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Last Updated on 23/12/2020
Travel is a long way off from being carbon neutral. In fact, a report by Carbon Brief found that global tourism accounts for 8% of global emissions, and the travel industry is only set to grow. In the battle against climate change, it’s essential that travel should become more environmentally sustainable and that we should try to be climate-conscious travellers reduce our carbon footprint – not just for ourselves and our planet, but for generations to come.
Low impact travel is not easy when the industry is trying to keep up with the growing demand. Sustainable tourism is consequently an afterthought but not impossible. As travellers and travel lovers, we can all do our bit to make our adventures greener. Here are some essential travel tips to help you be a climate-conscious traveller and reduce your carbon footprint on the road:
The easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint while travelling is to simply fly less. According to the New York Times, air travel accounts for about 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions and it’s only set to get worse. By 2050, aviation could consume a quarter of the world’s carbon budget, a goal set out by the UN to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 Celsius above preindustrial levels.
Air travel always seems like the easiest, cheapest and quickest option but just one flight from the UK to New York uses up 1.2t of CO2, which is our entire recommended allowance for the whole year.
It’s not just CO2 we should be worried about either. At high altitudes, the water vapour from the aircraft forms thin clouds which warm the planet. You can sometimes see the streaks with your naked eye.
Efforts are being made to make flying more fuel-efficient but the pace is not quick enough. As consumers, we each have the power to be a more climate-conscious traveller by the way we spend our money. The answer is not to stop travelling but instead to get more creative about. Invest more in sustainable transport; explore the world by train, journey across continents on a coach or even cross whole countries by bike. There’s no one way to see the world.
Pro tip: If you’re planning a short-haul trip why not get the train instead of flying? The more in advance you book your ticket the cheaper it will be and you won’t have to spend hours getting to and from the airport.
Finally, you’ve got a solid excuse for not flying business class (other than the price tag). Passengers in business class produce a higher carbon footprint than those in economy. Ideally, the goal is to fly less if you want to be a more environmental traveller, but sometimes you just don’t have the time, money or commitment to travel halfway around the world by boat. That’s understandable.
If you need to fly, opt for a seat in economy. Due to having more space and a bigger baggage allowance in business class, more carbon is produced per passenger. In fact, research carried out in 2013 by World Bank found that a passenger in business class produces three times more carbon emissions than that of Economy!
So next time you board a plane you can shake off those feelings of FOMO as you pass those squashy looking booths with extra legroom on your way to your seat because, although it may be small, you’re actually helping to save the planet by doing so.
REDUCE WATER WASTE
When I visited Fiji, I stayed in a lodge that had no hot water. Instead, you had to time your shower in the early evening after the sun had heated the pipes during the day. It was a very au naturel way to wash and also very eco-friendly.
When we think of global warming, power plant emissions and cars come to mind, not water. However, a brief five-minute shower creates 2.25lbs of CO2 emissions because it needs to be heated, treated and disposed of. I’m sure you can imagine how much CO2 is produced during a long hot lazy shower in the evening.
You might not necessarily come across a naturally heated shower when travelling but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to be any less of an eco-conscious traveller. Simply reduce your carbon footprint by having shorter showers and remembering to turn taps off.
Extend your ecological initiative to your drinking water by packing a reusable filter bottle to cut down on plastic waste. It’s not always possible to go completely plastic-free while travelling so if you do end up using a plastic bottle make sure you know where to recycle it.
PRETEND YOUR HOTEL IS YOUR HOME
You wouldn’t turn the thermostat up or leave all the lights on in your house – not with all those bills to pay. The same applies to your hotel, Airbnb, or whatever holiday accommodation you find yourself in. In a global effort to manage the increase in tourism, hotels are working to reduce their carbon emissions by 90% and you can do your bit to help them achieve this objective.
One of the main perks of staying in a hotel is that they provide fresh sheets and towels throughout your stay. However, this uses a huge amount of energy and water in the process. Consider cutting down on the laundry by reusing your towels and bedsheets as often as you can during your stay to help meet your low carbon travel goal.
