Travel Lighter: How to reduce your carbon footprint with greener choices 

a backpack with wings hovering above an earth on a light blue background

Did you know that on average driving accounts for 20% of an individual’s carbon footprint? And that a jumbo jet pumps out 1 tonne of carbon every 8 miles? The way we travel to work, on holidays or even to the shop, has a significant impact on our carbon footprint.

That’s why we all need to think about how to Travel Lighter and from everyday choices to the big trips, there are choices available to everyone.

Transport is an industry that’s heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Think cars, planes, ships, trucks, buses and some trains – all of these use fossil fuels as their primary method of energy. Cars and flying are the two biggest areas that affect us as individuals, with the way we travel to work, to see friends and go on holiday having the biggest impact on the environment.

What’s really important to know is that different methods of transport have different levels of emissions. For example, petrol and diesel cars emit four times more carbon per mile compared to buses and trains. This is because the emissions from public transport are shared by the people using them, as opposed to cars which, in many cases, only carry one or two passengers.

And our transport footprints are important. For the average person in a wealthy nation, transport makes up around 30% of your carbon footprint. However, we are all different so understanding where your transport footprint can help you understand the choices you make. Some of us may not own a car or use public transport as your primary method of travel, and some of us may travel by plane once every few years while some may be deemed ‘frequent flyers.’

Everyday choices

But the good news is with small, simple and achievable steps, you can help cut your carbon and have a positive impact on the environment starting today by changing some everyday choices.

One way you can make a difference is by walking or biking short distances, instead of taking the car. 20% of journeys by car are less than a mile (1.6km) so it’s a great idea to go by bike where you can.

Our work commute can make up a large portion of our day every day so it might be a good idea to speak to some fellow colleagues and see if you could start up a carpool or join a car sharing scheme. More and more people are using car share schemes and it’s expected that over 50 million people will be doing it within the next few years.

Another option is public transport. Many countries and cities offer great public transport links and could be a great way to cut your commuting carbon. Did you know a full bus can take 55 cars off the road? That’s a huge saving, not only on carbon, but also helps with traffic flows.

The French are a great example of a country leading the way with their low carbon travel. Their electric trains are one of the fastest and greenest ways to travel anywhere in the world and over 5.5 million journeys are taken by people using the Velib scheme in France every month.

And finally, you could take up cycling to work! Whether you’re looking to get your very own or join a bike sharing scheme, cycling to work could become your new favourite method of travel. There’s also now over 2,000 bike sharing schemes around the world. Not only does it help save carbon but also helps keep up your fitness. Even when you include the carbon emissions from manufacturing a bike, you’ll save 99% of the emissions compared to driving a big car for every mile, or kilometre, you travel.

The big trips

The emissions from one return ticket from London to New York are roughly the same as heating a typical home in the EU for an entire year. And the further you fly, the worse the impact. By releasing water vapour high in the sky (the trails that you see after planes) the effect on the climate is doubled.

But although many people in the Global North enjoy regular trips 90% of the world don’t fly at all and just 1% of the world’s population account for 50% of all emissions from flying so frequent fliers have a big role in cutting carbon emissions. For the rare few private jets are more than 10 times more polluting per person than normal planes and can emit a year’s worth of carbon for an average person in just over 2 hours!

But what can we do? Not flying is a solution for some, and a great one! But for those who still want to get out and explore, we have some alternatives.

You could opt to stop flying long haul, or reduce the number of times you do this. And instead, opt for holidays closer to home.

Go electric

Electric cars are growing in popularity and offer huge carbon savings. This is for two reasons. Firstly electric cars are super-efficient at converting power from the grid into power at the wheels. They manage over 75% whereas petrol and diesel cars only convert from 15-30%. Secondly electricity generation in many countries is increasingly driven by renewables. In the UK, it’s now over 50% and it’s growing fast everywhere due to the lower cost of wind and solar compared to gas and coal.

However, some people have concerns around the extra embedded carbon in an EV. This is the carbon emissions from building a car and currently EVs do emit more than most petrol and diesel cars because of the battery. However, despite this you still save carbon once you’ve been driving for around two years (it does depend on size of car and how far you drive) so it does work for the planet in the long term.

Bonus extras

There are many extra benefits to living more sustainably, as well as cutting back on your carbon. Every choice you make can also help you discover new ways to save money and take steps to improve your health.

Walking and cycling more is a great way to improve your general health and fitness, and saves you money by cutting back on your fuel spend. And when you do head out in the car, driving more efficiently can also save 20% more fuel compared to standard driving meaning you’ll need to top up the tank less often.

The way we travel to work, on holidays, for short or long trips, all have an impact on the environment and our emissions. But by better understanding your personal carbon footprint, you can discover the wide variety of sustainable choices available to you.

Whether you opt to fly less, switch to an electric car, use public transport more or head out on your bike, every step you step to Travel Lighter will help you make a difference to the planet.

If this has inspired you to take action on your carbon footprint, sign up to Giki Zero now to discover your carbon footprint and take steps to live more sustainably.

A final note on why offsetting is not a solution

Increasing public awareness of the climate crisis has prompted many individuals to consider ways to lessen their impact, with carbon offsetting gathering increasing attention as a way of achieving this goal. Carbon offsetting is where individuals can pay towards projects such as tree planting or community schemes to offset the emissions they are creating.

However, offsets have been increasingly controversial for three reasons. Firstly offsets cannot replace the need to actually cut emissions. Secondly offset schemes are proved controversial because it’s hard to measure the amount of carbon removed, know whether it’s a permanent solution and understand whether it would have happened anyway.

And some people are worried that paying someone else to emit less carbon does not create the incentive, or behaviour change, that we all need to achieve to hit net zero.

“Buying and selling carbon offsets is like pushing food around on your plate to create the impression that you have eaten it.” George Monbiot, Environmental and Political Activist