Best CO2 calculators and offsetting options for tourism industry, according to expert panel

Growing anxiety within tourism around the looming climate crisis is fueling renewed interest in sustainability and resilience. From a corporate or destination responsibility point of view, reducing or mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from travel is perhaps the most straight-forward approach to “doing your bit”. But how should businesses and destinations evaluate their CO2 emissions, and how can you tackle these emissions?

We asked our international panel of sustainable tourism specialists for advice. Below the answers (highlighted respondents are available to support you as consultants or speakers).

A few key takeaways:

  • Many carbon calculators are now available online, for businesses to use to keep track of and work towards reducing their GHG emissions.
  • While such calculators and offsetting schemes are more and more reliable, it’s best to focus on those which are independently audited and certified.
  • Carbon offsetting is necessary, but not the most efficient approach. Innovation – especially in the aviation industry – needs to take up speed as well, to make air travel less polluting. 
  • Costs for GHG offsetting, mitigation or innovation programmes should be priced into what travelers pay for long-distance flights or private transport.
  • Those businesses taking a proactive approach towards becoming climate-friendly should be rewarded through tax incentives.

Brian Mullis, sustainable tourism expert panel member

Brian Mullis

Speaker profile

In addition to creating incentives in the form of tax credits and concessions to incent renewable energy and energy efficiency and reducing their own carbon footprints, governments can support credible carbon credit schemes like REDD+ Guyana.


Jonathon Day Placemark SolutionsJonathon Day

Speaker profile

Offsets can mitigate some of the GHGs produced by tourism – under the right circumstances. The challenge for tourism businesses and consumers is ensuring that the offset program is creating new (incremental) carbon offsetting projects. The best offsetting organizations are independently audited and certified. Finding these high-quality carbon offsetting companies can be difficult.

Most importantly, carbon offsets are not a ‘free pass’, and these programs shouldn’t absolve anyone from improving their performance in other ways. For instance, while carbon offsets may be gaining popularity for air travelers concerned about their carbon footprint, the aviation industry will truly improve its carbon footprint by the commitment to developing new technologies that reduce the dependence of fossil fuels.


Kelly Bricker, sustainable tourism expert panel memberKelly Bricker

Speaker profile

There are so many out there – I would suggest those that take direct action towards conservation of natural resources – however, this is not the sole answer, this is part of an extensive portfolio of responses. I defer to the experts in this arena.


Kirsi Hyvaerinen

Kirsi Hyvaerinen

Speaker profile

Offsetting is the last option and in all mobility, I recommend studying the principles and standards of atmosfair, for example. We must mitigate and reduce greenhouse gases – not only CO2 – in the first place.

As a tourism business, I would think through all parts of my operations and start with the obvious, easy fixes in what I can change and then move over to the multiplication issues along with my supply and delivery chains.

Similarly, destinations must be willing to change and diversify their offering and marketing as well – the #ValueNotVolume approach I keep repeating can have many good and practical meanings which also help raise the citizens´ quality of life. 

Travelling less often, closer, slower and longer, choosing the most meaningful and least harmful ways of travel and the best choices in consumption – the list of what every business, every destination, and every traveller can do, becomes impressive and doable. In Montenegro, we ran this Travel Massive event in January and came up with many hands-on ideas.


Willy Legrand - sustainable tourism panelWilly Legrand

Speaker profile

There are a few free-of-charge tools available that can be used by hoteliers, for example. While large hotel organisations may have their in-house CO2 calculators, smaller chains and independent properties have a few options.

Firstly, the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI) developed by the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) in partnership with KPMG and 23 global hotel companies provides a straightforward, excel-based tool which enables hotels to measure and report on carbon emissions in a consistent way.

Auditing a hotel can become relatively simple taking for granted that access to data is possible (e.g. energy consumption data, size of the property, occupancy data, etc.)

The HCMI can also be used alongside with the Hotel Footprinting Tool developed by the ITP and Greenview. It allows hoteliers for easy access to the carbon and energy footprint of hotels worldwide and benchmarking possibilities.

Lastly, a few years ago, the Hotel Energy Solutions (HES) was developed by the UNWTO and multiple partners providing the opportunity for small and medium-sized hotels (within various European climate zones) to assess and audit the hotel’s energy and carbon footprint and suggest investments to mitigate the impacts.

