As the temperature warms up and the vaccination rate continues to climb, travel is at the top of many wish lists this summer. As evidenced by the unofficial kickoff to summer’s record-setting Memorial Day travel, people are craving new adventures and reuniting with loved ones in person.
You might be craving some of this travel yourself. And if you’re part of the 62 percent of Americans that are beginning to feel the effects of climate change, you may feel slightly guilty about the associated carbon emissions with travel. While that’s an understandable feeling, there are opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint while appeasing that travel bug. Even though travel is often the first thing we think of when we think about how we reduce our impacts on climate change, it’s not the only source of emissions. In fact, it’s not even usually the biggest.
What is a carbon footprint?
Or, put more simply, let’s ask, “How many Earths would it take if everyone in the world lived the same lifestyle as me?” This website asks a series of personal lifestyle questions that result in the number of Earths that it would take to sustain your own lifestyle if everyone in the world were to be able to adopt the same.
Your result is not meant to shame you—many Americans add up to four total Earths or more. Instead, it will provide a helpful reality check on our privilege and a recognition of small adjustments that we can make to reduce consumption—and therefore reduce your carbon footprint. Some obvious solutions align to the questions that are asked in that Footprint Calculator: Eat less meat, live in an efficient home, fly less, etc… but those may sound like big life adjustments or may not be feasible at all.
And you might be surprised to know that, contrary to popular misconception, remote work and more efficient travel has *not* resulted in a decrease in global carbon emissions We’ve switched to more digital tools, which all require electricity and support from data centers—known energy hogs. We’ve switched to purchasing more items online, which results in an increase in single-use packaging, manufacturing energy, and fuel consumption by delivery vehicles. We’ve been living at home, powering our own individual spaces instead of gathering in larger more efficient spaces together—and unfortunately, while you were paying for your own heat and air conditioning at home, your empty office was still being conditioned and may have been consuming the same amount of energy.
These realities are a bummer, but the beauty of reducing your carbon footprint is that every little step counts – and if we all take those steps, the impact can add up. Instead of committing to 100 percent veganism or buying an electric car, try a few of these ideas during your summer:
- Looking to kick back? Search for Eco-Resorts, Eco-Lodges, and other destinations that talk about sustainability. Of course, talking about it is just the first step. Ask questions about their sustainable practices: How do they reduce plastic waste? Do they have energy reduction measures? What about their efforts to reduce the negative impact on their surrounding community?
- Taking a road trip? Consider more fuel efficient rental cars, try out the ‘eco-mode’ setting in your car, and do your best to reduce the time that the car is idling or carrying around unnecessary weight.
- Flying to a far-away destination? First, consider alternative ways to arrive.Trains, buses, or carpooling are common solutions. Of course, flying is a part of traveling and sometimes trade offs are necessary. There are solutions to minimize the impacts of flying. We’ve suggested purchasing offsets before, and that’s still a great solution. Some airlines offer offsetting options when you purchase your ticket. If you buy these, you’re giving the airline credit for reducing their footprint, which is likely a corporate responsibility goal. If you purchase the offsets on your own, it will likely have a similar environmental impact (depending on the type of offset solution), but the airline and the larger industry may not be able to account for your offset.
- In case you haven’t heard, most experts will say that eating less meat—especially red meat—is better for your body and for the environment. This doesn’t mean you must avoid animal protein forever, unless you choose to do so. It does, however, mean that every ounce of animal protein that you choose to avoid will reduce negative health impacts, such as high cholesterol, and will reduce your carbon footprint… not to mention global water consumption! This summer, try some alternative protein products or research Meatless Monday recipes. Instead of avoiding meat forever, just try to cut it out of a meal here and there.
- Food waste is one of the largest contributors to emissions! When organic matter breaks down, especially in places where it can’t turn back into dirt (like surrounded by plastic in a landfill), it emits gases that drive climate change. Just like going meatless, this is a lifestyle adjustment that doesn’t have to occur all at once: Try to avoid ordering more food than you’re hungry for, even if you have the best intentions for leftovers – and eat your leftovers if you have them! Try to use every part of a fruit, vegetable, or even piece of meat or grain and compost what you can’t use.
- Summer means that many tasty fruits and vegetables are in season. Instead of purchasing everything from your large grocery store, try to substitute some of your favorites with local options from a farmer’s market. Try to pick out the ugliest strawberry, the bruised apple, or the funny-shaped squash… these items will taste the same and you’ll be supporting local farmers while reducing potential food waste!
- Many of us are excited to return to the gym after more than a year doing workouts in our living rooms. The gym is great for supplying equipment, but on days you don’t need any equipment, like going for a run, consider going outside! You won’t be consuming the heavy air conditioning in the facility, and you’ll be getting some fresh air at the same time!
- Working out means sweating. In the summer, most people respond by turning down their air conditioner at home. Take a pause before adjusting your thermostat and consider leaving it a few degrees warmer than you may otherwise. Your body will adjust quickly and you can begin to embrace the feeling of a good sweat!
- Think about your work out process and identify points of unnecessary waste: Substitute your single-use water bottle or energy drink with a reusable bottle and refillable supplements; Look for energy bars that aren’t wrapped in single-use plastic or at least have recyclable packaging; and consider energy efficient equipment when purchasing electronic fitness accessories.
Entertaining & Parties:
- Thankfully, higher vaccination rates have led to the ability to gather indoors with friends and family again. While you’re soaking in reunions, you can avoid soaking in the air conditioning! Even if we can be inside with others again, try to enjoy the outdoors to avoid the need to condition your home. When you are indoors, try out small fans to keep the air circulating and feeling cool. Monitor the outdoor temperature and open up the windows if it’s cooler outside than in!
- Host a sustainable potluck! This could have fun themes like plant-based, 100 percent local, zero waste, or all organic. This can challenge your friends to be creative, use new recipes, and reduce your carbon footprint. Bonus points if you can enjoy the potluck outside without air conditioning!
- Meet in the middle and travel together! Consider the distance and method of friends and family’s travel when you make plans. Take advantage of trying out a new restaurant or visiting a new beach that is centrally located or along a public transportation line to reduce everyone’s travel. Not only will this make the trip more enjoyable, but it will reduce the gathering’s carbon emissions while you do it!
During the summer, travel, food waste, and air conditioning are some of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions. Take the opportunity to embrace a ‘new normal’ by adopting some of the habits above—or others—that reduce your carbon footprint and the amount of resources we consume collectively. Embrace and protect the beauty of summer’s sun, fresh air, ability to travel, and the reunions that we have been craving!