To help you become a more responsible traveler in 2018 I’ve launched a monthly series of Responsible Travel Challenges. Each month will focus on an ethical change you can make to your travel style that will benefit the communities you visit and ultimately our precious planet. Each detailed guide will contain specific tips on how to be a more responsible traveler. Adhere to these suggestions to make an impact as you travel.
SEPTEMBER RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL CHALLENGE: BOOKING LOW IMPACT TRANSPORTATION
Any responsible traveler is aware that that action of travel will never be fully sustainable due to the massive carbon (CO2) imprint from various forms of transportation. Travel is responsible for a massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions which are warming up the planet. The most damaging method of transportation is to fly first class–your luxury comes with a priceless impact–putting tons of dangerous carbons in the atmospheres. The September Responsible Travel Challenge is all about booking eco-concious transportation.
Globally, tourism contributes about 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions. So, your method of travel is damaging the earth by releasing metric tons of carbon dioxide into the environment–unless you’re moving around the globe by foot, paddle boat, or cycling. Before you write off those ideas as absolutely unfathomable give @MarioRigby a follow. He walked nearly 7,500 miles across the continent of Africa from South Africa to Egypt–occasionally he traveled by kayak. Solo traveler extraordinaire Evelina Utterdahl of Earth Wanderess is proving that it’s possible to traverse the globe without the use of flights–she’s been traveling full-time without flying for 7 months and counting.
Fortunately, there are things responsible travelers can do to counteract the negative ecological footprint of travel. To travel so slowly like Utterdahl, Rigby, and even myself, is a luxury that not many have due to professional and personal commitments. But regardless of your lifestyle, there are mindful changes and decision you can make to reduce your impact and counter harmful emissions.
CO2 neutral hydrogen buses and green energy trains are being introduced to the market–but are still and far between. When those options aren’t available follow the simple creed of Carbonfund.org–reduce what you can, offset what you can’t. According to the non-profit, each American pollutes the planet with a massive 50,000 pounds of CO2 each year. Aviation accounts for 11% of transportation-related emissions in the States. Amtrak, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue have partnered with Carbon Fund to create offsetting programs for customers.
WHAT ARE CARBON OFFSETS?
High school student, Emily, recently posed the question: Is eco-friendly travel possible? In her op-ed for Miss Filatelista, she recently broke down the basics of CO2 offsets. “Carbon offsets calculate the approximate amount of carbon released from your mode of transportation and then calculate a fee that will keep an equal amount of carbon from being generated or emitted from another source,” she said.
I believe businesses that are profiting from transportation should be the ones to offset their carbons, not the customer. However, for now, most offsetting is passed on to passengers. So, we have the burden when traveling–if we can afford the cost of the ticket we should also be able to afford the menial cost to offset the CO2 released in the atmosphere from our trip.
Many offsets cost less than $10 per flight–but If you truly can’t afford the price of purchasing CO2 offsets turn to TripZero when booking your accommodations. The platform, which partners with Expedia, calculates the carbon footprint of a trip and reinvests a portion of profits from reservations into reforestation and renewable energy projects to offset the emissions. TripZero is highly vetted and certified by industry leader Green-e Climate Standard. The TripZero service is available at no extra charge to consumers. I hope Booking.com will take note soon and launch an equally sustainable initiative.
Purchasing CO2 offsets or reductions aren’t a magic answer to harmful emissions. Nothing can remove the carbon dioxide that your mode of transportation expels into the atmosphere. There are many greenwashing companies profiting off of phony emission offsetting so be diligent in your research or contribute directly to registered organizations.
If you’re going to travel long-term as I do (I left America 3 years ago today!) then explore a region thoroughly before leaving and move around overland. Get from one town to the next by taking buses, trains, or cars. Only take short flights if the road route is dangerous.
HOW TO PURCHASE ETHICAL FLIGHTS
Simply fly less often. But–if flying is truly your only option then book direct flights as often as possible. The majority of fuel is emitted into the air when the plane is taking off and landing according to NASA. Book with airlines that have a good reputation of few delayed flights. Planes waste a lot of fuel as they wait in the runway. Fewer delays will make your travels hassle-free. A factor most probably haven’t considered is the reasoning behind opening or closing window shades during takeoff or landing–this simple procedure may cut emissions by helping maintain the temperature of the plane.
Flying without stopovers will be challenging if your local airport isn’t a hub for international flights. Before you book a weekend getaway overseas consider that transatlantic round-trip flights release the same amount of toxins as an entire year’s worth of driving. A single long-haul flight can have 2-3 tons of emissions. Even with nonstop flights, book with airlines that allow you to purchase carbon offsets directly when you make your reservation. In Europe, members of the aviation sector must pay fees if they produce excess carbon emissions.
