Ways to Shrink Your Carbon Footprint While Traveling

We highlight four ways to be a more sustainable jet-setter

From choosing locally sourced, organic foods to feed your family (and attendees!) to carpooling to work or taking public transit when possible, staying sustainable during our day-to-day can be a challenge. Add in the extra stress of traveling to a new meeting locale in another state or country, and the focus on being environmentally conscious becomes even more complex. But as the United Nations is emphasizing, staying sustainable during our travels is now more important than ever: The organization has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

As the U.N.’s mission states, there are three pillars of sustainable travel: environmentally friendly practices, protecting cultural heritage, and providing social and economic benefits for local communities. Here, we outline four ways you can do just that when en route to your next cross-border meeting or event. 

1. Is Flight the Only Option? 

According to The Guardian, the average London-to-New York flight contributes almost a quarter of a person’s annual emissions––making it the single-largest component of any carbon footprint. Of course, for long journeys, the sky is still your best bet for such trips. But if your destination is accessible by car or train, either of those options might significantly reduce your carbon emissions.

If driving is a possibility, consider carpooling with other colleagues, which consolidates your impact. Bonus points for traveling in one of the “greenest” vehicles possible: Forbes lists the midsize Hyundai Ioniq Electric and the (gasoline-only, but highly efficient) Mitsubishi Mirage as two of their favorites. Once you arrive, consider cycling, walking and public transportation as more energy-efficient ways to travel within the city itself. Aside from the obvious environmental boost, you’ll be seeing the city and local culture firsthand. 

2. Put Away the Plastic

When rushing through the airport to make your flight, nabbing the first water bottle in sight is tempting. But as National Geographic highlights, that convenient way to quench your thirst could be costing nearby sea life and contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is basically a disgusting, swirling pool of plastic-ridden garbage. 

Ditch the disposable plastic bottles in-flight and opt for toting a glass or steel bottle. Most airports nowadays have purified “hydration stations” designed for refilling water bottles. Hesitant to sip the local source? Relatively inexpensive and portable water purification tablets should solve the trick. 

3. Pack Portable Chargers 

Instead of finagling with adapters or getting anxious about when and where you’ll find an outlet at a new venue, pack a portable, solar-powered charger in your suitcase. Fast Company recently spotlighted the Solar Paper, a super-thin model (it’s lighter than an iPhone 6) with tiny solar panels that can slip inside a book or clip onto a bag or backpack. Unlike past, glitch-ridden models, the Solar Paper won’t need to be reset if a cloud passes by. The only downside, of course, is that you need the sun to charge it.

For those times when you won’t be in direct sunlight, opt for a long-lasting portable charger. Digital Trends spotlights the Anker PowerCore II 20,000 ($50) and BlitzWolf Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 Power Bank ($20) as two of its favorites.

4. Fill Up on Local Produce

As The Guardian article emphasized, opting out of eating meat and meat-based products can add up to a roughly 20 percent reduction in a person’s overall carbon impact on the planet––and just cutting out beef (a big contributor to large quantities of methane) can have a significant benefit on its own. 

Environmental benefits aside, reducing meat consumption during your trip might help you align with cultural norms, like the traditional eschewing of beef in Hindu countries, or pork and shellfish in Judaism-practicing communities. And of course, when you stick with fresh local produce, you’ll be helping to contribute to the area’s farms—and to your health as well.