Greening Your Vacation
Across generations, travel has never been bigger. Vacations have proven resilient to inflation, the lingering impacts of COVID-19, and for many, the almost inevitable carbon footprint that accompanies longer trips. Most of us already know that mile for mile, flying is the most carbon intensive way to travel, and for many travelers, long flights are one of the most damaging actions they will take in a given year.
But for so many of us, avoiding travel doesn’t feel like an option. Many retirees may have spent years, or even decades, envisioning the trips they’d take once they had the time to do so. Moreover, travel has become a vital economic driver for communities across the world, with one in 10 new jobs stemming from the tourism industry. What is a climate-conscious traveler to do?
The good news is that vacationing doesn’t have to be a binary option between catastrophic pollution and no traveling at all. For this month’s newsletter, we’ve put together a list of four great tips to green your next vacation. Major inspiration for this list came from The Climate Action Handbook, reviewed in our April newsletter. It contains a full chapter on climate-friendly travel if you’re interested in learning even more.
4 Ways to Green It
Number 1 – Opt for destinations a little closer to home. For just about any vacation, the lion’s share of your carbon impact is decided by how you get where you’re going, and how far you intend to go. Traveling by bus, train, ferry, or a car with more than one passenger are all significantly less carbon intensive than flying.
Luckily for Canadians, millions of us can reach globally-recognized destinations like Jasper or Quebec City by rail. Traveling closer to home can also mean less stressful planning, and less time spent sitting around in a crowded airport (or alternatively, madly rushing to reach your departure gate on time).
Number 2 – If you have to fly, fly economy. Each year, aviation is responsible for nearly 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that number is creeping steadily higher year-over-year. But if flying is your only option, the difference between flying first class and economy is likely bigger than you think. Research from the World Bank found that flying business class emits about three times as much carbon as flying economy – this is because business class seats take up more room and are more likely to be empty.
There is some positive news on the horizon for those interested in domestic flights. We are making rapid progress in the creation of fully-electric small passenger planes such as the Beta Alia, and some small airlines are already planning to switch to an electric fleet for all local flights within the next decade. So, for many climate conscious vacationers, traveling by plane again may just be a simple waiting game.
Number 3 – When you arrive, make sure your accommodations are green. Accommodations make up about 20 percent of travel emissions, so where you choose to stay matters. The average hotel room in North America emits about as much carbon dioxide as 650 gallons of gasoline. Fortunately, unlike large passenger planes, where emissions are essentially inevitable, there is much more flexibility in the carbon footprint of hotels and other accommodations.
Many hotels are now being built or retrofitted with sustainability top of mind. To give just one example, 1 Hotel Toronto has a zero-waste policy, includes an on-site composter, sources most of their produce from within a 100km radius, and converts all of their kitchen oil and grease into biofuel. More and more hotels across the country are now being powered by solar panels, and many rural destinations boast tiny-home rentals. So, when you’re planning a vacation, doing a little extra research in advance to find the greenest-possible accommodations can make a real difference in your trip’s carbon footprint.
Number 4 – Travel off the beaten path. Sustainability in travel can extend beyond just your emissions – it’s important to protect the areas we visit, especially when tourism has jeopardized some of the world’s most breathtaking and delicate destinations. In the past decade, Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, Venice, and even the Louvre have all had to respond to overtourism. Smaller, less protected locales have already been destroyed by development or overuse after surging in popularity.
To combat this, it’s important to do your research before traveling and steer clear of places already buckling under the weight of excessive visitors. There are countless incredible destinations you can explore that are looking for more travelers, not fewer. To achieve even more of a net positive, you can choose to visit national parks, marine conservation areas, or other areas that rely on visitors’ funds to protect wildlife and the local environment. Need some inspiration? You can find an interactive map showing every Canadian national park here.
Although there might not ever be a ‘perfect’ vacation in terms of carbon impact, when taken together, all of these tips can help reduce the footprint of your next vacation. Have your own green travel tips that have served you well in the past? Let us know via email at email@example.com and we’d love to share them on social media or in our next newsletter!
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