(this article is a guest post by Emily Folk of Conservation Folks). 

Have you ever thought about the environmental impact of even one person taking a flight? If you think about the fuel needed to get a plane in the air and the number of planes flying around the world each year, you might get a little dizzy trying to come up with ways to minimize your carbon footprint from flying.

Even for a short flight, jet fuel burns off an incredible amount of CO2 that damages the environment. For every one mile that a plane travels, they produce 53.3 pounds of carbon dioxide. That means that by the year 2050, 43 gigatonnes of airplane pollution will be warming the earth.

Can’t picture what a gigaton is? It’s not a commonly used number, so not many people understand just how large it is. Imagine the weight of a hundred million African elephants or six million blue whales. Then multiply that by 43.

So how can you offset your carbon footprint from air travel?

Here’s comprehensive list of solutions to minimize your carbon footprint from flying.

1. Try to Fly Less

This is a given, considering air travel is currently at a rate of 60,000 flights per day. Whenever possible, try to travel longer distances on land by public transport, such as train, bus, or carpooling services like blablacar. This may mean flying into Europe and taking trains throughout, instead of taking multiple flights throughout the continent.

2. Invest in Offset Programs

Some airlines have put together offset programs to help ease the conscience of travelers. These programs use just a few extra dollars from consumers and put them toward things like reforestation and conservation.

Delta was the first airline to offer a carbon offsetting program back in 2007 by offering customers the opportunity to choose to support three of The Nature Conservancy’s projects. By donating this program, fliers could offset their flight by funding the planting of trees or forest restoration. Just last year, Delta purchased 30,000 carbon offsets on Earth Day to join in on their program.

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JetBlue is another company to help curb climate change through an offset program with carbonfund.org. After nine years, the airline saved 1.7 billion pounds of CO2 from being released and preserved nearly 500,000 acres of Brazilian rainforest. Consumers helped JetBlue make positive changes happen for the Eearth instead of just hurting the Eearth through carbon dioxide emissions.

While offset programs can help, like in the case of Delta and JetBlue, they are not commonly known among consumers. Based on a recent study, there was a lack of awareness about carbon offsetting found in the general population. In addition to these programs, which can only grow more popular with time given how the topic of climate change is such a hot button issue, there has been a plan made for overall progress in reducing carbon emissions.

The International Civil Aviation Organization is part of the United Nations, and they put together a plan to direct international efforts towards reducing CO2 emitted specifically by plane. This plan is called the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, and by the year 2035, it will increase individual participation to 70 percent.

3. Lower Those Shades

At the beginning of each flight, flight attendants will go over safety rules and general guidelines for how to have the safest and more enjoyable flight possible. Sometimes that means they’ll walk around and advise passengers to lower the shades on their window. 

By closing the shades on your windows, you help the cabin not heat up as quickly as if all the shades were open. This means that the air conditioner is running less and using less energy, causing less CO2 to be emitted from the plane. You can make a difference even when you’re still on a flight. (Learn more about carbon offsets and removals for travelers here.) 

4. Sit in Coach

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You may never have considered this before, but where you sit for your plane trip changes the impact you have on the environment. Premium seats take up more room which adds to load factor of the plane and ultimately increases the amount of fuel that’s needed to get the plane where it needs to go. By sitting in coach when you travel, you’ll take up less room and encourage the airline’s business model to rethink offering such large seating.

5. Check Fuel Efficiency

It all comes down to how much fuel each plane uses, but what if you think you’ve done everything you can to decrease how much is used? That’s when you should double check the kind of fuel that’s being pumped into the planes you fly on. There are different types of jet fuel available, which means that there are options that are more eco-friendly for airlines to use

Look for airlines that advertise their use of biofuel, which significantly cut the amount of greenhouse gas produced on each flight. You can also do some research to find out where certain airlines fall when ranked for fuel efficiency.

You can check out this guide here for a comprehensive breakdown of major airlines’ sustainability policy and fuel efficiency programs.

student debt while travelingAside from these 5 steps, you also have the option of being more eco-friendly on the ground, because reducing your carbon footprint that’s made during your day-to-day life will still make a difference for the planet. Here’s 5 practical tips to help you travel more sustainably that will get you started with this. 

Even things like paying attention to how inflated your tires are while on a road trip will help cut your carbon emissions down. A collective of tailoring small changes and lifestyle habits can make an overall drastic difference.

It’s often easy for us travelers to look past this, but our travels have a direct impact on climate change. The good news is, we can do something about this if we can commit to flying less, investing in carbon offset programs, sitting in couch, among many other ways we can be eco-friendly on the ground. Because the only way we can keep traveling the world is if we sustain it. 

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Emily is a sustainability writer helping people learn more about eco-tourism and eco-friendly travel.

You can read more of her work on her blog, Conservation Folks.

2 thoughts on “5 Ways to Minimize Your Carbon Footprint from Flying”

  1. This is great advise! I never thought about lowering the shades and I will usually leave them open because I like to look outside. But of course, there is absolutely no use in keeping them open if I’m watching a movie or reading a book and am not paying attention to my surroundings.

    I also try to fly as little as possible. Sometimes, it can’t be avoided, but I think that especially when I’m on a short holiday of maybe one or two weeks, flying breaks up the trip into smaller chunks and makes it feel less enjoyable for me. I would rather stay in one area, properly enjoy it and save the environment by doing so. Not to mention that I generally enjoy overland trips.

    There is not just more environmentally-friendly fuel, there are also airplanes that use less fuel than others. I was on a Lufthansa plane once which was redesigned to use far less fuel than the other planes. I hope that in the long run, airlines and airplane developers can help reduce carbon emissions.

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