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Offsetting or putting off?

May 18, 2010

On Twitter this morning, I spotted a comment from one of my friends:

Flight not disrupted – yay. On my way to Gatwick to fly to Edinburgh for today’s DigiFun2010 conference.

I cheekily wrote back, saying that his organisation (a charity) clearly isn’t worried about its carbon footprint, although I know that there are probably time and cost implications.

Friend confirmed this, saying that spending nine hours on the train in one day was a bit much, although he did use the train to get to the same city for a personal holiday. He also said that his footprint concerns him; his organisation have offset the trip but what else could he do?

The flight still happened, even if it’s offset!

I’m not sure there is much else he can do; if you’re flying, you’re flying and there’s not much you can do to compensate. I’m also very sceptical of carbon offsetting; as an interesting 2007 Environmental Research Web post says:

[Carbon offset schemes] are considered as paying someone else for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and, as such, buying your way out of responsibility. And the schemes may distract attention from the real problem of how we reduce our own emissions.

Of course, this is mostly a corporate issue; I have no figures, but I would imagine most offset schemes are funded by companies. From my friend’s comments, when left to make personal choices (with control over his own time), he makes a conscious decision to take the ‘greener’ option.

Organisations must enable the right choice

So, it looks like we’re back to saying that organisations have to enable their employees to take a green choice, rather than choosing to look green – with associated reputational advantages – with much-debated carbon offset schemes (benefits in terms of tangible effects vs. raising awareness).

So, in terms of this trip, what are the real time and cost differences between flying from London to Edinburgh, and getting the train? The event in question is Digifun2010 (2 Rutland Place), where said friend is a speaker – so he needs to be there. (Prices based on travel for tomorrow, i.e. one day’s notice.)

The time and cost breakdown

Train (using www.nationalrail.co.uk)

Direct train from London King’s Cross (north London) is about 4.5 hours, right into central Edinburgh. Cost: from about 184 GBP for a return ticket. It’s just under 1 mile from the station to the venue, which Google Maps reckons will take about 18 mins on foot.

So from King’s Cross to the venue (and back), it’s about 10 hours and 184 GBP in total.

Plane (using www.kayak.co.uk)

Easyjet flight from Gatwick (south London) is about 1.25 hours (plus checking-in and hanging-around time – let’s say 1.5 hours at each end), into Edinburgh airport. Cost: from about 191 GBP for a return ticket.

Of course, you have to get to Gatwick first; from Victoria station, this takes between 30 and 45 minutes each way, and costs from just under 14 GBP for a return ticket.

Once at Edinburgh airport, it’s about 7 miles to the venue, which should take around 20 minutes by taxi (additional cost). This could be 10 GBP each way, so 20 GBP in total.

On top of this, there’s also the cost of carbon offsetting, although I doubt this is excessive (or companies wouldn’t sign up, surely… I said I was sceptical!); let’s say 30 GBP.

So, from Victoria station to the venue (and back), we’re looking at about 7.5 hours and upwards of 254 GBP in total.

Spend the same, reduce emissions and get a lie-in!

Okay, so there are other factors to take into consideration; I’m not sure what part of London he lives in, but both rail stations are pretty central. There are of course timings to think about too. And the train does potentially take 2.5 hours (1.25 each way) more than the plane, which is 30% longer.

But the financial cost of flying comes out at more than 70 GBP than taking the train, plus the emissions on top of that. Perhaps my friend’s charity should have used that money to pay for a B&B the night before, so he could travel comfortably (not getting up at crazy o’clock), have wifi access to work plus save on those emissions, all for the same price?

Not to mention avoiding the risk of not getting there at all thanks to the volcano…!

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