The best way to ensure that your holiday accommodation isn’t damaging the environment is to make sure that everywhere you stay is eco-label certified or the equivalent.
Not every sustainable accommodation in the world has the resources or can afford to get an official certification so it’s worth spending time reading up on their sustainable initiatives and reviews. If the accommodation has made it their objective to reduce their environmental impact then they should be shouting about it because what’s more impressive than a gorgeous eco-conscious hotel?
Pro tip: Sustainable tourism is growing into a huge trend which is exciting, but it has also created a rise in greenwashing. Don’t be afraid to be a detective before you book your accommodation. Ask them about any details you’re unsure of, get them to provide proof of their credentials and spend time reading reviews on sites like TripAdvisor. You can find out more information about this in my guide to the best ecolodges in the world.
Save your back and reduce your carbon footprint by packing light – it’s as simple as that! If you’re flying, challenge yourself to pack a carry-on only. Smaller bags in the aircraft carry less weight which means that it burns less fuel and emits fewer carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Taking carry-on luggage with you is a much greener way to travel and you’ll have less weight to lug about on holiday. It will even save you money at check-in and you won’t have to worry about your precious cargo being sent to Timbuktu (though I’m sure it’s lovely).
If you have plans to travel for several months and you have airport security to contend with, consider picking up your toiletries in the departure lounge or once you land. That way, you don’t have to stress about meeting the teeny tiny 100ml liquid requirements and you can save money and the planet by opting for their bigger counterparts that last ten times as long. Granted, carry-ons are a hassle to pack but once you get them right it benefits you and your carbon footprint when you travel.
Pro tip: Struggling to pack everything you need into a carry-on? Invest in some packing cubes! Discover why they’re so essential in my guide to packing a carry-on for anywhere in the world.
Choose a Low Impact Travel Company
What we do when we travel is as important as how we travel. To be a good and climate-conscious traveller you should only book your activities and itineraries with ethical travel companies that actively work to limit their environmental impact. Much like booking a sustainable hotel, look for key eco-labels, clear environmental initiatives and read reviews.
Thankfully, there are some excellent travel companies out there who are passionate about the planet and reducing their carbon footprint. Some of my absolute favourites include Intrepid Travel, a carbon-neutral tour operator; Better Places Travel which offset your flight emissions for you and Much Better Adventures which works alongside the climate change charity, Cool Earth to protect threatened primary rainforests through carbon mitigation.
Eat Local and Plant-based Food
Reduce your carbon footprint when you travel by opting for local restaurants offering seasonal, locally sourced or homegrown dishes. Produce can travel on average 1500 miles from the farm to your plate, increasing the amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. That being said, according to The Ethical Choice, growing something like tomatoes in a greenhouse in winter is worse for the planet than importing them from Spain as more energy is put into heating. This is why it’s important to eat local and seasonal when you travel.
Another way to be a more climate-conscious traveller and reduce your carbon footprint is to consider going more plant-based. The total emissions from global livestock is a staggering 7.1 Gigatonnes of CO2 a year. The main culprit is cattle which contributes 65% to the livestock emissions.
To offset Or Not To Offset?
Carbon offsetting is a popular scheme which aims to mitigate your carbon footprint by donating the financial equivalent to charities that tackle climate change. It’s a nice enough idea on paper, but the scheme has become the subject of much debate about its level of efficacy. Most would argue that it’s very low – too low to have any positive impact on climate change.
Carbon offsetting can make you complacent. It can encourage you to get into the habit of thinking of it as an easy way out. Air travel becomes fine again because you can simply pay however much CO2 you accrue to help prevent deforestation instead of cutting down on the number of times you fly. There is also the danger of unregulated carbon offset schemes that can lure you in through greenwashing.
That being said, offsetting your carbon emissions is not all bad. The key is to be smart about it, try to focus on your own low carbon travel where you can and support charities doing invaluable environmental work all over the world, including Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and Environmental Defence Fund.
Pro tip: I’ve gone into much more detail about the pros and cons of carbon offsetting as a way to reduce your carbon footprint in this guide.
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