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How to Travel Green
05/11/2009
by: Lissa Coffey

How to Travel Green -- Across the Neighborhood, or Across the World
 
By Jeff McIntire-Strasburg
 
We’ve all got places to go: work, the farmers market, yoga class, that idyllic little cottage in the Greek islands. Each time we make one of these trips, we also make choices about how much pollution (greenhouse gases and others) we’re willing to emit in order to complete our trip. Whether you’re heading to the other side of town, or the other side of the world, you’ve got a decision to make and that decision holds consequences for all of us.
 
1.) Traveling Locally
The Standard Option: Jump in the car.
The Consequences: On average, burning a gallon of gasoline creates 20 pounds of carbon dioxide; the average car emits for 6-9 tons of CO2 a year. And that's only one kind of pollution that spews from the tailpipe.
 
Your Other Choices: 
 
Public transportation: With last year's record-breaking gas prices, public transportation use has soared in the US. Using the bus or light rail doesn't just cut the amount of pollution you contribute; it can also save you money! 
 
Walking or biking: Why not get a little exercise while you're running your errands or heading to work? Making the shift from you car to your feet or your bike can help you cut your environmental impact, and your transportation costs. 
 
Carpooling: If the bus or the bike isn't a viable option, check into sharing rides, or regular errands, with neighbors.
 
2.) Traveling Regionally or Nationally
The Standard Options: Road trip! Or, booking a flight. Flying, however, really racks up the pollutants: according to the Union of Concerned Scientists' Getting There Greener report, a wide-body jet can emit 100 pounds of CO2 for every mile traveled.
 
Your Other Choices: 
 
The Bus: According to both UCS and Environmental Defense Fund, the bus/ motor coach is your best green option for traveling. 
 
The Train: Train travel is your next best option. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that “in 2005, Amtrak consumed 17 percent and 21 percent less energy per passenger-mile than airlines and cars, respectively.” While Amtrak can be slow, it's a great way to see the country in relative comfort. 
 
The Plane: If you must fly, go coach: according to UCS, first-class seats take up twice the space of economy seats (don't we all know that!), so you cut your own carbon footprint in half.
 
Business travelers: Is traveling really necessary? Phone and video conferencing use energy, but not even remotely the amount of travel.

3.) Traveling Internationally
 
The Standard Option: Book a flight.
 
Your Other Choices:
 
The Ship: While the cruise industry has taken a beating in recent years for a variety of unsustainable practices, it also seems to be cleaning up its act. Or, if you're looking for something really different, you might try booking a berth on a cargo ship. While the information about passenger ship travel is a bit spotty, ships in general are winners on the greenhouse gas emissions front when compared to flying (though it's definitely going to take longer to get where you're going).
 
We all make choices when we've got somewhere to go. Time is precious, and we all expect some level of convenience.  If we can start to figure our environmental impact into the equation, we can regularly make choices that get us where we need to go while maintaining a lighter footprint on the Earth.

Ready to save the planet? Post your green intent and blog about your green successes and struggles, tagging your posts "greener life." We may feature your post in this series!

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog, a co-founder and former Senior Editor of Green Options Media, and a former writer at Treehugger.

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