This MIT program will purchase carbon offsets for student travel

The program joins a growing number of higher ed efforts to be more carbon conscious.

By Meredith Somers  |  March 8, 2018

carbon offset pilot

Why It Matters

You don't get much choice in the efficiency of the plane you're flying, but you can choose to do something good for the environment once you're back on the ground.

In one week about 100 MIT Sloan students will fly around the world to study regional economies, immerse themselves in different cultures, and produce more than 300 metric tons [PDF] of carbon dioxide.

Thanks to the necessary air travel for study tours, those students are producing the same emissions in two weeks as 1,600 average American car commuters would in that same timeframe, said Yakov Berenshteyn, LGO ’19.

While Berenshteyn doesn’t want to do away with student travel at MIT Sloan, he is hoping to lessen the impact on the environment, with the help of his Jetset Offset program.

The pilot involves purchasing carbon offsets for the three MBA and one Master of Finance study tours for spring break 2018.

Carbon offsets are vetted projects that help capture or avoid carbon emissions. These projects can include reforestation and building renewable energy sources. The reductions might not have an immediate impact on emissions, Berenshteyn said, but they are “still the primary best practice for us to use.”

“This is raising awareness of, and starting to account for, our environmental impacts from student travel,” Berenshteyn said. “You don’t get much choice in the efficiency of the airplane that you board.”

The idea for the offset came in October, when Berenshteyn was helping to plan the January Leaders for Global Operations Domestic Plant Trek. Berenshteyn at the time realized for the two weeks of the trip, the roughly 50 students and staff would be logging a total of 400,000 air miles.

Berenshteyn spent months researching an answer for counterbalancing the burned jet fuel. He also got input from MIT Sloan professor John Sterman. Berenshteyn said he looked at other options, like funding more local projects such as solar panel installation, but the calculations were too small scale to make much of a difference.

Universities around the world are applying carbon offsets and carbon-neutral practices in some form to their operations. Berenshteyn said Duke University has something similar to the air travel and carbon offsets that he proposes for MIT Sloan.

The Leaders for Global Operations program purchased 67 metric tons of offsets through Gold Standard for the January student trek, and those offsets are going to reforestation efforts in Panama.

In the case of the four upcoming study trips, MIT Sloan’s student life office is picking up the tab.

"My colleague Paul Buckley (associate director of student life) had an idea for something like this close to a decade ago, when he first arrived in student life, and noted the extent to which our students travel during their time at Sloan," said Katie Ferrari, associate director of student life. "So this was an especially meaningful partnership for us. Yakov's idea is exactly the kind of student initiative we love to support. He is practicing principled, innovative leadership with an eye toward improving the world."

Ferrari said the support for the pilot this semester is a stake in the ground for incorporating carbon offset purchases into future student-organized travel — which is what Berenshteyn said was his hope for launching the pilot.

“It should be at Sloan, if a student is planning a trip, they have their checklist of insurance, emergency numbers, and carbon offsets,” he said.