Regardless of flight shaming tactics, air travel is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, but the impression has been made. So, if you are looking for tips to reduce your environmental impact when you fly, scour the suggestions below.
1. Know Your Airlines: Which are the Most Sustainable?
The aviation industry is quickly scrambling to offer solutions to reduce their carbon footprint, splashing public promises to improve all over the headlines. Every topic of sustainability is being covered with a heavy emphasis on emission output and waste management, but the most significant concern is the literal carbon footprint.
Unfortunately, in the quest to rise to the top, information overload is widespread, and much of it isn’t legitimate. Not all airlines are equal, and some so-called efforts are in actuality a lot of huff with little action to back it up.
Amstoair & the Dow Jones Sustainable Index
The best way to solve the riddle is to dig for the facts from verifiable sources like the Amstoair Airline Index (last updated in 2018) or the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (last released in late 2019). These are a few resources for finding ways to reduce your environmental impact when you fly.
According to the intricate ranking systems, the best airline worldwide for sustainability is TUI Airlines and Air France – KLM (based on DJSI). Both are based in Europe.
In North America, Alaska Airlines and Air Transat are the front runners. For Latin America, both LATAM and Avianca are highly ranked. China West Air comes out on top among Asian airlines.
Other regions of the world are yet to receive notable placement on these sustainability ranking systems. But, Emirates in UAE, Qantas in Australia, and Royal Air Maroc Express in Africa have all received mentions for sustainability in their regions.
Reduce Environmental Impact by Using Skyscanner’s “Greener Choices” Label
One of the easiest ways to find an affordable eco-friendly flight is on Skyscanner. Last year, the company rolled out a little green leaf icon that marks lower-emission flights.
The indicator comes up naturally when you are searching for the cheapest flights to your destination of choice. It takes no extra effort to the use feature and its proof that choosing a more sustainable flight doesn’t have to be more expensive.
Anytime the green leaf shows up in your search results, it’s being offered as a flight with reduced carbon emissions. Such flights are chosen by a formula that takes into account the plane model and its fuel efficiency, the distance of the flight, whether it’s a direct flight, and seat capacity.
The greener choice feature will only display when the flight available is estimated to have at least 4% lower carbon emissions than other flight options. If no green flights are displaying, you can choose to include them by checking the box on the lower left side of the search screen below the airline selection.
2. Opt For an Eco-Friendly Airport
Did you know such a thing exists? Of course, it does. These days there is an eco-friendly option for just about everything. And yes, airports are not also included on those lists.
If you would like to know how to pick one, there are a few key indicators. The first clue is an outside-the-city location, aka airports in wide-open spaces.
Getting away from big-city infrastructure is often a strategic move that allows airports to use alternative energy like wind power and solar panels. Plus, if they are using biofuel, airports need room and access to a water collection system.
Other key inclusions at sustainable airports include recycled building materials, obvious recycling programs to manage passenger waste, and signs of reduced energy consumption (LED lights, minimized climate control, and motion sensor lights).
These airports also put efforts to offset air and noise pollution like keeping airplanes in taxiing mode (rather than re-starting engines) and having devices that monitor noise pollution levels.
The Most Sustainable Airports in the World & the USA
So, which are the best airport in the industry? The Stockholm Arlanda Airport in Sweden and the Zurich International Airport in Switzerland are top choices in Europe.
Also, the Seymour Airport on Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands claims to be the first ecological airport, and has won many awards for innovation and leadership.
The most eco-friendly airports in the USA include the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and the San Francisco International Airport.
3. Choose to Unbundle Your Fares
For a long time, air travelers have been enticed to upgrade basic flights for all-inclusive airline packages. Such programs have allowed us to carry extra luggage, relish in-flight snacks, enjoy extra legroom, and make use of pillows, blankets, headphones, etc. But, all of these add-ons have a cost to the environment.
These bigger airplanes have heavier flying weights, plenty of extra trash, and additional output for cleaning (think chemicals and machinery). The answer is simple: opt-out. Reduce the amount of the luggage you carry, don’t use the blankets/pillows/headphones in single-use plastics (or bring your own), bring your own meals with reusable utensils and containers, and fly economy.
Not only will such choices reduce your personal impact when you fly, but they will also save you money!
4. Fly Less by Booking Longer Trips to Multiple Destinations
At first thought, it seems like an oxymoron. How is it possible to fly less when traveling for longer durations to multiple destinations? The answer is in booking just one flight and spreading those precious carbon sacrifices as thin as possible.
Frequent flying is indeed a big problem, and reducing the number of flights you take can go a long way in reducing your environmental impact when you fly. Whether you are flying halfway around the globe or simply across your home state, think twice before being a supporter of excess.
Think of it as compared to taking a trip to the grocery store. You don’t really want to go back to the store three times in one day. In fact, it’s probably ideal if you only go once a week. So, you’ll try to get everything done on the same trip. And, it’s always a great idea to visit the neighboring pharmacy and post office on the same outing.
Air travel should be thought of in this way as well. Try to stay at one destination as long as possible; see and do everything in as few trips as possible. And while you’re there, why not visit some other places nearby, too? If you don’t need to take a flight to get them, even better! Opt for a train, a cruise, or even a rideshare program.
5. Purchase Carbon Offsets to Reduce Your Impact
If you are wondering how paying extra money for your flight can possibly benefit the ozone layer, listen in! This action is a lot like donating to your favorite charities, but you can do it at the same moment that you book your flight.
Many airlines are now offering this option, so pause before you say “no.” Carbon offsets are money that is collected and poured back into the environment. It’s a valid retribution move for countering the impact you leave behind when you fly.
Carbon offsets are used for a variety of projects like planting trees, installing solar energy, or offering better renewable energy resources to impoverished nations. Programs vary widely, and it’s important to do your research first before committing, so you know exactly where your money is going.
How much you pay is often determined by estimating your personal carbon footprint. The recipe takes into account how often and how far you fly, if you choose economy seats, if you bought a direct flight, how often you check luggage, and so on. While buying a carbon offset doesn’t excuse you from the environmental impact you make when you fly, it can better educate you on the flight choices you make so you travel in more sustainable ways.
If you don’t love the options or rates offered by the airline, consider setting aside your own offset fund and donating it independently to a conservation charity of your choice.
So, now that you know how to reduce your environmental impact when you fly, where will you go next?