carbon footprint WHEN TRAVELING
Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) cause climate change. A carbon footprint is a measure of the total impact that an activity, product, or service has on global warming. The science behind climate change is complex, however there are simple changes that you can make *when traveling* which will reduce your personal carbon footprint.
Have a read of these ten tips, reflect on what you already do, and consider what you might change in future.
Knowing your own carbon footprint is a great place to start, as understanding the impact your actions have on the planet can help to motivate you to change your habits. You can calculate yours by using a personal carbon footprint calculator. Have a look at this one from Carbon Footprint if you’d like to go into a lot of detail, or this one from WWF for a simpler breakdown.
Emissions from driving contribute significantly to global warming, as well as local-scale pollution, so it is great to use alternatives when you can. For example, hire a bicycle and cycle round the new destination you are exploring. You could even hire a tandem bicycle for a joyful experience with a fellow traveller. Alternatively, see how much distance you can cover on your feet by walking or running around a city, or consider using public transport. Trains, buses, and coaches carry many people and are often more sustainable that taxis or cars, and they can also be a brilliant way to meet more travellers and locals. You could even try out carpooling sites, such as BlaBlaCar. If you do want to drive, investigate booking an electric rental car as they emit less greenhouse gasses and air pollutants.
You can lessen your impact on the planet by reducing the number of stops on your route. Direct flights are preferable since fuel is emitted predominantly during take-off and landing, so the fewer flights you take, the less fuel emissions that are seeping into the air. Another option is to offset the emissions caused by your flight by donating money to sustainable projects. Sometimes airlines will give you this option themselves, or you can use a third-party. The voluntary offset market has developed various standards to look out for, which are a bit like the certification systems used for fairly traded or organic food. These include the Voluntary Gold Standard (VGS) and the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS). You could also try to pack less, as the more cargo that a plane is carrying, the more fuel it needs to use – so think twice, do you really need all those shoes!? A final point to consider is that, when we opt for the speed of flying, we sometimes miss out on beautiful scenery. Trains are particularly good at emitting far less CO2 than planes, and sometimes the journey can be so scenic that it will be a real highlight of the trip. Trains are also good at helping you to connect directly between city centres, rather than being out of town like many airports are.
Meat and dairy products require a lot of land, water, and energy to produce. They also create a lot of methane, a greenhouse gas. Simple swaps like chicken to tofu, and dairy to plant-based milk, can really help the planet. Changing your diet can also be an exciting way to try out new local dishes which you might otherwise miss. Look out for lentil dals, dim sum buns, black bean burritos, freekeh salad and fattet hummus. You may want to use HappyCow to track down local vegan restaurants. Finally, think twice before you buy any products made from any endangered species, including animal hides and body parts, tortoiseshell, ivory, or coral – as another risk is that they could be illegal.
Your decisions about what and where to eat can make a positive difference. Locally grown produce is brilliant as it takes less energy to transport and supports the local economy. Eating like a local by sampling speciality foods and trying regional produce is one of the easiest ways to get a feel for a new place, its history, traditions, and customs. If you find yourself in a restaurant where the menu is only available in the local language, use the ‘translate images’ function of the Google Translate App to make ordering much easier. When possible, do eat in as take-out and delivery meals produce an enormous amount of plastic and other waste from packaging, food containers and cutlery. Finally, have a read of the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List and get some inspiration from important food and drink customs from around the world.
A great way to reduce waste is to reuse containers and try to eliminate single-use plastic. For example, you can cut out a lot of waste by buying travel bottles for your shampoos, a metal razor, and using a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic one. You can also say no to ‘travel-sized’ products and consider using products like soap and shampoo bars which you store in a tin travel case instead. Carry a tote bag and so avoid having to use plastic bags. According to a United Nations report, plastic bag bans exist in 69 countries, and are especially popular in Africa - so ensure you are prepared when visiting. Menstrual cups and period underwear cut waste that comes with traditional sanitary products and will also save you money. Packing your own headphones, eye-mask and blanket for flights avoids the need to use those provided by the airline and will help to minimise waste. Finally, instead of buying gifts when away you may want to consider paying for waste-less experiences instead.
Sustainable fashion refers to clothing that is designed, manufactured, distributed, and used in ways that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. It is in contrast with the dominance of cheaply priced clothes designed to be consumed quickly. This ‘fast fashion’ is far from sustainable because it depletes the Earth’s natural resources at exponential rates, and results in an overwhelming amount of waste. Consider purchasing clothes made locally or made with low impact, natural and organic materials, or choosing second-hand clothing. Most importantly we can all prolong the life of our clothes by taking good care of them, mending and tailoring as needed, and making alterations to match current tastes. Brands such as AggieClo, SloppyTuna and Brothers We Stand use eco-friendly materials, and are well worth your support. Finally, washing clothes with non-natural fibres in a GuppyFriend washing bag is a brilliant way to stop microplastics pollution.
Water is a vital resource, which is scarce in many parts of the world, and there are lots of little changes which you can make to save more water. For example, turn off the taps when you are brushing your teeth, only boil the water that you need, take short showers rather than long, deep baths. Although you often cannot take liquids in your carry-on luggage, you can pack an empty water bottle and refill it when on the plane. When at your destination, try to avoid activities that have a significant harmful impact on the environment, or choose more progressive establishments (e.g., golf courses which recycle water). Finally, be sure to request that hotels do not change your sheets and towels during short stays and consider washing your clothes yourself with an eco-friendly detergent.
Small changes such as using a digital rather than a printed boarding pass, downloading guidebooks and maps onto your phone, and using mobile note-taking apps instead of traditional notepads, are great ways to save paper. Whether it is through emailing instead of printing or video-calling instead of travelling to meet, you can use the internet to reduce your waste and emissions. However, make sure to remember to turn electronic devices off and keep them unplugged when they are not in use. Also, don’t forget that server farms, which are collections of computer servers to accomplish server needs far beyond the capacity of one machine, and have mushroomed to keep up with the colossal digital demand, are working behind the scenes to drive all things digital. They use a large amount of electricity, so there are also benefits from lowering your screen time.
Those you meet whilst travelling might not know much about greenhouse gases, carbon footprints, or climate change. You can change that by raising awareness of these issues. Ensure that you use your vote and voice to support policies which help the planet and encourage those you travel with to do the same too.