Sustainable travel

Eco-friendly travel: practical tips to reduce carbon emissions

Modern life involves a lot of travelling. Nearly everyone has some form of commute to work or school, every day. As we all know, travel is a huge contributor to carbon emissions. So how can we make our travel more eco-friendly?

Eco-friendly travel to work and school

Before the coronavirus pandemic, a common recommendation was to take public transport, such as trams, buses, and trains, or carpool with co-workers. While it’s true that sharing transport with others means that there are fewer vehicles on the road, and therefore less pollution overall, the current public health situation means that this is not presently feasible. 

However, if you live within a few miles of your school or work, you could consider cycling or walking. This way you’ll also get some exercise, which is great for your physical and mental health!

In 2019, 1.7 million people in the UK were working from home. Of course, coronavirus means that this has increased significantly over the past months, in what some are terming a ‘work from home’ revolution. Among the notable benefits of working from home, there is no commute, meaning that far fewer emissions are being released as a result of transport. This reduction in air pollution is fantastic for the planet and has lead to some very visible results.

Eco-friendly travel: girl working from home

This girl is living the work-from-home dream!

Do you need to use your car?

Obviously, commuting is not the only reason why people travel. For other journeys, it’s worth thinking critically about whether you actually need to use a car. In 2014, 42% of people said that they frequently used their car for journeys that they could have walked. Short car journeys are bad for the environment because catalytic converters (anti-pollution devices fitted in cars) are least efficient over short distances. So if you just have to pop to the shops for something, it’s best to walk!

In the UK, about 80% of the population live in urban areas, where public transport is better. This means that most of the UK population could easily take advantage of public transport for its longer journeys. By this metric, a fairly small number of car journeys are actually necessary. It may be worth considering if you truly need to own a car. Would be both more cost and environmentally efficient for you to simply hire one when you need one? On a more personal note, I have a disability which prevents me from driving. Many people are shocked at how easy it is for me to cope without a car — it certainly keeps me fit! If you’re thinking of giving up your car, Give Up Your Car is a helpful resource.

If you’re not convinced about giving up your car, consider switching to a low-emissions, hybrid, or electric vehicle. While electric cars used to have something of a bad reputation, advancements in technology mean that they’re just as good as conventional ones. They also have lower overall running costs, and the UK government provides financial incentives to purchase them.

Make your air travel eco-friendly

Another aspect of travel that contributes to your carbon footprint is your holidays. The obvious thing to consider here is air travel. Aeroplanes burn fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels at high altitudes is much worse for the environment than doing so at ground level!

Conscious consumers can buy into carbon offsetting programmes. Forestry offsetting projects work out how much emissions your flight will generate, and then plants enough trees to absorb this. Energy projects use your money to invest in efficient and renewable products and technologies. Many airlines have their own carbon offsetting programmes, which you can buy into when you pay for your ticket. Some of these are better reviewed than others — if you’re flying with Qantas, their Future Planet scheme is well-regarded, whereas Ryanair’s equivalent is much less so.

If you want to take matters into your own hands this carbon footprint calculator will work out the impact of your flight, and provide a list of schemes that you could invest in to offset this carbon. Gold Standard also provides a well-regarded carbon offsetting service. It doesn’t have to be done just for flights — if you have the money, you could use schemes like Gold Standard to offset your overall carbon footprint every year! 

Girl planting trees to offset carbon emissions

If you had enough space, you could even plant the trees yourself!

Eco-friendly holidays

This said, the best flight to take is no flight at all. Consider holidaying closer to home — ‘staycations’ are becoming increasingly popular, where families stay at home, but dedicate time to visiting local attractions. More broadly, if you’re in the UK, you can reach most of Europe via train. A journey from London to Madrid by plane releases 265 kg of emissions, compared to just 43 kg of emissions if the same journey was taken by train!

The type of holiday you’re taking also has an effect. Cruise ships have a horrendous environmental impact. They demand as much fuel as whole towns and are responsible for a number of hazardous waste leaks. If you want to live sustainably, cruises should absolutely be avoided. If you want to know more about eco-friendly holidays, check out our earlier blog post here!

Overall, there are lots of things we can all do to make our travel more eco-friendly. Which of these sustainable travel tips did you find most useful? Let us know in the comments below!

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