We all know that travel is one of the main contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. But did you know that the transportation sector was the largest contributor to US GHG emissions in 2016, according to the EPA, accounting for nearly one-third of all US GHGs? (Note, this number increased to 45% in 2017). Light-duty vehicles (our personal vehicles) make up 60% of the emissions total, while aircraft make up 9% of the total.
This means that we as individuals are accountable for nearly 20% of all US GHG emissions based solely on our personal transportation habits. So if you were hoping to use the argument that your individual actions don’t matter unless businesses change, sorry ’bout your luck.
Now that we’ve accepted accountability for our personal role in CO2 emissions, let’s discuss ways we can reduce our overall impact. Fortunately, it’s much easier to reduce your transportation footprint than the other behemoth contributor to your footprint (home energy use), so we have lots of options…
How to Reduce your Transportation and Travel Footprint
#1 – Drive Less
Duh. Since nearly 17% of US GHG emissions are generated by passenger vehicles, the most obvious thing we all can do is find ways to drive our gas and diesel vehicles less, and take fewer Lyfts / taxis / Ubers. You can do this by living closer to your place of work and recreation, working from home more often, biking or walking instead of driving, or taking public transit more frequently. For each mile you that you opt for an eco-friendlier alternative to driving, you reduce your footprint by the following amounts:
0.9 LBS CO2e for each mile you bike or walk instead of drive.
0.7 LBS CO2e for each mile you take heavy rail or a van pool instead of drive.
0.5 LBS CO2e for each mile you take light rail instead of drive.
0.3 LBS CO2e for each mile you take the bus instead of drive.
These numbers may look small, but the average American reduces her footprint by 8000 LBS CO2e per year by selling her gas or diesel-powered vehicle. So driving less has a major impact.
#2 – Buy an Eco-Friendlier Vehicle, such as an EV
If you can’t change how much you drive, try changing what you drive. EVs are much eco-friendlier than gas and diesel powered vehicles, even when the electricity powering them is not from renewable sources. By switching to an eco-friendlier vehicle, you reduce your footprint by the following amounts:
3600 LBS CO2e per year by switching to an electric vehicle.
2000 LBS CO2e per year by switching to a hybrid vehicle.
If you’re wary of buying an EV, check out this post –> on what it’s like to own and drive an EV.
#3 – Fly Less, Especially Long-Haul
The global travel industry is responsible for roughly 8% of worldwide GHG emissions. Airplanes are particularly harmful because their emissions are released high in the atmosphere where they have no chance of being absorbed. Long-haul (cross-ocean) flights release a particularly large amount of emissions, so the fewer times you fly internationally each year, the better (sorry fellow wanderlusters).
We aren’t saying don’t travel, we’re saying to travel more sustainably. You reduce your footprint by nearly 551 LBS CO2e per flight hour for each flight you skip. Multiply that by 12 hours of flight time, and you’ll see how much of an impact overseas flights have.
Click here -> for tips on how to travel more sustainably without skipping the flight entirely. You also can calculate your travel emissions, then donate to One Tree Planted or Carbonfund.org to offset them (this is what I personally do when I fly).
#4 – Take Fewer Rides on Public Transit
Public transit is a much eco-friendlier option than driving or calling a taxi, Uber, or Lyft. I don’t want to lose sight of that. However, most people take public transit in cities when they don’t feel like walking or biking, or are in a hurry. By walking or biking instead, you save an average of 0.5 LBS CO2e for each mile you don’t ride public transit (the exact number depends on the type of public transit you usually take). This adds up quickly over the course of a few months or a year.
#5 – Charge your EVs with Renewable Energy
EVs generate 0.3 LBS CO2e per mile driven on average. The bulk of these emissions are created by the non-renewable energy used to charge them. If possible, try finding chargers powered by renewable sources for as many of your juicing sessions as possible.
To better understand CO2 emissions generated by various transportation and travel activities and how to offset them, see our carbon emissions calculator.
Sources: EPA GHG emissions from passenger vehicles, Transit.gov (public transit), Carbon Independent (flight emissions), Plug in America (EV data), NY Times (gas prices by vehicle types), UC USA (EV emissions), Tree Hugger (money saved from not driving), Avg. Cost Public Transit