Cool Effect Review: Offset Your Travel Carbon Emissions

From the carbon produced to package your food to the fuel you burn on vacation, your daily activities pump carbon, methane, and other emissions into the air. When accounting for work, travel, and leisure, an average American “produces” 16.6 tons of carbon each year.

You can reduce your carbon footprint by biking more, flying less, and reusing your goods. But eliminating your carbon footprint entirely is not an option. That’s where buying carbon offsets from companies like Cool Effect comes in. 

SustainFi September 2, 2021

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Summary

  • Cool Effect lets you buy carbon offsets to compensate for your annual and travel-based carbon emissions
  • The company curates projects from around the world that capture or reduce CO2 emissions
  • At $9.91 per ton, they make offsetting your carbon output relatively affordable

Pros

  • Each scientifically-backed project is reviewed by a major carbon standard such as the Gold Standard
  • Site calculators help you estimate carbon emissions to offset
  • Many projects have extra benefits, such as creating jobs

Cons

  • Cool effect charges a 9.87% fee to cover credit card charges, research and project registration fees (the remaining 90.13% goes to project partners)
  • Offsets, but doesn’t eliminate, your carbon footprint
  • May encourage some people not to reduce their carbon footprint

What is Cool Effect? 

Cool Effect’s roots go back to 1998 when a group of eco-minded individuals began building clean-burning cookstoves in Honduras. The organization officially launched as a carbon offsetting business in 2015. It’s a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Now, Cool Effect boasts 500,000+ members funding between 10-15 projects worldwide at any given time. And in the six years since its inception, the company claims to have offset over 3 million tons of emissions.

Cool Effect mitigates climate change by offering transparent, scientifically-backed carbon credits. Each project must provide and prove peer-approved scientific methods and measurements. Two independent committees review projects before Cool Effect verifies their effectiveness.

This system seeks to ensure that only sustainable, “100% additional” projects make the grade. In other words, these projects should offset carbon that would not have been reduced any other way. 

In contrast, if a landfill is legally required to capture methane, carbon emissions are reduced, but buying offsets from the landfill do not result in any additional benefits because carbon capture would have taken place regardless. 

🔔 Looking to compare offset prices? See how the top ten carbon offset providers compare.

How Does Cool Effect Work?

Buying carbon offsets lets you compensate for your carbon emissions. You “cancel” your emissions by paying for projects that remove emissions from the air, distribute clean-burning stoves or support renewable energy to replace fossil fuels.

While many programs cater to businesses, some, such as Cool Effect, provide both business and individual offsets.

Some critics argue that buying offsets discourages reducing carbon emissions. Additionally, many carbon offset programs struggle with transparency, legitimacy, and efficacy. Offsets are not subject to any federal oversight.

That’s why it’s crucial to ensure you’re buying into a worthwhile program. But what type of programs does Cool Effect fund?

Avoided Nature Loss. Programs that avoid nature loss protect natural habitats from destruction. For instance, several projects protect forests by replanting trees. Others protect grassland from becoming farmland or create peat bogs to recapture carbon. These programs can reduce the risk of disease and wildfires, encourage natural carbon capture, and improve water yields and biodiversity. 

However, one issue with such projects is that you are paying for trees not to be cut, for example, and not for new trees to be planted. Although Cool Effect verifies that its projects are additional, it may be hard to be sure if the trees were actually going to be cut. 

If the forest was never threatened in the first place, then carbon offsets from that project are not additional. Paying to plant new trees makes more sense intuitively. One high-profile investigation found that several carbon offset programs did not protect the rainforest.

Nature-Based Removal. These projects help small, rural communities recapture carbon. Many such programs also create jobs or share profits with locals, improving living standards. For example, some programs encourage farmers to turn farmland into shaded forests. Others work with locals to reduce coastal erosion and improve biodiversity. 

Technology-Based Avoidance or Reduction. Tech-based programs use modern technology to remove or produce fewer emissions. For instance, the Cooking With Gas project in China builds biogas digesters to capture and convert methane emissions into renewable energy. And in Honduras, Cool Effect’s flagship program is still going strong. The Breath of Fresh Air program provides cookstoves in rural homes to reduce emissions. (Traditional wood stoves emit toxic smoke and produce a lot of carbon.)

What Offsets Does Cool Effect Offer?

Cool Effect offers offsets for a variety of activities, like air travel, for $9.91 per ton. You can also offset your estimated average annual carbon footprint of 16.6 tons for $164.51 annually. Cool Effect has even partnered with American Airlines to let their customers reduce emissions from air travel.

Cool Effect offers travel-based calculators to calculate emissions:

  • Air Travel calculates your output based on the number of hours you fly per trip. For example, 10-12 hours of flying are equivalent to 1.89 tons of carbon emissions, which you can offset for $18.73
  • Driving tailors your carbon output to the class and category of your car, as well as the number of miles traveled
  • Accommodations accounts for the cost of renting a hotel room based on the number of people and nights stayed
  • Cruise calculates your cruise emissions based on the number of miles traveled and how many people are in your party

Once you’ve calculated your impact, you can select a program, choose one-time or recurring offsets, and start reducing your carbon footprint.

You can also donate to support individual carbon projects of your choice. For example, you can donate to plant mangrove trees in Myanmar to remove carbon from the atmosphere and reduce shoreline erosion.

How much does Cool Effect charge? 

Unlike some offset programs, Cool Effect doesn’t buy offsets on the cheap and then resell them to you at a profit. However, they do charge a 9.87% fee. The remaining 90.13% goes to project partners.

The 9.87% covers the following:

  • Payment Processing Fee: 2%–4%
  • Registry Fee (where applicable)
  • Research Fee: 1.5%
  • The remainder goes toward a Cool Effect Administration Fee

Alternatives to Cool Effect

Cool Effect isn’t the only carbon offset program out there. If you’re interested in alternatives, you might consider one of the following. 

Terrapass was founded in 2004 by a professor and 41 students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Terrapass aims to neutralize carbon impacts through reforestation, solar and wind farm creation. Users can invest in one-time, monthly, or event-based offsets. Offsetting one ton of carbon costs around $11.

🔔 Read our review of Terrapass here.

Native provides another take on carbon offsets. Native funds new projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before they’ve entered the atmosphere. You can buy one-time, monthly, quarterly, or annual subscriptions for $15.50 per ton. 

Climeworks lets you fund direct air capture, a technology that sucks CO2 directly from the atmosphere. Learn more.

Carbonfund.org is another carbon offset organization that tailors offsets to your life. You can buy packages for families, couples, individuals, or entire events to offset:

  • Your lifestyle
  • Vehicle emissions
  • Air travel carbon output
  • The carbon cost of living in your home
  • Your monthly or annual water usage

Your purchases fund projects such as clean-burning stoves, water purification efforts, emission reduction in freight shipping, reforestation, and renewable energy.

Carbonfund charges $10 per ton.

💰 Takeaway

Cool Effect lets you offset your carbon footprint by funding projects that reduce harmful emissions. Although offsets aren’t as good as reducing your carbon emissions to begin with, they are better than doing nothing.

🔔 Did you know that you can also invest in carbon credits? Learn how.

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