How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint While Traveling for the Holidays


For a lot of people, travel and holidays go hand in hand. When the holidays come around, it’s a chance to see the people you might not get to see too often throughout the year. The thing is, travel can be a huge burden on the environment. Cars, buses, planes, hotels, and everything that goes along with it can add up to a lot of greenhouse gas emissions per person.

Does that mean you should be tied down to the place you live? Not exactly. You can travel even long distances if you do it intentionally.

You can research the companies you’re using to see if they have sustainability practices. Look into the different modes of travel and choose the best one for your distance and time constraints. Off-set carbon from your trips when you can. Here are some things to keep in mind when traveling for the holidays this year.

Plane vs. train vs. car vs. bus travel – which has the lowest carbon footprint?

Buses and airplanes surprisingly have a similar carbon output per passenger. According to the BEIS/Defra Greenhouse Gas Conversion Factors 2019, planes generate 133g per passenger per km, and buses come in a little lower at 104g. Here’s the kicker, though — planes come with secondary effects because the emissions get dumped into higher altitude levels of the atmosphere, which has a bigger impact than ground-level emissions. This adds an additional 121g of impact, bringing planes to a total of 254g of greenhouse gases per passenger per km. Choose bus travel over plane travel whenever possible.

Cars can be good or bad depending on how many passengers are in tow. If you’re driving solo, you’re looking at 171g per passenger per km, which is higher than airplane output before you factor in the emissions impact from being at high altitude. If you’re road tripping with the fam, the number drops with each passenger. If you have at least four people in your car, you bring your numbers to around 42g per person per km.

Rail travel is the best way to go, coming in at only 41g per passenger per km. Amtrak, the largest train travel network in North America, is actively working toward reducing its already low carbon footprint.

Ground transportation with reduced emissions

Sometimes, there’s no way around flying, and you have to get from the airport to your destination. When using rideshare apps, choose a shared vehicle to reduce your impact. Lyft makes donations to off-set the carbon output, which makes each ride carbon-neutral.

If you’re renting a car, request an electric or hybrid vehicle. And whenever possible, hop on a bus or train to get to where you’re going. If you didn’t plan ahead, the airport’s information desk can help you find public transportation.

Off-set your carbon with the NOW Carbon Offset tool

Sometimes, because of time or financial constraints, you have to travel in ways that aren’t the most climate-friendly. That doesn’t mean you’re powerless, though. A sustainability project called It Must Be NOW has developed a carbon off-set tool that allows you to calculate the environmental impact of your travel. Then, it gives you ways to invest in carbon off-set projects to help reduce your impact. You can calculate the carbon footprint of your holiday travel here.

Does off-setting your carbon suck your airplane’s carbon out of the air? Not exactly. Does it contribute to the development of technology that will one day suck carbon out of the air, or resesarch other ways to restore our environment’s equilibrium? Yes. It’s a balance — find ways to travel that minimize your carbon footprint, reduce the amount of trips that you take when possible, and off-set your emissions when you do end up taking a trip.

Choose a sustainable hotel, or a hotel working toward sustainability

Hotels run a lot of electricity and gas. They have to keep common area lights on 24/7, they have to heat enough water for every room whether people use it or not, the washer and dryer are running nonstop… it all adds up.

There are hotels that are actively working toward reducing their carbon footprint. Before booking, do a quick internet search for “[hotel name] + sustainability” to find out what the company is doing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency.

Asking you to reuse your towels is a start, but there are hotel chains that do much more than that. Choose hotels that are taking intentional steps toward reducing their impact.

Bonus points if you write the hotel’s corporate offices and tell them that you chose to stay there because of their sustainability efforts. The higher the demand for sustainable accommodations, the more available they will become.

Choose transportation companies with clear sustainability goals

It’s becoming more and more common for travel companies to set and work toward sustainability goals. Because the travel industry is the 5th largest polluter of carbon in the world today, this is the area where real change can happen.

These are just a few examples of companies that are working toward real solutions. There are many others changing their practices to reduce their impact on greenhouse gas emissions.




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