My Climate Practice: Automatic Offsets and Aggregating Flights

My Climate Practice is a series where we talk to the folks using Commons about their climate practice and what a sustainable life looks like for them. Today, we're talking to Nolan Rains.

Meet Nolan

Nolan is an LED Specialist at IGS Energy who is about to move from Ohio to Detroit, Michigan. He's been very strategic about his climate practice, taking manageable steps while tackling high-impact practices that would do the most to lower his footprint. These are some of his current climate practices:

When did you start trying to live more sustainably? Were there any specific things that motivated you to turn your concern for climate change into personal action?

Around 2016, my company became more climate conscious. As I became more informed for work, I was looking for more personal resources and found things like TerraCycle and Commons. Through those, I found paths to be more sustainable.

Then around 2018, it became a bigger focus as I was approaching my mid-twenties and thinking more about my diet and consumption habits.

I love knowing that the intersection between what's good for my bank account and my body usually comes back to more Earth-friendly things. 

How do you use Commons in your climate practice?

At a high level, it’s a way for me to be more conscious of where my dollars are going and the carbon impact of those dollars.

It highlights some things that I didn't know were huge carbon drivers for me and quantifies how much of my daily activities are going into my carbon footprint.

I knew that filling my gas tank used fossil fuels, but I didn't know how much of an outsized impact that was having over other things in my daily life.

Skipping a flight

What made you start thinking about flying more sustainably?

Honestly, opening the Commons app and looking at the industry footprint. I really think that Commons helped me realize with my car and my flights that I gotta start here. I need to start here. Because it has such an outsized impact on my overall footprint. 

In a way, it makes me feel a bit better about little things in other parts of my life. If I can figure out the big things first, then it takes some pressure off of other things I can fine-tune.

What were your usual annual flight habits before you started skipping flights?

I don't have to do a ton of work travel, but I used to go out to California four or five times a year to visit friends. Now I cringe at that. That's a lot of flights for not very many days.

What is your strategy for skipping flights?

For the past three years, I have made it a tradition where I spend around a month in California each year. Now I go there one time, so what was four or five roundtrip flights are consolidated into one.

When you are booking a flight, what are your criteria for choosing more efficient, low-carbon options?

Right now, I'm most focused on choosing direct flights. Even if it costs more, when you really get down to the carbon impact, the flight's not cheaper for the environment and other people. The financial cost is just one price point. That's why I like the idea of the social cost of carbon.

Do you offset your flights?

When I first got Commons, flight offsetting was the first thing I started with.

How do you go about planning your trips differently when you know that you're going to be traveling for a month?

My company has become more remote, and thankfully they're ok with me traveling as long as I get my work done.

Have you saved money by consolidating multiple trips into one?

Thankfully for me, most of the time I'm in California, I stay with friends for part of it. That makes a huge difference because I'm not paying for an Airbnb for my entire trip. But on my last trip, I did get an Airbnb by the beach for a little bit. It’s nice to feel like I have so much flexibility in those scenarios. And with the money I'm saving on flying less, I have options to make it work financially.

How does it feel to be gone for a month versus just a weekend?

When I'm back home in the Midwest after being gone for a month, I'm not itching to immediately travel again. It's nice to be back home. So that psychology shift was good because when I would go somewhere for a weekend, it could leave me feeling like I want to travel again in two more weeks.

But I just spent three weeks in California, and I don't have anything planned for the next three or four months. I'm just gonna stay local.

Offset subscription

What made you decide to start funding offsets as part of your climate practice?

I think Commons' offset subscription is really good because it's automatic. I have friends who think sustainable living is so much work, but it doesn't have to be.

Part of the reason I'm working on my climate practice is to see how much of an impact it makes and how much effort it takes or doesn't take. And it's nice that there is a dollar benefit to lowering my footprint. When my footprint is lower, I pay less in offsets.

Has funding offsets affected your daily climate practices?

I definitely think about it. For example, I’ve had a few months where my footprint really spiked and I realized, “Wow, I used a lot of carbon this month.”

I think the climate side of it is motivating enough on its own. I'd rather get a $15 bill than a $33 bill, but the dollar amount decreasing is just an additional perk.

Have you gotten to learn about the projects that the Commons Offset Portfolio supports?

I'm really interested in it because at my company, we have commercial and industrial customers (manufacturers, large apartment complexes, etc.) asking for offsets. They would come to me with questions, and that opened the door for me to do some research.

I realized that carbon offsets are not all created equal. Inevitably there are good and bad sides to offsets, and it's good to be very intentional about where you're sourcing them from.

I like the portfolio that Commons has, especially because it's helped educate me about more than just forest preservation offsets.

Eating less meat

When did you start eating less meat, and what were your main motivations?

A lot of it came from intuitive health. I noticed I was eating healthier during weekdays, and on the weekends I was not eating as healthy. I thought it would be overwhelming to change everything overnight, so I started to chip away at it. I read that it's good to start with one plant-based meal a day, then see how that goes.

How often were you eating meat before? What were your feelings toward meat?

I was probably having two meals a day that had some form of meat, usually chicken or fish. I could get over not having something like chicken in my salad every day, but my biggest hesitation at first was that I didn't want to be deficient in protein.

So I took some time to figure out what this middle ground was.

How often do you eat meat now?

Most weeks, I don’t eat meat. Probably once every couple of months at most.

What were your first steps to start eating less meat? 

I wasn't really eating a lot of meat for breakfast anyways, so I switched lunches first and I started to feel really good. I wasn't sluggish. Then I tried to remove red meat completely (or to a very low amount). 

I read that, from a carbon standpoint (and from a health standpoint), that seemed like one of the best things that I could take out of my diet to make the biggest impact. I'll have a steak a couple times a year, but I do notice the next day that I don't feel as well. 

So I was chipping away one meal at a time, and then once I started feeling better, it made it much easier to go plant-based 90% of the time.

How has plant-based eating affected how you cook or eat out?

I'm less tempted to eat out at unhealthy options. Some of the places that I would normally splurge I'm not drawn to as much now that I'm not eating meat. And it’s been nice throughout the pandemic not to be affected by the prices of meat going up.

What were the challenges of going meatless?

The only time it really became a challenge socially was if I went to restaurants that  didn't have great vegetarian options. I would have to get a little creative with what I ordered. In the last couple years though, it's clear that restaurants have realized it's good business to have vegetarian options. So that's definitely made it easier.

What are some of your favorite meatless meals that you like to cook?

I do a ton of smoothies. My go-to is a packed smoothie every morning. I have 14 of them prepped and ready to go, with the ingredients ready so I can just throw them in a blender. I've done that every morning for five years and it's so easy. 

What climate practice are you excited to start in the future?

After I move, and have a home that I'm more intentional with, I want to formalize a plan for things like my waste. And just make sure I don't get caught up in  the stream of life where I just start buying random stuff because it's easy and I'm overwhelmed from moving. ​​


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