I typically book flights using SkyScanner which does give some information about rates of delays but doesn’t have an option to search by airlines that offer travelers to offset emissions–as far as I can tell.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, CO2 emissions from flights range from 0.254 kg CO2e to 0.144 kg CO2e per mile for each customer seated in coach class. The amount depends on a variety of factors including the length of trip. For instance, flights under 300-miles emit of 0.254kg CO2e per passenger mile. When flights are up to 2,300 miles emissions go up to 0.144 kg CO2e per passenger mile. Long haul flights release 0.169kg of CO2e per passenger mile. Carbon Fund allows airline passengers to offset 20,000 miles in flights (8,350 lbs of CO2) for $37.86, 40,000 miles (16,700 lbs of CO2) for $75.73, and 100,000 miles (41,800 lbs of CO2) for $189.43. I know, that’s a lot of numbers. Keep these stats in mind the next time you celebrate having a row of seats to yourself. The damage we’ve done by flying around the world is daunting.
Airlines are becoming slightly greener by using fuel-efficient fleets, waste management programs, recycling materials, and implementing biofuels. Biofuels are controversial as they may be an environmental risk for natural resources. My friend April of Just Leaving Footprints reports on the potential benefits of using algae to generate fuel for planes. All of these proponents will contribute to fewer carbon emissions and environmental pollutions, but won’t eradicate the damage that’s already occurred.
United Airlines is not a pet-safe carrier–so I don’t really encourage giving them your business. However, their setting an industry example by using biofuels that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% for some flights and they have a user-friendly carbon offset program. My friend Alex of The Mindful Mermaid analyzed major US and European airlines based on their carbon offsetting options, energy efficiency, use of biofuels, and recycling. She found Lufthansa and Alaska Airlines to be the most sustainable airlines. The International Council on Clean Transportation also reports that Alaska Airlines is the most efficient domestic carrier along with and Spirit Airlines. It’s worth noting that Alaska Airlines is eliminating plastic straws and stirrers from their flights.
TRAIN TRAVEL IS COMFORTABLE AND ECO-EFFICIENT
I’ve been amazing by the quality of trains I’ve taken in places such as India and Vietnam and seriously scenic routes like Ella to Kandy in Sri Lanka. Even though I’m afraid of being hit by a train–I actually really enjoy train travel! It’s relatively low-impact but not as vastly available as buses. EPA calculates emissions from train trips at 0.17 kg CO2e per passenger mile.
The International Energy Agency has declared that long-distance train travel is the best option as it releases the least amount of greenhouse gases. Basically, the more people a method of transportation can transport from A to B, the better it is for the environment. 200 people on a train could mean 200 less individual cars or motorbikes on the road–each guzzling gas and letting off harmful emissions.
TRAVEL BY BUS WHENEVER POSSIBLE
Traveling by bus is the most ecological option that’s a widely available method of transport in most destinations around the globe. Whether it be a luxury fleet with A/C and charging ports or a local shuttle bus–traveling by bus is one of the most sustainable and affordable transportation options.
EPA states that buses trips emit 0.055kgs CO2e per passenger mile but the amount increases due to traffic jams, poor road conditions, air conditioning, pit-stops, etc. Part of the joy of experiencing foreign cultures is traveling as locals do–you’re likely to have some fascinating conversations with locals on bus rides around the globe! I use Baolau or 12Go.Asia to book buses in Southeast Asia as they accept foreign credit cards.
RIDESHARE INSTEAD OF RENTING A CAR
Unless you can rent an energy efficient or solar powered car solo travel in a private vehicle is one of the worst methods of transportation. If you can’t find a method of public transportation check for local ride-sharing services on apps like Bla Bla Car or Grab for short distances. Only hitchhike if you feel safe doing so. Generally, I don’t.
CRUISES ARE ALWAYS A PRETTY TERRIBLE OPTION
I get it–cruises take you to a visit exotic locales and are general cost-efficient with all-you-can-eat-buffets. But, cruises mistreat the Earth and are responsible for a lot of waste, including CO2 emissions that pollute the air. I took one on Princess a decade ago for a month–before I knew better. If you must cruise Friends of Earth has evaluated Disney, Cunard, Norwegian, Celebrity, Fathom, Royal Caribbean, and Seabourn to be the most eco-conscious cruise liners.
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This isn’t to say that all boats are bad for the environment. Sometimes traveling by slow boat or ferry is actually the least impactful option of transportation.
With all of this in mind don’t forget that the fashion industry actually creates more greenhouse pollution than the airline industry which is why it’s important to purchase ethically made clothing and accessories.
Have you learned something new about how to book sustainable transportation? Share your feedback with us in the comments!
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Emma Walmsley28 Oct 2018
Great post Lola! I am concerned about the rising use of biofuel for planes, as palm oil is now being grown to make it. Even ethanol from corn is not a great solution, though I don't have a better one. I agree with you that choosing buses and shared overland travel primarily is there way to go.
Lauren Hay28 Oct 2018
So interesting! Tripzero is definitely something I'm going to look into. Travel blogs are quick to share the wonderful stories of travel and inspire others to visit so many destinations (which is amazing) but very few share the truth about the harm travel can cause to the environment, so I found this really insightful – thanks so much!
Watch Me See28 Oct 2018
Great post! The environmental aspect is what really puts me off a cruise, even though I'd love to do one… I wonder if you could offset your carbon print in the same way as for a flight? But I guess that's just like buying free your consciousness… Train travel on the other hand is my favourite – just so much less hassle than flying too!
Rashel Ahmed21 Nov 2018