It is likely no surprise to any of you that traveling by airplane is horrible for the environment. One round trip flight from California to New York City emits roughly 20% of the greenhouse gasses your car emits in one year. YIKES. That’s .9 metric tons (~2,000 pounds) of carbon blasted into the air per person on that flight. A single tree can only absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon in a year. Math has never been my strong suit, but that doesn’t seem like a good ratio.
This really hit home for me recently when I was sitting on an airplane that had “too much fuel” at the gate. Prior to taking off the captain announced that we needed to burn 600 lbs of fuel before take off. I trusted them to do what it takes to make us safe so I’m like “alright” and I send out my apology vibes to the environment. Imagine letting your car idle for 10 minutes, but on TURBO MODE x10000. I could just picture rainforests keeling over and felt super guilty.
I’m being really dramatic, but it made me really think about ways we can offset the damage we do by air travel. We’re definitely not gonna stop traveling (and we shouldn’t!), so what do we do!?
“Carbon Offset” = putting your money toward a program that actively reduces greenhouse gases.
You will notice that most airlines now offer the option to offset your carbon footprint while booking your flight. They are partnering with organizations around the world (i.e. wind farms in Texas or forest conservation companies in Peru) that are dedicated to drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a company, they support them financially and encourage their consumers to do so too.
If you choose to go this route, you can check the credibility of their chosen partners using websites like Gold Standard, Green-e and Climate Action Reserve (found these on The Points Guy – thank you!). You can also use those sites to research credible programs and donate separately based on your amount of air travel that year.
You can calculate your personal carbon footprint here and then each program will offer a way to translate that number into monetary value, allowing yourself to be more “carbon neutral” or even “climate positive.”
It feels a little bit like throwing money into the wind (haha… wind farm, get it?), but it’s definitely better than doing nothing. Especially when you do your research and know who you are getting money to and how!
First Class & Premium Seats take up more space on an airplane. Fewer people are being moved using the same amount of fuel. This report by the World Bank estimates that flying First Class is associated with about 3x the carbon emissions than coach. Finally, something coach customers can be excited about: a smaller carbon footprint!
Drive on shorter trips and reduce layovers
Taking off and landing takes A LOT of fuel. Being at “cruising altitude” is far more fuel efficient (so for longer trips, it’s definitely reasonable to fly).
If you’re thinking about taking a puddle-jumper flight, consider driving instead.
If you’re hoping to save some money by taking a flight with 3 stops, maybe splurge for the 1 stop instead, if you’ve got the means.
Lower your shades
When you’re landing at a warmer destination, lower your window shades! The flight attendants often ask you to do this and it is so they use less fuel trying to cool down the plane at the gate. The less hot the cabin, the less A/C used, the happier the passengers and the environment!
Research your airlines
Alaska Airlines, Frontier, Jet Blue, and Spirit are winners! (And from what we learned earlier about seat size, it makes a lot of sense that three of these are budget airlines, right? We’re learning, right?!). It is definitely possible and good to do your research about which airlines are doing their best for the environment. This is a good start: U.S. Domestic Airline Fuel Efficiency Ranking, 2015-2016 (published December 2017 by The International Council on Clean Transportation).
Additionally, major airlines are on deck to start using bio fuels rather than fossil fuels, so keep an eye out for that! These can come from natural oils, seaweed, agricultural waste, etc. Start composting, y’all!
IN CONCLUSION, keep in mind that CO2 accounts for 60-70% of greenhouse gas emissions and that aviation contributes a lot. We can play a small part in bringing that number down by planting some trees, researching carbon offsetting programs, and lowering those shades!
Your travel advocate,