Sustainable Flying – How to Reduce the Impact of Your Flights
If you’re like us, you‘re an environmentally conscious person wanting to do your bit to fight climate change but also have a love of travel and are finding it difficult to combine the two. We know, we’ve had this conversation so many times, how can we justify flights when we are trying desperately to reduce our carbon footprint.
I come from New Zealand which, for those of you geographically challenged, is two islands deep in the South Pacific a three-hour flight from our nearest neighbour (Australia). If we want to see other countries flying is non-negotiable (unless we fork out thousands for cruise ships which are just as damaging to the environment – not happening). My partner is from Germany which is about as far from New Zealand as you can get. We also both love to travel and so realistically flying is going to be a part of our lives.
Flying is about the least eco-friendly method of travel but that doesn’t mean we can’t be aware and do our best to reduce the impact our travels have on the planet. So here is the eco-friendly traveller’s guide to sustainable flying. Doing these things doesn’t negate the damaging effects of flying but for those of us who do fly often it helps make it that little bit more sustainable.
This seems obvious but if you start looking at ways to reduce your flights you’d be surprised what solutions you come up with. If you fly mainly for holidays can you travel to places that require one big flight and then get around by other transport options e.g taking trains around Europe or bussing across the States.
If you fly for work see if there’s any way to switch some of the work to online options such as Skype calls. If you do need to travel to a destination see if there are ways of maximising your time there such as multiple meetings or staying an extra couple of days in order to reduce future flights.
Choose an eco-flight
This may sound like an oxymoron but flight search engines such as Skyscanner have an ‘eco-option’ when selecting flights. This shows you which flights are the most eco-friendly by calculating the fuel efficiency of the plane, number of passengers and flight route.
It’s by no means 100% accurate but it can give you a good indication if there’s a preferable option. And it’s not always the most expensive option, many budget airlines can be more efficient as they fit more people into one flight.
Given the choice between direct flights and ones with layovers, most people would choose direct anyway. But there is an extra incentive to pay that little bit extra if you’re thinking of the environment. Take-off and landing use the most fuel during a flight and so if you can cut that part out and fly direct it’s just that little bit better for the planet.
Fly economy class
I’ve never considered flying anything else because of the cost involved but for many people flying business or first class is the dream. However, this decreases the efficiency of the flight by having fewer people in the same amount of space. Upgraded classes also seem to create more plastic waste by offering more free accessories and food options. So to maximise the fuel efficiency of flights, take the budget option and sit in economy class.
Offset your carbon emissions
This is a great way to give back to the planet every time you fly. Even though offsetting your emissions will never fully negate the effects of flying it can help you have a positive impact somewhere else in the world.
Many airlines offer an option to offset your emissions when you book a flight. This often costs a small fraction of the flight price and is put towards the schemes that the airline is signed up for. These could be tree planting, building solar or wind energy sources, creating better waste systems in developing countries or other aid projects that focus on reducing carbon.
It is best to check the reputability of the scheme being used and if possible contribute to a scheme that works locally in either your home country or the one you are flying to. The Gold Standard is a good option for finding great carbon offset schemes and Climacare has a range of projects as well as a carbon calculator for you to work out your carbon emissions.
Flights not only contribute to air pollution they also create a lot of plastic waste. Think of all the plastic cups, cutlery, packaging and bottled drinks that are given out on any one flight. This is a great chance to refuse single-use and bring your own reusable options.
If you’re on a short flight bring your own reusable water bottle and snacks and politely refuse the plastic-wrapped snacks handed out in-flight. If you’re flying long haul the meal has likely already been prepared for you (unless you select ‘no meal’ when you book the flight) so decline it will mean it gets thrown away. But you can use your own utensils and cup for hot drinks. It’s best to hand these straight back when you get your meal so they can be given to someone else, otherwise, they potentially get thrown away anyway at the end of the meal.
Some airlines are developing initiatives to reduce their waste. Qantas flew the world’s first zero-waste flight and Air New Zealand are currently moving to eliminate single-use plastic on flights starting with the introduction of edible coffee cups!
Look for alternatives
Is there any way you can get to your destination without flying? The answer will always be yes but it’s about whether there are affordable, safe and accessible ways to get there that won’t take weeks. If you’re travelling domestically look at train and bus options, these may take slightly longer but are much more eco-friendly and often cheaper.
Overnight transport can be a great idea for longer distances as you don’t lose time travelling to your destination. Depending on the country and form of transport it can be reasonably comfortable and saves a lot of money. And most importantly, it’s much more eco-friendly than flying.
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