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How to reduce carbon footprint while travelling

With more and more people exploring travel options both in domestic and international locations, an awareness around eco-friendly travel would be a good starting point to reducing your carbon footprint.

travel Updated: Sep 08, 2012 13:08 IST
Sadhana Bakshi
Sadhana Bakshi

Environmentalists are already warning, saying that we are acting ecologically in the same way as financial institutions did economically when the markets crashed in 2010-11. By seeking immediate gratification with complete disregard for the consequences, we are working our way up to a huge global ecological crisis, which will be far more grave than the economic meltdown.

The good news is that there is growing awareness about the contribution of greenhouse gases to global climate change. People are paying more attention to their carbon footprint --- the amount of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon, that an individual contributes during a given period. While people across the world, especially in developed countries are tracking the mileage and efficiency of their personal vehicles, calculating the statistics on their utility bills and other aspects of their behaviour, a lot more can be done, especially when travelling.

With more and more people exploring travel options both in domestic and international locations, an awareness around eco-friendly travel would be a good starting point to reducing your carbon footprint. Sure, while travelling, one has lesser control over one’s surroundings and higher dependence on transportation and pre-planned itineraries, but one can still make some effort to reduce possible abuse of the environment. Below are ten ways that show you how you too can attempt to reduce your travel carbon footprint:

1. Keep a travel log book: Consider the distance and means of your travels and work out a rough estimate of the mileage you are likely to cover by car, plane, train, public transit, bicycle, foot or boat. The particular model of aircraft and the kind of weather it encounters does make a difference in the footprint of plane travel.

2. Estimate the energy efficiency of your mode/s of transportation: An airplane exudes large amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide and includes processing and transport costs of food, beverages, waste products and the paper used for in-flight magazines, tickets and the like. Wherever you can substitute it with train, bus or boat travel, do so. Ditto for what you dig into while eating or indulging in wasteful conspicuous consumption.

3. Consider the fuel efficiency of the automobile: Be it a rental or a taxi or one you own, see how you are using it. You can lessen your footprint by carpooling or renting a hybrid vehicle. Trains and buses, particularly those powered by electricity or biodiesel, are often more carbon-efficient than cars and airplanes and a good choice for travellers who are concerned about their carbon footprints

4. Keep track of your personal energy consumption during the trip: Consider the amount of time you have had the lights on, setting on the thermostat and usage of appliances like televisions, microwaves, coffee machines and laptops. Increase your estimate of your footprint if you have sheets and towels washed daily at a hotel or motel. Leaving taps, lights and air conditioners on, just because you are not paying their bill would be most eco-unfriendly. At home, you would use the towel more than once before sending it to the laundry. You could do the same at the hotel too.

5. Watch what you eat: Look closely at what you eat and ask questions related to its sourcing. If produced locally, its more eco friendly than if sourced from far away. For example, food transported from another region or country substantially increases your carbon footprint. With a little research, you can gauge which produce is available and in season, and avoid out-of-season ingredients imported from elsewhere. Investigate the possibility of eating locally wherever you go: Check out the farmer's market and conserve/save both money and the kind of pressure that you would otherwise put on the environment.

6. Go for an eco-friendly flight itinerary: Flying contributes a huge amount of greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere. Long-distance travel and long-winded routes are certainly not eco-friendly. Where ever possible, go for direct flights. Flying less should certainly be an option that you ought to consider. Frequent flyers need to remember that a lot of their needless flying adds to their carbon intensive journeys. A lot of business meetings can be transacted through video conferencing and email/telecons. Where possible, avoid hopping on to the next available flight.

7. Find central places to stay: Find a hotel that is centrally located, so you do not have to hire cabs etc to come to shop, see plays, watch shows and eat. When you do, find the option that puts the least pressure on the eco system. Chances are, it will save you not just carbon footprint but also money. If you take a bus for example, it would be cheaper than a cab and also be gentler on the environment.

8. Walk, cycle or take the train: Make sure to secure a good local map and plot out the quickest and safest route to your destination. If more than a few miles separate you from your destination, consider biking there. This option will require some pre-trip Internet searching to locate a nearby bike-rental shop, but once you have found one, odds are you can get a good week-long deal on a rental. Trains are the best low carbon travel option by miles. On an average, trains create one third of the CO2 emissions of a plane. A flight from London to Paris is responsible for 348kg of CO2; if you catch the Eurostar (train), it will emit just 75kg.

9. Don’t fly at night: If you must fly, you could mitigate a tiny fraction of your impact by avoiding flying at night. Scientists claim that trails of condensation from aircraft -contrails - have a greater warming effect at night, trapping heat but without reflecting any of the sun's rays back into the atmosphere as they do during the day. Taking winter flights should therefore be out of bounds too. Despite making up just 22 percent of total annual traffic, winter flights account for more than half of aviation's annual warming effect. Increased humidity creates more problematic persistent contrails. Enough to deter you hopefully from night travel, even if it’s a tad cheaper.

10. Go to the loo before you get airborne: The energy used in one flush of a plane toilet - exacerbated by altitude - is enough for an economical car to run at least 10km. Relieving yourself before you take off would be an eco friendly thing to do and not very tough either.

Every time you do any of these things, give yourself a pat on the back for having done something less abusive for the environment. Having money to pay for luxuries is great, but using that money to think about others better still.

Sadhana is a Delhi-based travel researcher who would love to be a gypsy, living frugally and travelling where her heart took her and seeing the world on a budget

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