Five Ways To Improve Your Environmental Impact If You Fly Often

Climate change, and the environmental impact travelling has on it, is rightly starting to command the level of attention it deserves.

However, even with the growing worry about rising temperatures, of which air travel is a big contributor, the desire to travel is not waning. In fact, it’s very much on the rise, and I personally can see why. The world is incredible, and there’s so much to see and experience out there.

However, that being said, a standard long haul flight, one way, has as much of an impact as you taking nearly 900 ten minute showers, watching TV for 920 days in a row, or 18% of the average yearly energy consumption of a Dutch household.  

The only bigger impact you can have personally, than choosing to fly less, is if you choose to have only one or no children, or you give up your car.

Couple this with the startling statistic that right now, only 20 percent of the population has ever been on a plane, it is clear there’s space for a continuous boom in travel. As the 80% begin to experience their first adventures in the sky, emissions and impact will rise.

I personally can hold up my hand to say that my personal footprint when it comes to plane travel is shameful. Thanks to a combination of business travel, living abroad and personal vacations, I have taken more flights in the last five years’ than I would like to count. There’s even a new word being coined in Sweden for this feeling of shame, flygskam. It roughly translates as either “flying shame” and is used to describe the increasing trend in Sweden of the shame felt by frequent flyers.

I definitely have been feeling a lot of flygskam over the last few years, and it’s getting worse.

Clearly, the best option to reduce your impact is to just not fly at all. In fact, many environmentalists argue that carbon offsetting is just a way to paint over the cracks, and doesn’t reverse the damage in the long run.

However, right now, I can’t just choose to give up plane travel and go cold-turkey. Unlike other personal environmental concessions, reducing air travel has a disproportionately high impact. Give up meat and you eat from a different menu. Give up a car, you walk or take the train. Give up flying and I may never see some members of my family, friends or be able to carry out a job I love effectively.

Therefore, this constant awareness of my impact led me to research how I could best mitigate some of this, and over the years’ I have come up with a series of standards I follow when it comes to travel.

One – Always choose eco-flights and efficient airlines

When booking your flight, try to fly with the airlines who have a strong environmental record. You can use the atmosfair Airline Index 2018 to help you understand where airlines fare when it comes to efficiency. For short haul, Air France and Jet2 airlines fare well. For longer haul, try TUI or KLM.

Even better, flight comparison sites such as SkyScanner use flags such as a ‘greener choice’ label which will highlight flight options that emit less CO2.

Two – Fly economy where possible

It’s not rocket science that the more people there is on a plane, the less an impact you will have per person for that flight. Considering business and first class tickets usually take up more space, and resources than economy tickets, it’s clear that choosing budget is best when it comes to the planet.

Photo by Jason Toevs on

Three – Always invest in carbon offsetting

Although many argue that carbon offsetting is nothing in comparison to not taking the trip in the first place, it definitely does more than choosing to ignore your impact overall. It still surprises me how little people actually do this when flying.

For every trip I take, I calculate my impact using either the built-in calculators you can use when booking, or this fantastic one from My Climate. According to their site, my last roundtrip to Tromso that I took in November would have emitted 0.954 t of CO2. They recommend that because of this, I contribute at least £25 towards a carbon-offset project in a developing and newly industrialised country.

You can choose the projects directly on their site, or you can use other providers such as Gold Standard or atmosfair to do so. Just ensure when you are choosing a provider, you do your research.

I recommend the above three based on the certification they have, the way you can trace the impact and the way they audit and publish their findings on a regular basis.

If easier, you can now offset your carbon footprint for most flights when you are booking them. I do this for the airlines which score well in the efficiency index, and who are transparent about what your money goes towards. For those like Ryanair, who has had their scheme referred to as a ‘green gimmick’ by experts, I prefer to do the offsetting myself at this time.

Four – Reduce short-haul flights

For shorter trips, consider taking a different means of transport where available to you. Yes, it’s likely going to take longer, but surely that’s a fair compromise you are willing to make if you consider the impact it can have.

Grab a book and settle in for a long train ride, winding through the countryside on route to your next destination. Consider car-sharing apps, buses and other means.

Often, the journey can be as much of a trip as the destination itself.

Five – Change your lifestyle

If you really will struggle to reduce your plane travel, think about other ways you can change your lifestyle instead.

Work out your own individual footprint here Then make some changes based on this. Personally, we have chosen to go without a car and rely on public transport for the last fourteen months, we rarely use internal heating anymore and layer up, we eat locally and sustainably where we can, often plant based, and our biggest choice has to be our commitment to avoid over or unnecessary consumption of material goods. A minimal life has many benefits!  

We are nowhere near perfect, and there’s a lot of people around us doing incredible and inspiring things on a much greater level, but we are conscious and we are trying.

How do you reduce your travel impact? What choices are you making?

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