July 14th, 2009
What produces less carbon emissions: Driving from Los Angeles to Chicago, or making the same trip by train? That depends — on how many people are in your car. Drive alone, and even moving in an ultra-green hybrid will be less green than taking the train. But carpool with 3 other friends and your per-person carbon footprint will actually be less than a train rider’s — even if you and your friends are in a gas guzzling SUV!
That handy number crunching comes courtesy of Trip Footprint, a new website that lets you easily compare the environmental impact of various modes of travel. Just plug in your start and end cities and the number of travelers to get the numbers displayed in an easy-to-read graph. Above are the L.A.-to-Chicago results for a solo traveler; below are the same results for four travel buddies that stick together.
Trip Footprint gets its numbers from a Union of Concerned Scientists study called Getting There Greener: The Guide to Your Lower-Carbon Vacation, which curious number-crunchers can check out for details on the methodology behind the numbers. Beyond that, Anirvan Chatterjee, co-developer of Trip Footprint, says the site does its best to calculate actual travel distances: “For planes and trains, we try to use realistic airport and Amtrak routings, and take into account the type of plain and train models used on those routes.” In addition, Trip Footprint’s numbers try to take into account the non-CO2 carbon impacts of aviation — something most carbon calculators do, according to Anirvan, but Getting There Greener does not.
Of course, while Trip Footprint’s numbers certainly provide quick, understandable data, figuring out the best way to travel isn’t so cut and dry as Trip Footprint’s bottom-line statements like “You should definitely drive. Even a typical SUV is better than the best plane!” For one, Trip Footprint’s numbers look simply at the carbon cost of the trips themselves, without taking into account the total lifetime costs of each mode of travel.
This means that the travel comparisons don’t include the carbon emissions that are created by, say, building rail lines and stations, expanding airports, or putting in miles and miles of highways that have to be constantly repaved and upgraded. If Trip Footprint included the infrastructure costs of all modes of travel, the data would likely look significantly different.
A recent study, for example, revealed that when those sunk costs are taken into account, flying can actually be even more efficient than taking the train! That study also took into account the fact that in some places, train stations aren’t ideally located — and thus ended up being extra carbon intensive because people had to drive to get to the train station in the first place — and the station has to build large parking structures to accommodate these drivers.
And as advocates of new urbanism and walkable communities will point out, there’s more to consider than simple trip carbon emissions when taking a trip. Supporting a mass transit infrastructure that lets people get rid of their cars altogether will go a long way towards creating pedestrian-friendly communities that foster more neighborly interactions and fewer unsightly freeways and cul-de-sacs.
Still, Trip Footprint certainly gets us thinking more deeply about greening our travel. To me, the application shows exactly how wasteful single-passenger car trips are. I’m ever more determined to find a carpool partner to go anywhere that requires driving!
One thing I’d love to see in the Trip Footprint is the time and money required for each mode of travel. We know it would take a Kenyan runner a whopping 3 years to get from L.A. to Chicago — but the same details aren’t yet included for the more realistic modes of travel. Since the Obama administration’s put its money and support behindnan expanded rail network, I’m hoping that we’ll see faster, cheaper train travel soon — which will get more people out of their cars and onto mass transit simply to save money, time, and stress — thus improving their quality of life while traveling green.
Popularity: 8% [?]
July 8th, 2009
Want green travel that goes beyond LEED-certified chain hotels and flight offsets? Pick up one of the GrassRoutes guides, an urban eco-travel book series put together by Oakland resident Serena Bartlett. These guides reveal the neighborhoody green knowledge that’ll let you get around town like a long-time do-gooder member of the local eco-community.
GrassRoutes: Oakland & Berkeley, for example, clues you into Frugal Foodies, a vegetarian dining society in Berkeley that’s actually accessible to visitors who want to make new foodie friends, and Lakeside Park Gardens, where you can volunteer to help build a sensory garden for the blind. GrassRoutes: Northern California Wine Country of course details the organic wineries in the area — then also lists the many places you can pick cherries in Livermore valley and provides detailed biking directions — including best spots for breaks — to inland Sonoma county.
In its listings, GrassRoutes guides go beyond simple recycling programs and vegetarian options to look at whether a restaurant or store banks locally, is known as a pillar of the community, or employs people reentering workforce. But lest you fear GrassRoutes guides are all do-gooder and little fun, rest assured that you’ll get details on the best local lingerie shop, international grocery stores, green spas, and dive bars — a number of which boast only the faintest of greenishness yet have been awarded the little “community pillar” symbol (cheap drinks will, indeed, make the locals consider your bar indispensable).
Like most travel guides, GrassRoutes guides include a brief history of the area, transportation info, plus sections specific to pet and kid-related activities. Unlike many travel guides, GrassRoutes guides are organized not by neighborhood, but by activity. Brunch places are grouped together, for example — separately from the lunch places, dinner spots, and take-out restaurants, all of which have their own categories.
