Carbon Offsets for Sustainable Travel, a SustainRT ALA 2019 program

There is no substitute for an in-person gathering of library professionals. It can be one of the most rewarding, informative, and inspiring activities of one’s career. ALA conferences harness the collective power of librarians. But, as members of the ALA’s Sustainability Round Table, or individuals concerned about the environmental crisis, how do we reconcile the profound benefits of conference travel with the fact that air travel is the quickest way to inflate your personal carbon footprint? One round-trip flight to the ALA conference this year (from Denver to Washington, DC) can undo a year’s worth of emission reductions from all of these actions combined: taking the bus to work, adding insulation to your home, recycling, composting, adjusting the thermostat at night, unplugging appliances to avoid phantom load, using LED lighting, and making dietary changes.

However, there is something you can do to counterbalance the impact. You can participate in a carbon-offset program, which is an initiative that purposely reduces greenhouse gases (GHG) from the atmosphere. By financially supporting these projects, donors are able to mitigate their GHG emissions by receiving offset “credits.”  Not only do these projects benefit the environment, they often improve the lives of the people involved. Examples include: clean cookstoves, low GHG emitting water purification systems, landfill gas capture systems, etc.

Though they do not fully address systemic problems inherent in our modern society’s unsustainable lifestyle, carbon offsets, (as well as renewable energy credits and carbon credits) can be effective strategies to voluntarily reduce your individual contribution to climate change.

Before selecting a carbon offset provider, you may wish to do some research. Important considerations are if the project is third party verified or uses the “Gold Standard,” which guarantees that the project meets strict criteria related to sustainability. See a list and ratings of some of the best carbon offset providers at Most carbon offset organizations have travel calculators on their website, which lets you know how much it would cost to offset your flight (usually no more than the price of lunch at an affordable restaurant).

But do these programs actually work? Where in the world are they located? How does one encourage or implement them at the organization or institution level? These questions will be explored at an ALA 2019 conference program, hosted by the Sustainability Round Table.

SUSTAINRT Carbon Offsets for Sustainable Travel: Why, Where, How

Sunday, June 23 • 8:30 am – 10:00 am

Jennifer Blaha (speaker)
Conservation International

Blake Lawrence (speaker)
Cool Effect

David Selden (speaker)
Native American Rights Fund / National Indian Law Library

Lisa Rosen (speaker)
Gold Standard

Uta Hussong-Christian (moderator)
Oregon State University Libraries & Press

The program will include a representative from carbon offset provider Cool Effect. Cool Effect uses a rigorous verification process to ensure that projects are legitimately reducing carbon pollution. Each of their carbon offset projects meet the toughest requirements of the world’s major carbon standards (including the United Nations).

Even if you can’t attend this program, maybe you’ll consider offsets for any air travel you do, the flight of a friend, or your general household footprint? As members of the Sustainability Round Table, here are some examples of our own offset choices:

David Selden

In my personal life, I have always tried to reduce my climate carbon footprint the best I could and offset the rest. The project our family has funded over the past few years is the Uganda cook stove project offered by Cool Effect. This project is third party verified, inexpensive and offers many social benefits in addition to protecting our climate. The most important benefits to the Ugandan families are creation of jobs, lowering the cost of fuel for cooking, improving air quality and health and lowering deforestation caused by wood harvesting. In addition, this project has special appeal to me, as I’ve spent several happy years of my childhood in Uganda, playing with the local children. This is a way to give back to the community in a country where I was respected and felt like I belonged.

Uganda Cook Stove Project by Carbon Offset Provider Cool Effect

Jenny Rockwell

Though I cannot attend the ALA conference this year, I have decided to support a colleague’s participation by offsetting her travel with a $11 donation to Cool Effect’s Native American Methane Capture project. The mountains of Colorado have been shifting. When they shift, gases from deep inside the core of the earth are released. The Southern Ute Tribe has learned how to capture this leaking gas and redirect it into existing pipelines for energy use by homes, businesses and schools across the reservation. This project captures methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more damaging to Earth than CO₂. Unlike fracking, this project turns an obvious environmental problem into a productive solution. Plus, my donation is tax-deductible, and less than 10% of it goes toward administrative costs.

Native American Methane Capture Project by Carbon Offset Provider Cool Effect

Here at SustainRT, we fantasize about a day when conference registration forms automatically add a section for opting in to carbon offset programs. Or, perhaps, a day when carbon offsets are included in the price of a conference ticket. Until then, conscientious and progressive networkers, such as yourself, can decide now to integrate a carbon offset program into your travel expenses. It’s a small price to pay for mitigating climate change, supporting sustainability and the people that benefit from these important projects. Hope you’ll be able to attend the program.


Jenny Rockwell and David Selden

Governance Committee, Sustainability Round Table