Sustainable Travel

travel, luggageThere’s an oxymoron.  And, yet, I’m sure you’ve seen ads for sustainable travel or green travel or eco-something-or-other.

Travel by its very nature increases your carbon footprint unless you’re walking and even then it would be best if you were fueled by plants instead of meat or dairy* and wore secondhand clothing.** I know mind-bending, right?

That’s one of the reasons I like Do the Green Thing’s approach. They’ve identified seven lifestyle changes anyone who would like to reduce their carbon footprint can make without going into a carbon-footprint calculation spiral. Two of their recommendations involve travel:

So, when I wanted to visit my Mom in PA for her 83rd birthday, clearly, walking from NC to PA wasn’t an option, but maybe driving would be better than flying. I’m not a big fan of flying anyway plus there is an hour or more drive getting to and from the airport. Let’s compare:

Trip A – Car Rental – Actual Trip
I rented a Hyundai from Enterprise. When I signed up online there was an option to buy a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Offset for $1.25, so I did. Enterprise’s info blurb about it says that it will offset the gas emissions generated by an average rental vehicle. The money goes to TerraPass to fund certified offset projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere. And, Enterprise will match customer contributions dollar-for-dollar up to $1 million. Wow.

The trip is approximately 380 miles. I used one tank of gas each way. Only $66 out of pocket, plus I got to see a little bit of the country. I discovered SaladWorks and saw the Sustainable Brands building without realizing they are one of the organizations I follow on Twitter. They have a leaf in their logo, which is what caught my eye. I later connected the dots when I saw one of their posts in my 2-D world. Here’s how my drive tallied up:

  • 235.4 lbs CO2 as calculated by TerraPass to drive 400 miles in a 2012 Hyundai Elantra (without an offset)
  • Rental cost plus gas: $236
  • It took me 8 hrs door to door.

Trip B – Air Travel – Proposed Trip
First, there is the ride from my husband to the Norfolk, VA airport, which is three hours roundtrip for him. Or, I could hire a cab service. Then there is TSA (I’m sure they’re adding to my carbon footprint somehow) and the flight. Then, either my mom picks me up for a total two-hour roundtrip drive or I hire a car service from the Allentown airport. (I would have hired a service in both cases.)

I’d have to leave NC at 7am in the morning to get at the airport an hour before my flight. There aren’t any direct flights so I’m looking at 9:30am-1:30pm of air travel time then another hour of drive time after I land. Here’s how my airplane travel would have tallied up:

  • 786 lbs CO2 as calculated by TerraPass for a flight from Norfolk, VA to Allentown, PA with one stop. That number does not include any car travel.
  • Airfare through Expedia and car service costs: $762
  • Total hours door to door: 7.5 hrs – only half an hour saved – and that’s if everything runs smoothly.

So, that’s a bit of an eye-opener, eh? A plane wouldn’t have saved that much time and would have cost a lot more. By driving, I avoided all of the airline hassle/tension and saw a little of the country, plus the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is totally fun.

There you have it. Picking the smallest carbon-footprint travel option saved money, didn’t take much more time and was fun.

* The carbon footprint of two pints of milk a day is 1.160 lbs of greenhouse gas a year, as much as a return flight from San Francisco to Vancouver. (And, we’re not even looking at your cheese, yogurt or ice cream intake.) How Bad Are Bananas? By Mike Berners-Lee

** “After food, the most important source of indirect personal CO2 emissions is probably clothing.” How to Live a Low-Carbon Life by Chris Goodall.


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5 Responses to Sustainable Travel

  1. Barbara says:

    Great post Jane. I’m all for staying out of the air as much as possible. I have found that for short-haul flights, it really is generally just as quick, and oh so much more enjoyable, to hop in a car with your bags (no baggage fees!) and some healthy snacks and take in the scenery. No TSA lines, no being squished in the middle seat between strangers, and definitely the option for better food. It’s better for your sanity, and I’m glad to hear it’s also better for the environment. I have wondered about the effect of train travel. Have you ever looked into the carbon-footprint of taking the train?

    • Jane says:

      Hey Barb – Thx for reading and commenting! :-) Glad to hear you’re finding the same thing regarding shorter flights. Funny though it’s so ingrained in us that flights are faster – my mom was pushing for me to take a flight. So glad I resisted. Trains are a pretty low-carbon way to travel. I haven’t done much reading on them, but looking at Mike Berners-Lee’s book How Bad are Bananas? he has them listed as 150 grams of CO2/greenhouse gases per mile. There are many variables. If it’s an express train (speed bad/no stops good), or if it’s heavy (bad), and depending what type of fuel it uses (electricity better) all factor into the final calculation.

  2. Paul Mackie says:

    Very cool blog, Jane! Hey, Mobility Lab is building a stable of contributors to our site ( and articles by you like this one (relevant to our topic of “moving people instead of cars,” known by insiders as “transportation demand management”) would be great to cross-post. Would you be interested in being a Mobility Lab contributor? We have a strong and growing audience, primarily of transportation industry experts. Thanks for your consideration, Paul

    • Jane says:

      Thanks Paul! As luck would have it, I think Mobility Lab’s site is pretty cool too. Yes, I would be interested in contributing and will respond to your email address as well. Thanks again, Jane

  3. Pingback: When Driving Becomes the Option of Sustainable Travel — Mobility Lab