This unorthodox structure makes the guides actually seem best suited for local residents eager to explore their town — or for newcomers who’ve moved into the neighborhoods. The Oakland & Berkeley guide, for example, includes rather detailed profiles bike shops in the area, big ups welding classes offered at The Crucible, and plugs a tool lending library — information that’s not going to be particularly relevant to a visitor.
And some of the information a visitor might want is missing. The Oakland & Berkeley book’s very bare bones maps will require that you find a separate map or fancy phone to help you get around — and walking tours of neighborhoods will have to be self-concocted since none are included. The extremely brief details lodging options — ghettoized to a few pages at the very back of the book, no less — may also leave you turning to web resources to find a place to stay.
That said, the Northern California Wine Country guide’s more helpful for the average tourist, with expanded lodging info and details on bike-fueled wine tours, olive tours, docent-led winegrowing hike and more. All this means that like the quirks of these NoCal areas the guides cover, the guides too have their quirks, with everything from a short glossary of Oakland lingo (do you know what joog means) to a sociological critique of Napa valley, about which Serena writes:
I am acutely aware of the lack of diversity, the assumption that paradise can be bought, the lavishness enjoyed on the backs of unnamed others. I wriggle and struggle to find something real in this land of façades.
For this kind of personal, locally-oriented, in-depth look at discovering the real place-ness of these tourist spots, pick up a copy of GrassRoutes guides. Both the Oakland & Berkeley and the Northern California Wine Country guides cost $16.95 each; a San Francisco guide is due out next month.
Popularity: 4% [?]
March 17th, 2009
These days, Ireland is becoming known for more than simply verdant hills, green beer and leprechauns. In fact, the country has recently grown quite serious about becoming an eco-friendly destination for tourists. Renowned for its emerald-hued natural beauty which attracts flocks of tourists, Ireland is transforming itself into a country that is quickly becoming as environmentally green as its renowned, lush countryside.
The Irish government is aware that approximately 80% of tourists to Ireland feel that the country’s pristine environment and scenic landscapes are a “ very important ” factor in their choice of Ireland as a holiday destination, making its efforts to offer greener tourism options all the more important.
For those tempted to pursue a green visit to the Emerald Isle, the country’s tourism organizations make it easy.
When most tourists think of Ireland, thoughts turn to quaint inns and hotels. The good news is that there are a growing number of green options in this very fetching category. To encourage hotels to go green, the country offers Green Hospitality Awards. In 2008, 81 out of the island nation’s 960 hotels were honored with one of the new, but already coveted awards.
Many of these are featured on Greenbox, Ireland’s eco-tourism website. The country also participates in the European Union’s green hotel certification program, the EU Flower Eco-Label. Though the initiative is new, Ireland already boasts eighteen accommodations that have earned the label.
For a stay in a classic Georgian manor home, travelers can book a room at the Necarne Manor. With rolling lawns, woods and gardens and an equestrian center, the Gothic Revival estate is as beautiful as it is green. Guests can bike along a nearby trail to a nearby nature reserve and the inn uses organic, fair trade and locally-produced food, even sourcing compost from the on-site stables.
Those yearning for something edgier can try the yurt-inspired Gyreum Eco-Lodge which might best be described as über-green in an Al Gore-on-steroids kind of way. Wind turbines power geothermal heating, solar panels provide hot water, traditional toilets connect to a reed bed, and there’s even an outside compost toilet. Rain from the enormous roof is collected and used for showers and toilets.
For a green tour of Ireland’s, well, greenery, book with Ireland Eco Tours which visits well and lesser-known sites, all from the comfort of a vegetable oil-powered bus.
Even Dublin’s charming lanes and streets are turning green. Completely novel and yet to hit the roads in the U.S., Ecocabs offer Dublin residents and tourists a green alternative to traditional taxis. A fleet of modern passenger tricycles operating a free shuttle service daily from April 1st-December 31st, Ecocabs promote fitness while reducing noise, congestion and carbon emissions.
Failte, the Irish tourism agency, is so committed to greening that it has added an environment section to its web site. The section includes an environmental action plan and carbon strategy. The agency is currently working on environmental standards for conference centers and golf courses and has already reviewed environmental practices in the tourism sector. Talk about your transparent government, a copy of the report with recommendations is on its website.
But it’s not just leprechauns and tourist agencies that are green in Ireland—the Irish are pursuing as many green initiatives for their own benefit. May 22-24 is the annual National Greener Ireland fair which includes information on carbon footprint reduction, energy preservation, and organic produce.
On a grander scale, Sustainable Energy Ireland is a one-stop source for information about grants, saving energy, education, and business approaches to adopting a sustainable energy approach.
According to the Irish tourist agency, “The future of Irish tourism is inextricably linked to the quality of the environment. [The] scenic landscapes, coastline, rivers and lakes and cultural heritage are the bedrock upon which Irish tourism has been built.”
The efforts of the Irish to ensure their environment and tourism thrive are more than mere blarney. While the existence of leprechauns might be debated, the efforts of the Irish to go green are as real as the green hills of Ireland itself.
