Look for a car with the overall highest mileage (and lowest overall emissions), which may be a hybrid or electric vehicle.
- Buying a used car saves on the emissions of the production of the vehicle.
- Reduce the number of flights you take each year. Flying non-stop as much as possible is better than multiple stops.
- Fly economy class. Business class is responsible for nearly three times as many emissions as economy class because there are fewer people per square foot in business/first than economy.
- And, of course, when you need to fly, offset the carbon emissions for your travel.
For even more information, here are a few good articles on the topics above.