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Winter 2010 Carbon Curbing Idea Takes Off

A new kiosk at San Francisco airport allows travelers to offset the carbon emissions from their flights and raises awareness of individual responsibility for the environment.

The world’s first set of carbon-offset kiosks is the latest in California’s many environmental initiatives. The three Climate Passport kiosks are at the San Francisco International Airport—two in the International terminal and the third in Terminal 3.

How it works

Carbon offsets, as the name implies, calculates the amount of carbon a particular activity generates; consumers can “pay” an amount that will be used to “offset” the greenhouse gases that the said activity produces. At the SFO kiosks, for example, people can enter details of their flights, and the kiosk calculates the dollar “carbon cost” of that flight, using various parameters such as the amount of greenhouse gas the flight generates and the number of passengers on the flight.

At the SFO kiosks, a user can purchase the offset for a flight using cash or a credit card. The offsets are used to fund two projects: The Conservation Fund’s Garcia River Forest Project and the San Francisco Carbon Fund. The Garcia River Forest Project aims to restore and maintain the Garcia River Forest in California, which is estimated to absorb and store 4.2 million tons of carbon dioxide. The San Francisco Carbon Fund is a city-based initiative that supports greenhouse emission reduction projects. For every ton of CO2, $12 goes to the Garcia River Forest Project and the remaining $1.50 to the San Francisco Carbon Fund.

The company that sets up and manages the kiosks, 3Degrees Inc., has purchased a large quantity of carbon offsets from the projects, and the kiosk is one outlet for it, says Steve McDougal, executive vice president of marketing and business development at 3Degrees Inc., which is located in San Francisco.

Mixed reactions

The kiosk itself was an idea proposed by the office of the Mayor of San Francisco. It is in keeping with the airport’s other green initiatives, including discounts for renting hybrid cars, and the installation of solar panels for generating power.

McDougal says that the kiosk is an excellent awareness tool as well. “You’re not going to get every person that passes the kiosk [to purchase the offsets],” he says. “Even if they wonder what it is and find out, that’s progress.”

Michael McCarron, director of community affairs at the airport, says that the wide variety of people that pass through airports make it an ideal location for a kiosk of this kind. The response to the kiosk has been mixed, he adds. “Some people think it’s a great idea, and some think it’s stupid,” he says.

Some of that criticism stems from the fact that buying carbon offsets is seen by many as environmentally irresponsible, because it encourages people to “buy off” their environmental damage with money.

Industry standards

Also, carbon offsetting is still a business with no specific standard. For instance, companies that calculate carbon emissions often come up with widely varying results for the same flight. In a recent survey conducted by, carbon offset calculations for a per-passenger New York-Los Angeles flight ranged from 4.94 to 0.84 metric tons of CO2 (Climate Passport calculates 1.66). What’s more, the offset price is not fixed, and verification organizations set their own prices.

While 3Degrees’ rate of $13.50 per metric ton of CO2 is on the higher side, McDougal says that the cost reflects the absolute reliability that the company provides. While the San Francisco project has progressed smoothly, McDougal says that future plans really depend on their partners. “If there is another city that would like to make the kiosk available to their customers, then we would [want to be part of that] as well,” he says.

Travelers can also access Climate Passport online at

Meera Rajagopalan

Meera Rajagopalan is a freelance writer who writes for publications in India and the U.S. She has extensive experience reporting on niche businesses and can be reached at

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