Popularity: 2% [?]
March 16th, 2009
Spring break, viewed by many a college student as an excuse for excess, is upon us. From air travel and resorts to skiing and cruise ships, it’s all about fun. So what’s an eco-minded person, college-aged or otherwise, to do?
Choose a destination
With the economy in the doldrums, most folks are probably looking to save a bit of cash this Spring Break. If that sounds like you, you can probably save the most money by choosing somewhere close to home. This will also serve the purpose of reducing your environmental impact as well – the closer you are to where you’re going, the less carbon you will emit in getting there.
If you’re looking for a trip that might be a little further ashore, but that is a little more interesting than mai-tai’s on the beach (though that does sound REALLY good right now) consider ecotourism. What does that mean? Though some definitions vary, The Nature Conservancy has joined the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in adopting the following definition of ecotourism:
“Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”
Who knew that you could accomplish so much through Spring Break? It goes to show that you have to pillage and plunder Cancun to have a good time. For more on ecotourism, check out our post, Eco-Travel Part 3: Ecotourism.
Getting there is half the battle
So once you’ve decided on your destination, you’ll have to get there. Most likely, this travel represents the greatest environmental impact for any Spring Breaker. Air travel, in particular, is harsh on the environment, so check out alternative modes of transportation – especially if you’re not straying too far from home.
Just you and a pal or two? Consider driving. But before you go, make sure that your tires are properly inflated, and that you follow the rules for driving smart. According to StarDrivers, an organization dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles, those rules include:
• Accelerating smoothly and not mashing the gas pedal
• Braking smoothly and not stopping and starting abruptly
• Observing traffic patterns ahead and not rushing to stop signs or traffic lights
• Coasting as often as possible rather than keeping your foot on the gas pedal
• Maintaining a responsible constant speed and not tailgating or jockeying for position
• Carefully changing lanes and not overtaking on the right on highways
• Using cruise control on flat terrain but not in hilly or mountainous areas
• Avoiding lines, idling or waiting with the car running
• Controlling highway speeds and speeding
• Maintaining your vehicle
Following these rules will reduce your fuel consumption, positively impacting both the environment and your wallet.
Going somewhere with a big group? Look into chartering a bus instead of flying. You may even be able to make it a party on wheels (depending on how much you have to tip the driver). Trains are even better, environmentally-speaking, and can provide a unique experience.
Resorts and hotels
If you’re planning on staying in a hotel or resort upon arrival, there are a few things to consider when you book your stay, since these facilities can have a huge impact on the environment. Just think of all of the electricity, water, and food that go into making your stay comfortable!
It’s worth looking for an eco-friendly resort or hotel. For starters, look for a hotel certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, a system designed and managed by the non-profit US Green Building Council. The number of LEED certified locations is on the rise, as hotels look to lure eco-aware travelers and save money on operating costs at the same time. You can also check out our green hotel directory for great hotels across the U.S.
Oh, and by the way, were you raised in a barn? Your mother’s not there to pick up after you (which is part of the point of Spring Break, after all), so make sure that you turn off the lights and TV when you leave your room and reuse those towels. It’s not just the hotel’s responsibility to save energy and water!
At the Beach
Beach vacations are probably the most popular choice for Spring Break, since everyone is ready for a little sun come spring. A few tips can reduce your enviro-impact during your stay:
• Bring reusable items instead of plastic, which can blow away and end up part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which has been estimated at twice the size of Texas
• Dispose of trash properly
• Use the bathrooms, not the ocean or beach (please!)
• Leave the wildlife alone. They don’t come to your house and poke you with a stick, do they?
• Use any available bridges to avoid trampling sensitive dunes.
Become a better skier
If you’re thinking of strapping on the skis or a snowboard for a wintery adventure this Spring Break, make sure that you look at your destination’s commitment to the environment. Fortunately, the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition does your homework for you (too bad they don’t do English papers). The group provides an environmental scorecard for 10 Western states, covering 83 mountains. The Coalition looks at everything from renewable energy initiatives to the preservation of undisturbed lands. This season’s Top 10 include Aspen Mountain (CO), Buttermilk (CO), and Sundance (UT), while the bottom-dwellers include Copper Mountain (CO), Sun Valley (ID), and Breckinridge (CO).
Whether a floating city often traveling to delicate eco-systems can be considered eco-friendly isn’t really debatable – there’s a negative impact on local environments here. But, at least you can rest assured that the major cruise lines follow strict regulations for disposing of…umm…waste.
But what else is there to consider? Again, if you’re going on a cruise, take personal responsibility for your actions and follow the mantra of hikers to “leave no trace.” Bring your own phosphorous-free, biodegradable soaps and shampoos, pay attention to recycling wherever possible, don’t eat endangered seafood, and don’t throw anything (or anyone!) overboard.
Whatever you do for Spring Break, have fun! Just keep the environment in mind to ensure that you’re not leaving a path of destruction in your wake.
Popularity: 2% [?]