Friday, May 29, 2009

The Low Down on (Green) Air Travel

It's no secret that air travel is hard on the environment; but it's also one of the key ingredients to a robust global economy.

The World Intellectual Property Organization says that air travel accounts for 35 percent of goods traded internationally (by value) and over 40 percent of international tourism. On the upside, aviation generates 5.5 million jobs and contributes over $400 billion to global GDP. On the downside, aviation also accounts for roughly 13 percent of global transport emissions and 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

So, what's a business traveler to do?

For starters, if you don’t have to fly, then stay at the home office and teleconference. You’ll save time and money as well as the planet. If you absolutely have to be there, though, then there are a couple of options:

(1) Take the trip but buy carbon offsets from one of several organizations, such as:

Note: ClimateBiz recently published an excellent article about carbon offsets. Long story short, they “represent the act of reducing, avoiding, destroying or sequestering the equivalent of a ton of greenhouse gas (GHG) in one place to ‘offset’ an emission taking place somewhere else.” Not everyone is convinced this is the best way to go, however, which brings us to the next option.

(2) You can opt to take the mode of transport which emits the least. According to Planet Green, busses emitted the least amount of carbon dioxide on long-distance trips, followed by trains, cars, and airplanes (trains emitted less CO2 than busses on shorter trips). In other words, virtually any mode of transportation beats airplanes, which emit carbon dioxide, water vapor, nitrogen oxides, and methane at higher altitudes, contributing to what is known as radiative forcing.

(3) Last but not least, you can try to find the commercial airline that has done the most to create the smallest environmental footprint. Greenopia recently came out with a ranking of the 10 greenest commercial airlines, which included:

1. Virgin
2. Continental
3. Horizon
4. Jet Blue
5. Southwest
6. Northwest
7. Delta
8. American
9. United
10. US Airways

Currently, there are several ideas on the drawing board for making air travel more eco-friendly, including newer, more fuel efficient airplane designs; the use of bio-fuels, fuel cells, and even solar power for air travel; and more efficient air traffic controlling practices to reduce time circling in the air or idling on the ground. Airbus recently announced five finalists in its “Fly Your Ideas” contest, whose concepts ranged from utilizing a more eco-efficient cabin design to flying in V formation to reduce energy consumption.

Whether or not any of these ideas fly, they are fuel for thought. So, which one do you like the best?


Patricia Stoltey said...

No. 1 on my list is staying home. Not on my list at all is bus travel. I tried that a few times, from northern Colorado to central Illinois. Very unpleasant experience, and worse for older folks than for younger ones.


K. B. Keilbach said...

I agree, Patricia. My grandmother used to enjoy taking the bus across country every summer; but that was in kinder, gentler times. My husband works for Amtrak now; and that's kind of fun for one- or two-day trips, especially if you get a sleeper.