How to Help Local Nonprofits Fight Climate Change When You Travel

Instead of offsetting your travel, volunteer to help local nonprofits fight climate change. Tips to get you started

November 13, 2018

This guest post was written by Maureen Wise and Shawn Gagne. It features tips on how to make travel sustainable without just resorting to buying carbon offsets. We hope you enjoy!

If you travel for work or pleasure, you are likely spending more greenhouse gases on your travel days than your normal day to day life at home. At Urban Offsets, we believe in owning the bad you do to the environment and doing good in its place. You don’t always have to buy offsets to balance your carbon budget. We suggest helping local nonprofits flight climate change instead. By volunteering to support their noble work, your efforts can do more than just ‘pay back’ for travel emissions and will leave you with a deeper connection to the places and communities you travel to.

How Much to Offset

You can calculate your flight emissions to get an idea of the CO2 released into the air by flying. We suggest using Offsetter’s calculator or the one at carbonfootprint.com if you’d like to go this route. You can also use the agreed upon number of 0.25 tonnes CO2 equivalent per hour flying if you prefer. We know first hand though that offsets can be tricky to calculate accurately, that they can be expensive to fund, confusing to figure out and (we hate to say it but it’s true) sometimes untrustworthy. One way around this problem of offsetting is to think about the hours you spent on the plane and volunteer “off” those hours by planting trees or volunteering with a good local non-profit instead.

Examples in Iceland

Tourism is booming in Iceland. According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, “the total number of foreign overnight visitors to Iceland was around 2.2 million in 2017, a 24.2% increase from 2016 when foreign visitors numbered around 1.8 million.” Flight prices have been going down and both American and European tourists have realized that the trip to Iceland is shorter than most people expect. Iceland has wide-open vistas, beautiful waterfalls, geysers, hot springs, active volcanoes, glaciers to hike, whales to watch and of course, stunning northern lights to chase in the winter months. Iceland has a lot to offer travelers.

Now most people don’t think of Iceland as a forested island, but did you know that forests covered 25% of Iceland about a 1,000 years ago? The New York Times reported last year that bronze age Vikings slashed and burned forests to make way for new villages and used the wood as both building material and food prep. What was a necessary action to survive harsh conditions, has had lasting impacts that today’s Icelanders are starting to see. A multitude of agencies have begun working to bring back Iceland’s forests by planting trees. We recently met up with the Icelandic Forestry Association to learn more and to design a new type of volunteer experience that’s fun and helps reforest the island!

We also love the Airbnb Experiences portal. It’s a great way to help you connect with local people to do good wherever you travel. In Iceland, we can recommend taking a tour with the International Fund for Animal Welfare to learn about whales, support whale conservation and education, as well as to support their “Meet Us, Don’t Eat Us” campaign.

How to Connect

Where are you traveling next? Before you go, ask your hotel or Airbnb host to find you a nonprofit that is supporting a cause (like deforestation) that resonates with you and your family. Use Airbnb Experiences to attend an event or volunteer with your new found nonprofit during your stay. Golf outings, races, and charity shows already make for great stops to add to your travel itinerary, but we’re starting to see a lot more people engaging with nonprofits at GuideStar, Charities.org or Melissa.com  too. Also, check out VolunteerMatch.org to find specific events or activities that help local nonprofits flight climate change.

Check out the other experiences that Airbnb offers and search their social impact experiences channel. There are many opportunities to care for animals, learn about history, tend a farm and even a few Ecovillages to encounter.

If you’re having a hard time finding a way to volunteer at your destination, let us know! Urban Offsets works with nonprofits all over to and would be happy to help you find a charity or event at your destination at no charge!

Apps that Give Back

There are two apps we recommend that can help you support nonprofits while you travel. While these will not be specific to your location, they will still give back to a nonprofit with a climate change mission. Your sightseeing steps can benefit a nonprofit while the app Charity Miles is open in your pocket. Both the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy can be benefited through this app. Share your travel photos for good with the app Donate a Photo. You can designate that your photos help Water.org or the Student Conservation Association.

Where are you traveling to next? How will you help your destination deal with climate change and how can you help? Let us know on social media!