Your 2020 travel guide to carbon offsetting and reducing your carbon footprint

Your 2020 travel guide to carbon offsetting and reducing your carbon footprint

At Jack’s Flight Club, we love a good flight deal. The option to travel to new places for less offers plenty of perks: the opportunity to understand first hand the great variety in nature, appreciating other cultures more (and our own home in return), and learning how to enjoy an adventure on your own. On the flip side of all this is the cost associated with these trips. Not just the nickel and dime of the travel fare, food and lodging, but the extras like carbon pollution and the disposable material wastes that can come with these adventures. 

Fortunately, the impact you have on the environment and the destinations you choose to travel to can be lessened with a few key decisions made throughout your trip. That’s why we’re happy to share our favourite ways to minimise the impact of travel on the environment and how to carbon offset what can’t be avoided.

What is carbon offsetting?

The main goal of all eco-conscious choices is to limit your impact on the environment. Impacts are mainly from carbon you’re putting into the atmosphere, either directly through items you use regularly or through the process it takes to create the objects you use. Carbon, or carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas which traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. To start with, it’s important to understand what exactly companies mean when they say carbon offsetting. 

Carbon offsetting is the practice of reducing carbon emissions from one source in order to compensate for emissions from another. Many companies (including JFC!) do this through tree planting initiatives, where farmed trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Though this doesn’t always mean carbon offsetting is done by planting trees, sometimes it means funding hydro-electric plants, building wind farms, or other alternative energy projects that may also benefit local populations. In all of them, the goal is to fund a way for reducing carbon in the atmosphere, either through growing practices that are non-carbon emitting or actively taking carbon out of the atmosphere. 

The rising popularity of carbon offsetting is fantastic and has had a great impact on many communities, but critics of these efforts say that most of these are meant to happen over many years when the carbon being offset is being put into the atmosphere immediately. Others criticize that some of the carbon offsetting programs don’t use donations efficiently and that the carbon offset actually achieved in the future doesn’t always match up with what is anticipated from the project. What this means when you choose to offset your carbon footprint, though, is that carbon offsetting is a great start but other carbon limiting choices are still possible. 

Fortunately, there are many supporting choices for you to further limit your impact on the environment.

How you can minimize your carbon footprint when planning your trip

Understanding how your buying choices affect your carbon footprint helps you minimize it. The first step of planning a trip is choosing where you’ll be going and for how long. It might seem like the shorter and quicker the trip, the less carbon you’ll rack up, but while this is true for a single trip comparison it’s important to take into account the number of trips you’ll be taking throughout the year. Studies have found that those who take shorter trips, over a weekend or a few days, are more likely to take more of them throughout the year rather than those who take a longer trip, and it’s especially true that it tends to be a combination of shorter and long haul trips over time.

Regional flights, or flights travelling less than 1,267 km (or 787 miles) which is just slightly more than a trip from London to Barcelona, often travel with smaller and less fuel-efficient planes. A Boeing 737-800 used on short hauls uses about 35 litres of fuel for a trip, or 2.77 L of fuel per 100 kilometres per seat. Medium-haul flights (travelling up to 6,300 km or 3914 miles), or slightly more a trip from London to New York, are larger and can carry more people at once and offer better fuel consumption. On a medium-haul, a Boeing 787-9 spends about 149 litres of fuel per seat (or 2.37 L per 100 kilometres), meaning if you take about four short-haul trips a year you have as large a footprint as a two week trip from London to NYC or Houston to Medellin. The goal of knowing these figures is not to steer you in one direction for travel or another, only to help you stay informed of your own personal travel choices.

It’s up to you to decide whether weekend breaks work best for you or a single long-haul recharges your batteries, but the flights you choose make a difference as well. Going for a longer trip with fewer layovers will also save you carbon points - minimizing the landing and take-off fuel expense for layovers will limit your carbon footprint by leaps and bounds. Going for a longer stay also will count for more. The longer you stay, the less itchy your feet will get in the near future, holidaymakers also report feeling more rested on a longer trip than their weekend breaks, which is a bonus for all involved. The fewer yearly trips you choose to take, the lower your overall footprint as well. All this means that if you are looking at budgeting for several weekend trips over the year or a larger blowout trip to an exotic location, go for the long-haul. 

Keep in mind: this doesn’t mean weekend trips are lost, you can still choose to offset the extra carbon footprint in return should those weekend hauls prove much-loved.

Finally, a great way to reduce your carbon footprint in the flight planning stage is to give up on Business or First Class fares. The more people planes can carry, the farther the fuel used on the flight stretches, which will bring down your carbon footprint. Your wallet will thank you as well!

How to purchase your flight and offset your carbon footprint

Airlines and flight search websites are also trying to help you in this effort; many are offering ‘Green Choices’ when booking flights, where they have calculated the carbon footprint of the flight and labelled those where carbon output is reduced. If you frequently use Skyscanner in your search options, look for this label:

Wondering what your carbon footprint will be while planning a trip? Check out this carbon footprint calculator, which can help roughly estimate it. 

