Minimize the Carbon Footprint of your Gap Year

Thinking about the ways that international travel contributes to climate change?  We are too!  And we’re trying to do something about it. 

Here are a few ways that Carpe Diem is working to help minimize the Carbon Footprint of our programs, along with some ways you can help too. 

Why is this important?

According to the EPA, human activities are responsible for almost all of the increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years.

Greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere and make the planet warmer.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most common greenhouse gas emission, caused by burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation.  

The amount of carbon dioxide a person or group emits due to the consumption of fossil fuels is known as their Carbon Footprint.  

Greenhouse gas emissions from air travel are increasing.  Even as airlines become more efficient, demand for air travel has increased and is still a contributing factor to climate change.

So what to do?  The first step is to minimize our impact.

Here’s what we’re doing

In Our Office


  • We are committed to walking or biking to work as much as possible
  • We allow staff to work remotely up to three days a week which cuts down on commuting and energy consumption.
  • Carpe Diem sources 100% of our power from clean sources.
  • All envelopes and paper products are made from recycled materials.  
  • Our catalog is printing locally on 100% recycled paper
  • CDE participates in the Konica Minolta Clean Planet Recycling program for the disposal of all printer cartridges.
  • When we share meals as an office, we choose vegetarian options and bring reusable containers for takeaway.  
  • We provide mugs and thermoses at our office to avoid the need for disposable cups.
  • We drink tap water, reducing the use of plastic bottles.
  • All employees are expected to recycle or reuse all paper products and participate in the City of Portland curbside recycling program. 
  • Carpe Diem Education participates in the citywide compost system for all food scraps and yard debris.
  • All lightbulbs in our office are LED bulbs  
  • All toilets in the CDE office are low flow and all faucets are fitted with aerators to minimize the amount of water used.  
  • The CDE office does not have air conditioning and uses a programmable thermostat to reduce the amount of energy used to heat the office outside of business hours.
  • All windows have cellular shades for insulation.
  • All technology that is no longer in use is donated to Free Geek in Southeast Portland.

On Our Programs


  • We provide all student groups with two rechargeable steri-pens. This alternative purification system allows for safe drinking water without the need for plastic bottled water. During a typical semester this allows us to save over a thousand plastic bottles of water!
  • We try to reduce in-country flights as much as possible by taking bus or train transportation.
  • We ask students to leave wifi devices at home - fewer electronics = less energy use 
  • We avoid larger, international hotels and restaurants and try to support smaller, locally owned businesses.  
  • Participate in emissions reducing projects while we travel!  Examples of projects we support on our programs include:
    • Sadhana Forest India focuses on reforesting 70 acres of severely degraded land with the Indigenous TDEF (Tropical-Dry-Evergreen-Forest). The TDEF is on the verge of extinction as only 0.01% of what used to be a vast forest currently exists in small patches in South India. Carpe Diem Students work on the land to plant trees, conserve water, and develop sustainable infrastructure.
    • Mangarara Farm is a 1,500 acre site dedicated to producing local, organic, sustainable food. This includes developing a strategy for the interplay of endemic trees, food crops, animal grazing, and human activity. Carpe Diem students have various jobs depending on season and current needs, including planting/harvesting food crops, planting endemic trees/flora, and tending to farm animals.
    • Sahainan Organic farm in Northern Thailand is a reclaimed non-organic cashew plantation. Carpe Diem students work on rehabbing the land to produce a wide variety of fruit and vegetables that are regenerative to the soil. This is done using traditional agricultural methods that do not use any fossil fuel consumption. Students plant a variety of trees, learn about solar energy capture, and zero waste lifestyle.
    • While working with Dar Si Hmad in Morocco, students learn about an innovative water gathering method using coastal fog catching nets to fill local wells and irrigate crops in desert communities. This method of fog harvesting safeguards local communities water supplies while not contributing any fuel emissions.
    • Chico Mendes Project in Guatemala works to protect native forests from exploitation, to cultivate biodiversity, to empower the next generation of indigenous Guatemalans, and to reverse climate change.  Carpe Diem students help with their reforestation efforts and learn about environmental justice in Guatemala.
    • The Arajuno Foundation in Ecuador works to protect 65 hectares of primary forest in the Amazon rainforest that the foundation currently owns and manages and to expand the protected area to the maximum extent possible.  They are developing conservation programs that, through direct action, contribute to the conservation of natural resources while improving the quality of life of the local indigenous population and educating the next generation about rainforest ecology.  Carpe Diem students help participate in riverbank restoration, river turtle conservation, and reforestation efforts.

Here’s What You Can Do During Your Program


  • Bring a reusable water bottle, a thermos, reusable straw and tupperware for leftover food and take-away drinks
  • Bring biodegradable soaps / shampoos and other toiletries that are environmentally friendly. (Especially reef-safe sunscreen if you are SCUBA diving or snorkeling!)
  • Buy or borrow used gear rather than buy new
  • Refuse plastic bags when purchasing items in stores, consider bringing a reusable bag
  • Consider reducing meat consumption while traveling
  • Choose snacks with less packaging - reduce waste
  • Be intentional about souvenir purchases - are you buying things made locally?
  • Bring rechargeable batteries
  • Especially in homestays - be conscious of your energy and water use.
    • You are a guest in someone else’s country – and sometimes in their home. Learn about and respect their customs and culture. Be open to discussions about your own.

The first step is to take actions to reduce our carbon footprint, but especially due to international air travel, we cannot fully eliminate our impact.  However, we can try to offset it.

Carbon Offsetting

What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting doesn’t get rid of the carbon dioxide produced when you fly - but it does try and make up for your share of the CO2 which gets released by reducing it somewhere else.  

Flight emissions calculators measure the amount of carbon dioxide produced by each flight you take.  When you purchase a carbon offset, you’re investing in a project which reduces CO2 levels by the same amount.

Carbon offsetting is complicated.  Any official carbon offset project has to meet three criteria to be considered effective. First, the project wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been funded by the money from the carbon offsets. Second, it can’t reduce emissions in one place but somehow increase them in another.  Third, it has to be permanent, so it won’t be reversed in the future.  

In addition to these criteria, there are additional factors to be considered.  Is the project taking into account the potential social impacts?  For example, there have been a number of cases of large companies buying land in developing countries to use for tree planting and forcing local communities off that land.  Not all projects are bad!  But it can be tricky to evaluate which ones are truly doing positive, effective work.    

 So...given all the complicating factors, how can I offset my flights?  

Rather than contribute to the larger carbon offsetting industry, Carpe Diem has chosen to  support smaller organizations in the places where we work that are working on projects related to renewable energy, environmental justice, or reforestation.  By partnering with organizations we know and trust, we are able to not only participate in the projects we fund, we can also have a better understanding of the impact of the funds we spend.  

While it isn’t as clear as purchasing a certain amount of tonnes of carbon offsets specific to the flights our students and staff are taking, it is an option we feel good about and allows us to give additional support to our partner organizations.     

If you choose to offset CO2 through Carpe Diem, we will match your donation up to $30.00. 

If you’d prefer to make sure that you are offsetting 100% the carbon emissions your flights produce, you are welcome to do some research on your own and contribute to an official carbon offsetting program that you feel good about supporting.  

What are some of the organizations you support?  

Over the years, we’ve contributed to the following organizations:

Chico Mendes Project Guatemala

Atitlan Organics Guatemala

CanopyCo Ecuador

Arajuno Foundation Ecuador

Sahainan Organic Farm Thailand

Sadhana Forest India 

Mangarara Farm New Zealand

Ohana Amani Tanzania