There are many carbon-offsetting schemes available currently. The best approach to consider is probably for certificates or carbon offsetting schemes that are based on the protection of standing rainforests and biodiversity. The logic and these priorities, however, still remains the same and should include the steps:

  1. Avoid
  2. Reduce
  3. Compensate (offsetting)

Amine Ahlafi

Global Forest Fund is one of the FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education) programs that aim to help individuals reduce their carbon footprint while at the same time providing valuable resources and education to communities worldwide.

First Climate tries through its Carbon Neutrality for Companies programme to help companies to minimize avoidable emissions and develop insetting and offsetting solutions to compensate for unavoidable carbon emissions through water and climate protection projects.


Anna Spenceley

There are a number of carbon calculators around and one of the challenges is finding something reputable. In the past, I have found it frustrating as the different calculators generate figures for carbon emitted and different ways and costs of offsetting (e.g. see Carbonify.com, Trees for the Future Carbon Calculator, CarbonFund.org and others).

I like the United Nations Carbon Footprint Calculator. This helps to understand our impacts and then gives a number of opportunities to offset them, and can be used by travellers, businesses, and destinations.


Jonathan Tourtellot

CO2 calculators. I think offsets have limited scalability and should be reserved for cases where there are few alternatives, such as aircraft.


Kevin Teng

At Marina Bay Sands Singapore we believe in 3rd party audits/verifiers to calculate our carbon emissions. Offsets should be certified.


Masaru Takayama

Both mechanisms are necessary. You cannot offset unless you calculate your footprint. Needless to say, the effort to minimize the emission should also be addressed at the same time.


Natalia Naranjo Ramos

The best offsetting options are no emissions at all. If that’s impossible, then minimize. Identify the source of emission and search for better options. We have the time now: think now to implement later. And then, identify spaces and territories for regeneration of nature.


Steve Noakes

I recommend the Climate Action Certification by Ecotourism Australia.


Vik Nair

The ecological footprint is a common baseline for carbon footprint which denotes the emission of gases contributing to climate change, associated with human production or consumption activities. Tourists who are willing to pay to travel, for accommodation and other services, should be willing to pay for the conservation of the local environment, as it is to mutual benefit.

Thus, Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) is a crucial trade-off between users of the environment and nature (example tourism) under a voluntary contract to manage the issue of conservation of natural resources. The contract determined in the PES enables a tourist to exercise their choice to conserve the environment by contributing towards its conservation, in the process of tourism consumption.

In order for PES to work, both CO2 calculators and carbon offsetting mechanisms must be in place for tourism businesses and destinations, to address the climate crisis. CO2 calculators will determine the actual impact of the travel activities on the environment. Having these measures is good to determine proper offset methods.

The CO2 calculator should be able to compute the carbon emission for all the tourism-related activities and offer an offset price that is tied to a chosen project or beneficiary, before the payment method is determined. A Carbon Offset Tourist Plan can be developed that computes the amount of CO2 (in tonnes) and score the traveller as a carbon trend-setter (<4 tonnes), a moderate emitter (4-8 tonnes), a carbon high-flyer (9-12 tonnes) and a hyper-active earthling (>12 tonnes).

Each kilogram (1 tonne = 1000 kilograms) can be offset based on an agreed value that will go to the beneficiary. Based on some of the Carbon Offset Plans, namely the Swiss Climate Protection Partnership, Hong Kong’s Carbon Care Asia, Carbon Management UK, and the US Helping People and the Planet plan, on average the rate of offsetting is between US$0.01 to US$0.03 per kilogram.

In short, carbon offsets provide the tourism industry a means to offset emissions by enabling the reduction of emissions elsewhere via a payment or offset activity. The money paid to purchase the offset should be used to fund emission reduction work, such as the planting of trees, construction of renewable energy capacity, or the implementation of energy efficiency measures.


More about the sustainable tourism expert panel here – including previous sessions and answers to some of the most pressing issues linked to making tourism more sustainable.

Do you want to ask the panel a question? Get in touch!

Best CO2 Calculators and GHG Offsetting Options for Tourism Businesses and Destinations
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