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Carbon offsetting your car

4 min read
22 Apr 2016

Carbon offsetting is a common option for flights, with an additional fee being charged to cover the costs associated with schemes that help extract carbon from the environment. However, other forms of transport have no such options. With 84% of all Australian transport emissions coming from roads in 2012, should Aussie drivers be thinking more about offsetting their cars?

According to motor vehicles are a major cause of air pollution in Australian urban centres. There are standards which govern the allowed emissions of vehicles, depending on the vehicle mass, whether it carries only passengers or goods, and its fuel type. However, unless you drive a zero emissions car, such as an electric model which is charged using solar energy, your car is contributing to greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere.

How popular vehicles compare

According to the Green Vehicle Guides Best Sellers List, the combined average CO2 range for the top 20 selling vehicles in Australia is 188grams per km driven (g/km). The top three sellers fare better than the average:

  1. Mazda 3: 129-153g/km
  2. Toyota Corolla: 142-162 g/km
  3. Hyundai i30: 125-179g/km

These figures include vehicles of all fuel types, with the exception of hybrids and electric cars. The lowest emissions all come from electric vehicles, with the BMW i3, Mitsubishi iMiEV, Nissan Leaf, Renault Kangoo and Tesla Model S all rating at zero. However, these figures do not take account of where the electricity has come from.

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Taking a closer look at one of these cars, the Toyota Corolla was the best-selling name plate in Australia for three years running, according to Estimating its emissions depends on many factors, including mileage, manufacture year, engine size and the terrain you are travelling in.

For every 10,000 km travelled in a 2015 Corolla Hatch Manual (a combination or urban and rural driving) MyClimate estimates carbon emissions of 2.477 tonnes.

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The cost of offsetting a car

1 tonne of carbon emitted from this Corolla is equal to 1 Verified Carbon Unit (VCU). Therefore, if you wanted to offset the carbon produced by the 10,000km travelled and 2.477 tonnes of CO2 produced, there are options available:

  • 5 trees are estimated to offset 1 tonne of CO2 over their lifetime (30 years), and a project such as treesforlife offers to plant 5 trees for roughly $22.00. Therefore, offsetting your car for 2 years would cost $110.
  • Native Energy gives the option if helping to fund a clean water project in Ethiopia for $14 per Tonne, a cost of $70 if you were to offset your car for 2 years. The project saves carbon by replacing the polluting woodstoves the locals use to purify water with Hydraid® BioSand water filters.

If carbon offsetting isn’t for you

As you can see from the estimations above, offsetting a car through a government approved scheme might not be affordable for everyone. However, there are many things that can be done to help reduce your carbon footprint, even if it’s not balanced to zero – here are just three.

Plant trees and other vegetation, whether around your home or in community projects.

5 trees can absorb around 1 tonne of carbon in their lifetime, according to Trees for Life. Perhaps you are able to make room for a little more greenery around your home, or could encourage local projects that have this aim.

Reduce the amount of carbon released due to daily activities.

The calculations above a based on driving a Corolla for 10,000km, so if you were to drive less this emission estimation would be reduced. Additionally, switching to a more fuel efficient car when trading in can make a big difference to overall fuel consumption. Finally, according to McCrindle Research, there are almost as many cars in Australia as people (54% of households have at least 2 cars), so finding way to manage this with the environment in mind could help cut emissions.

Related: Fix or flog your vehicle?

Offset your cars emissions through your insurance

Carbon offsetting through vehicle insurance projects has arrived on Australian shores, and depending on its success could be here to stay. Green insurance works when an insurance provider buys carbon units in bulk and sells them to consumers as a part of an insurance product. Calculations are based on the cars details, which are of course entered when purchasing the insurance, giving a quick, easy, and cheaper way to offset a vehicle.

Of course managing carbon emissions to any extent is a personal choice, though it is often good to be aware of the extent to which actions can have a wider effect on our locality and the world.

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