Minimize the environmental impact of air travel to make the earth happier and healthier

It hurts to admit this, but jet-setting abroad is anything but sustainable – even if you are flying to a turtle conservation project in Costa Rica.

To put it in numbers we all understand, the average U.S. citizen drives between 10,000 to 15,000 miles on an annual basis. The carbon footprint we leave after one year of car cruising is almost the same as one return flight from New York to Hawaii.


As a company that relies heavily on planes for both business and pleasure, encouraging others to quit air travel or choosing to do so ourselves doesn’t feel like a viable solution.

So, how can we minimize the environmental impact of flying without giving up air travel altogether?

Here are a few easy and practical ways you can integrate sustainability into your flight itinerary:


1. Assess the environmental commitment of your favorite airlines

Thanks to the social rise in environmental awareness, with more consumers holding businesses accountable to creating sustainability-driven policies, airlines are feeling the pressure to reduce their carbon footprint.

The most eco-friendly airlines around the world are onboarding everything from green design and waste-reduction programs to sustainable food options and opportunities for travelers to opt into carbon offset schemes.

Resources like Greenopia, an organization that leverages multiple data points to assess the environmental impact of local businesses, organizations and service providers, strive to help consumers make greener decisions in everyday life; air travelers included.

In 2012, Greenopia declared that United and Virgin America and were the top two greenest airlines in the United States.

While Virgin America took the title for most sustainable airline overall, and has been applauded for it’s younger, fuel-efficient aircrafts and thorough carbon offset plans, in 2017 United stole first place and was awarded Eco Airline of the Year by Air Transport World

If you want to do your own research, many airlines are publicizing specifics about their environmental policies online. Fly with Alaska? Read up on their sustainability commitment here. Interested in what American Airlines are doing? This will help you assess their policies.

2. Drop a few pounds (from your luggage!)

This is music to our ears as we have a dislike of hauling around excessive luggage.

However, it’s not all happy days. This also means carefully screening what souvenirs are brought back for the return flight. The life-sized replica of a fuzzy llama or a turtle keychain?

But the llama is just so FUZZY.

Regardless of how you minimize your luggage weight, it can make a surprisingly big difference on the sustainability scale.

On a typical aircraft en route from Sydney to London, for example, an extra 4.5 pounds per passenger equates to a total of 3.72 barrels of jet fuel being burnt. That's huge!


3. Create less waste

From the plastic water bottles to individually packaged plane food, airplanes and airports fill up fields of rubbish.

Luckily, there are simple ways to create sustainable (and healthier) habits while traveling.

  • Avoid travel-sized products and invest in reusable containers. In the long run, it’s actually a cheaper option.
  • Bring along your own water bottle. We like this one. You can refill it along the way and avoid spending the extra dollars.
  • Buy or bring real food and say no to the plastic-filled tray they offer you on the plane. It’s full of suspicious chemicals anyway.


4. Boycott first class and opt for a mother nature upgrade instead

Not only does traveling economy class save you money, it also treats the environment better.

Business and first class seats take up more space, which means less people can fit in the plane. The seats also tend to be more luxurious - in other words, heavier and less fuel-efficient.

While the service and comfort might feel hard to pass up, it’s a simple way to become a more sustainable traveler.


5. The longer you’re gone, the better.

By spending more time in one place, you’re also using less fuel. Less fuel equals less of a negative impact on the environment. Quick trips, for work or play, aren’t the best way to give back to the planet we love so much.

This should definitely be used as a bargaining chip when asking your boss for a more generous vacation package or longer work trip, especially if they live by an environmentally-friendly business model.

Hey, boss, I’m doing it for your children. And your children’s children!


What else can I do?

Organizations like Earth Deeds offer ways you can personally offset your carbon footprint (rather than relying on airlines to do it for you) – giving you the opportunity to “make up” for your flight gas expenditure by contributing to other social and environmental missions around the world.

Whether you donate to a global sustainability project, or volunteer your time developing the project in-country, Earth Deeds explore unique ways you can make the most of your trip abroad, and feel better about the long flight over.

You can often choose which cause to support, so pick something that matters to you!

While these tips aren’t necessarily the be-all and end-all solution to the detrimental impact of air travel, they help. Shaping broader social trends starts with you, the consumer. Change your behavior, we’ll change ours, and together, we can change the world. Happy, and more sustainable, travels!

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