Carbon and Our Environmental Impact

Humans are burning more Carbon than the Earth can handle.

We know this, we are a part of the inequality in this math problem, and we care about our impact on the world.

In 2003 we took the first leap to become carbon neutral within our company. We started hiring people outside of the San Fransisco area (where our office was based) to work remotely for us.

From 2009 to 2013, we began to hire colleagues from around the world to officially kick off our virtual company. It was a challenge back then, as collaboration tools like Slack and Zoom were not yet in existence. Having a strong company culture was critical for us to pull it off.

By 2013 we migrated to a 97% virtual company and we finally closed our office in San Francisco in 2016. We succeeded through rigorous measurement of our team’s happiness and productivity (both have improved), coupled with focused iteration on our “flow” processes. This cut back our impact via commute, along with the typical waste and impact of office use. It also cut our costs while allowing more balance and independence for our team. That was a win-win-win situation for all.

In 2011, our chairman, Sean Keener, planted 3,000 trees in Washington state, and annually plants 100 or more where we host annual leadership retreats (we get to walk among the trees as a bonus). This was a visible, clear start at offsetting our company’s internal footprint. This inside-out mentality is how we think about problem-solving, so it made sense to begin with ourselves.

Next Step: Going Carbon Negative for all of our customers travel

We realize that the carbon math problem demands more action, and so we’ve begun to grapple with ways to offset carbon for flights we arrange for our travelers. We think of this as our external footprint.

This has been a challenge. Below, we share our process in full transparency.

At first we talked to carbon and environmental experts on how to offer offsetting AND how to be accurate with carbon calculations. Not all industry veterans agree on what is the most accurate way to measure a carbon footprint. As we dug deeper, we quickly learned that it’s easy to get stuck in the details and not do anything.

We thought we would just be simple about it and offer a link in the buying process to an offsetting option; empowering our travelers to carbon offset themselves. Then we ran into the challenge of figuring out the true carbon cost of any given flight. There are a plethora of calculators out there; all of them vary in their estimations and recommendations, and none of the calculations seemed to match up with our needs. Our itineraries are often complicated, and everything we found was based on round trips or airplanes… we don’t own any airplanes and we don’t book many round trip flights. Inherently, a round the world AirTrek costs less carbon than a whole bunch of round trip flights, but how much? This is likely to be a real investment, so we want to make sure we do this right.

We began wondering if any of our partners were offsetting their portions, and found that indeed some are offsetting part of their impact. We continue to talk with our partners to connect the dots and make sure we are working hand in hand.

Then we found out that carbon offsetting programs aren’t all created equally, so there’s some work to do to qualify the best place to buy or send offsets. We profoundly value the trust that our travelers place in us, so we want to make sure we’re referring to a trustworthy option… and it’s a bit like the wild west out there. We’re working on this, we expect to come to a decision by the end of Q2 2019.

So here are our plans right now…

We started offering an offset matching to our customers in April 2019. We will be testing this option to find the best place in our user journey to generate the most participation amongst our travelers. Next, we will aim to be carbon neutral though our own offsets and our customers offsets to collectively put more carbon back into the earth than was consumed.

Our goal is for our customers travel to be carbon neutral by 2024 and carbon negative by 2026.

By making this financial investment, we incentivize partnerships with tour companies and airlines that care about the environment and offer programs to offset their products as well.

We hope this will also raise the awareness of our travelers who will perhaps foster their own positive impact while at home or abroad.

It’s our mission to help people experience the world through travel. Earth is our product, and we take that stewardship seriously.

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