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Traveling by train lets you enjoy the scenery while lowering your emissions. Stock photo
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Try sustainable travel

At the end of the year, with the holiday season in full swing, many of us will be traveling to see friends and family. 

But what are the best ways to minimize our environmental impact while we do so?

We know that transportation and tourism can be one of the biggest non-industrial contributors to our carbon footprint, totaling around 8% of global emissions. So if we want to make a genuine difference ourselves, this is a good place to start.

The Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy says the benefits of sustainable transportation include:

• Cost savings on fuel and vehicles

• Reduced carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, resulting in less air pollution 

• Job creation from increased demand for vehicle and battery manufacturing and fuel production

• Improved accessibility to reliable, affordable transportation options for all Americans 

• Enhanced energy security and independence, with less reliance on foreign sources.

What does that mean in practical terms? Here are a few things you can take into consideration when planning your travel this year.

Take the train 

As a general rule, planes and cars are the least efficient mode of transportation, in terms of environmental impact. 

So if your destination isn’t too distant, consider traveling by train. That way, you can enjoy the scenery while lowering your emissions.

If you do need to drive, see if using an electric, hybrid or smaller model car is possible. And if there’s no choice but to fly, it’s worth researching to see if you have a choice between airlines. Opt for the one with the lowest carbon footprint or the best carbon offset policy.

Calculate/offset  

It can be tricky to work out the greenest travel option, particularly if you need to fly. Thankfully, there are a number of carbon footprint calculators available on the web. These consider the average carbon emissions of various travel types and allow you to plan a trip with the lowest impact. 

They all do these calculations slightly differently though, so it’s worth checking out a couple of them to get a better overall picture.

Another complementary option is to consider offsetting your travel carbon footprint. 

Once you’ve calculated your carbon footprint, search “carbon offsetting” and donate the equivalent of your footprint to a scheme that aims to reduce the impact of your travel by an equivalent amount.

Green lodging

If you need to use accommodations other than the spare rooms of family and friends, try to stay in places that use renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies where possible. 

Another simple option is just to choose to stay in accommodations that are no bigger than you need; that way you waste less energy on electricity, heating and cooling.

Take reusable items

This is a simple one: When you’re packing for your trip, avoid single-use plastics and packaging for snacks, drinks, toiletries and anything else you need to bring. 

The less waste you leave behind, the better.

Good examples

This year, even Santa Claus is going green. 

He’s reducing the amount of plastic he uses in packaging, and we’ve heard reports that he is developing an electric, rechargeable sleigh for use when his reindeer get too tired. 

Until then, he’s experimenting with enteric methane inhibitors, which are feed additives that prevent the formation of methane in the gut, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases the reindeer tend to expel into the atmosphere. 

Good work, Santa!

A.J. van de Ven is president of Carlsbad-based Calsense and a board member of the nonprofit EcoLife Conservation.

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