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How to offset your carbon footprint while traveling
Posted on 11/07/2019 8 shares

EnvironmentUnited Kingdom

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Find out why economy is better than business class, why the bus is better than the plane, and how to offset your flight's carbon emissions.

In June, the New York Times ran an article with the headline "If Seeing the World Helps Ruin It, Should We Stay Home?" In one startling statistic from 2016, the article cites a scientific journal that claims for every metric ton of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere, the summer sea ice shrinks by 32 square feet (3 square meters). For reference, a round-trip flight lasting seven to nine hours can produce around 1.3 metric tons of carbon.

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has also drawn attention to the dangers of flying too frequently, famously taking the train all the way across Europe to speak to European MPs, other climate activists, and even the Pope.

Despite the warnings, the world's love of travel doesn't seem to be waning. Long haul flights are becoming ever more popular and ever more accessible with the proliferation of low-cost airlines and cheap flights to far-flung destinations. National Geographic has predicted that with a rising urban middle class in populous countries like Brazil, Russia, India, and China, air travel is expected to grow globally. By 2035, annual air travel is predicted to double.

This leaves the eco-conscious tourist with a conundrum. Traveling can have huge benefits to local communities and economies, with tourism making up large parts of entire countries' GDPs. On the other hand, it's been proven time and again that air travel is one of the single worst things an individual can do to the environment.

But for those looking for a middle ground there are options. Carbon-neutral travel might be a long way off but there are ways to mitigate the damage travel can do to the environment. From bringing your own utensils to offsetting your flight's emissions, here are 10 ways to counterbalance your carbon footprint while traveling.

1. Take the train or the bus

1. Take the train or the bus
© Alex Popov/123RF

Before booking anything, find out if there's another way to get to your holiday destination. Most destinations in Europe are well-connected by train and may not require a flight. For reference, a flight from London to Paris takes about the same amount of time as a trip on the Eurostar. According to the company's website, making the journey by plane produces roughly 63.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide per person. That same journey with the Eurostar produces only 4.1 kilograms per person.

Not everywhere is so well connected, but low cost bus services run all throughout Europe and often take travelers directly to their destination, rather than a suburb somewhere outside the city limits where most airports are located. While it's true that bus is not nearly as eco-friendly as the train, it's most certainly better than a plane. According to a European Environment Agency report (EEA), 68 grams of carbon dioxide are produced per passenger per kilometer by bus versus 285 grams per passenger per kilometer by plane.

2. Offset your flight's carbon emissions

2. Offset your flight's carbon emissions
© manifeesto / 123RF

There are numerous websites across the internet that allow you to track your flight's carbon footprint and donate to help offset the cost. Cool Effect is one of the most popular, allowing travelers to calculate the carbon emissions of their flight based on its distance and its individual cost (1 tonne of carbon emissions equals $8.37). Cool Effect then gives the money to a carbon reduction project somewhere in the world, whether it be planting trees or providing low-emissions cook stoves to people in developing countries.

3. Remember that economy class is the eco class

3. Remember that economy class is the eco class
© marako85 / 123RF

Flying first class has its perks, but if you must fly, economy has a much lower carbon footprint than business or first class. By fitting more passengers into smaller seats, it requires less fuel to get more people from point A to point B. Premium classes on the other hand take up more space for each passenger, meaning fewer passengers and more fuel per person. While a complimentary glass of champagne may ease pre-flight jitters, think of it as a reward upon landing instead.

4. Fly direct when possible, and choose the shortest route

4. Fly direct when possible, and choose the shortest route
© Richard Higgins / 123RF

Planes consume the most energy and produce the most greenhouse gases during takeoff and landing. This means that breaking up a long-haul flight with a connection in a different airport could be twice as toxic for the planet. It's better to fly direct when possible and take the shortest possible route.

5. Stay mindful of your trash and recycle while you're there

5. Stay mindful of your trash and recycle while you're there
© Sorapop Udomsri / 123RF

Do a little research about your holiday destination and make sure you're up to date on its recycling practices. Not every country or city has the infrastructure to maintain a robust recycling program. If you can't find much information, travel equipped with water purification tablets and a reusable water bottle.

If you want to take it even a step further, consider bringing your own set of utensils and a couple cloth napkins. Street food vendors, takeaway restaurants and food trucks often supply plastic cutlery and single-use paper napkins, and bringing your own is just another small way you can lessen your impact on the environment. And you can never go wrong with a stainless steel straw!

6. Avoid wasting water or food

6. Avoid wasting water or food
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When dining out in restaurants or grocery shopping, order or buy only what you'll need. Sharing plates at restaurants and meal planning can cut down on the amount of food that goes into the trash when you're finished. Additionally, while showering is an essential part of anyone's day, take into account how long your shower takes and consider turning off the water intermittently.

7. Support locally owned ecotourism initiatives

7. Support locally owned ecotourism initiatives
© Kairi Aun / 123RF

Ecotourism has become the name of the game in travel and tourism, and it's never been easier to find eco-friendly accommodation and activities. To gauge whether the hotel or hostel you're considering is truly green, there are a number of companies and initiatives such as Green Key, Bookdifferent, and Green Pearls with built-in databases full of eco-friendly hotels to choose from. If you're looking in a more off-the-beaten-path destination, check the hotel reviews and the establishment's philosophy. The way they write about their approach to hospitality and how specific they are about their initiatives will tell you a lot about their commitment to sustainability. And while it's not for everyone, camping is always an excellent alternative that gives you all the peace of mind you need.

8. Take public transportation while at your destination

8. Take public transportation while at your destination
© Vladimir Grigoriev / 123RF

While not always an option, public transit is the best way to get around if it's available. Most major European and Asian cities have pretty sturdy public transport networks, and while it's less common in the US it's still possible to use them. According to the US Federal Transit Administration, emissions from subways and metros are 76% lower per passenger than single occupancy vehicles. Emissions produced by bus transit are 33% lower. Not only is it more efficient, but it reduces the number of cars on the road.

9. Choose human-power over horsepower

9. Choose human-power over horsepower
© Mihtiander / 123RF

Walking or cycling is always preferable to any kind of fuel-powered vehicle. Cycling trips are a great way to get some exercise and see a new city or town nearby. Although walking to your destination is most likely not in the cards, there are numerous vacation spots that are pleasantly walkable upon arrival. Opt for sightseeing tours on foot or on two wheels, and it'll make for a more personalized and intimate experience, as well as reduce your impact on the environment. If your vacationing close to the water, consider canoeing or kayaking rather than taking a jet ski or motorized boat.

10. Or opt for a staycation!

10. Or opt for a staycation!
© Alena Ozerova / 123RF

There's always the option of going nowhere at all, and it may benefit more than just the environment. If you plan on staying home or close to home for this summer's holidays, be prepared to save money, avoid the stress of travel and get to know your city a little better. But whether you stay in your own home or get a hotel room, resist the urge to check your email or answer work calls. It's still a holiday!

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