Now that you’ve planned the biggest part of your trip, you can pick out your carbon offsetting plan as well (a good one to check off your to-do list once your travel insurance is purchased). Many online travel agents and airlines already offer their own carbon-offsetting which have varying rates of efficiency. If you would like full control of your own carbon offsetting plan so you can feel like you’re involved in the process, we recommend checking out the United Nations Carbon Offset platform, where you can read through and choose individual projects to fund and offset carbon (no affiliation here, we just really like them).

Some other quick tips for how to plan your trip with minimizing carbon footprint in mind:

  • Research and book with airlines who promote and use renewable technologies or who fund biofuel research
  • Try to travel during off-peak dates, when fares are cheaper but also the destination will be better able to handle the waste created from visitors (and will be less crowded!)
  • Whenever possible, try using public transportation and carpooling to travel to and from airports
  • Save money while away by turning on your energy-saving options for home appliances, unplugging what you don’t need, and using timer activated lights when necessary

Of course, travelling by train or bus is the best way to cut down on your carbon, but isn’t always possible.

How to reduce your carbon footprint while on holiday

After planning your flight and the trip to and from the airport, you can have even more impact with the choices you make while on holiday - many times in ways we aren’t aware of. While the availability of this information will depend on where you go, there are quite a few things you can consider:

Check what practices you are encouraging with your accommodation

Not all hotels are created equally, and while most communities encourage hotel and hostel owners to run their businesses with eco-conscious practices, not all do. Before you book your hotel rooms (or other accommodation), check their green business practices - recycling programs, green laundry detergent and cleaning chemicals, water filtration. A good indicator of their ethics can be whether they pay their staff a living or higher than average wage, which is also likely to get you better service! The old adage of “voting with your wallet” can change business practices for the better over time.

Shop at locally owned businesses and purchase locally created items

It might seem common-sense, but many of those souvenir stands where you pick up mementoes, import much of their content from other areas (or countries!) and are often generic, forgotten keepsakes. Consider getting decorations, clothing or accessories which you love from locally owned businesses (or artisans). This not only supports the community you came to visit but you’ll be less likely to throw away something that you use regularly and it still serves as a memory of your trip. By purchasing items, food, and services from locals selling locally made items, you minimize your purchase’s carbon footprint. Plus, if you’re after food, the fresher the better, which can only mean locally purchased.

Many communities also have local transportation that will make sure you can get around to any attractions while producing less carbon (and are often owned by a local business as well). On city breaks, bike rentals are common-place now, usually very cheap, and are a convenient way to get about, Many places have day or week passes which cover all the local bus or train routes which are more accessible than ever thanks to Google Maps.

Bring home your trash and waste products whenever possible

Not all travellers realize that some communities, typically islands or developing countries, don’t have the same waste disposal options. We’re very used to buying travel size shampoo, conditioner, and other disposable goods to comply with air travel rules, only to see them on the beach or in the street from other travellers due to the lack of recycling or waste disposal resources. Packing your plastics and recycling at home is a small gesture, but helps to avoid stressing the local infrastructure. Keep the destinations you love nice so that you can enjoy them on your return (or others who come after you). 

When dining out or shopping, single-use items are still popular in some destinations and make a surprisingly big impact. Straws, styrofoam packaging, and plastic bags are often used in takeaway locations and can be avoided by eating in or requesting to go without. If you’re a foodie, you can pack your own utensil travel kit, and wash up in sinks for reuse. Bringing a reusable water container is common-sense (just empty out before security). Don’t risk your health in countries without potable water though, you may need to purchase distilled water as a matter of safety. Try to go with larger 5L bottles instead of individual use, then refill your bottle throughout your trip.

Remember your chemical footprint as well - especially when going to reefs

Hawaii has recently banned all sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are believed to cause reef-bleaching (or causing reefs to die out) due to swimmers going into the water and washing the sunscreen off. Unfortunately, these chemicals are in most sunscreens sold today, which means a whole lot of bleached reefs. While not many other countries have jumped on that bandwagon, it’s still important to be aware that you should be mindful of the chemicals you are bringing with you when travelling. If you’re planning on using sunscreens while on holiday, especially if you’re going to a beach location, choose to bring reef-safe sunscreens or those containing mineral sun-blockers or specifically sized zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Our mission is to help you find cheap flights and in the process, we’ve helped thousands visit countries which they had only dreamed of. We don’t think that great deals and being eco-conscious are mutually exclusive. By reading this, you’ve already opened yourself to new ways that you can minimize your carbon footprint and we hope next time you click that book button, you’ll feel a bit better that you know how to do your bit to help. 

There’s one last thing you can do to help. The impact humanity has had on the climate at large cannot be narrowed down to just the individual traveller - we’re all participants in a system and society which encourages us to travel. Travelling, for many, is often one of the most important memories we carry with us and we think is too valuable an experience to lose. So, write, email, tweet and record videos encouraging your government and big businesses to do more to reduce the amount of carbon production, reduce their packaging, introduce policies that incentivize eco-friendly practices and support carbon offsetting initiatives.

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