By Emma Goldrick
We live in a strange and transformative era. Never before have we been so interconnected and technologically advanced, and yet so deeply at risk of losing everything we’ve achieved.
Our world will never cease to be globally intertwined, which is why we need to rewrite the playbook of the world’s biggest industries. In the discussion of environmental sustainability, the onus is placed on the government and corporations to innovate accordingly, however, it’s through individual collective action that we can lobby broader systemic changes.
Travelling at a time of increased global mobility and environmental instability means we can’t underestimate our own individual responsibility in making greener decisions. Making travel more sustainable is not a complicated phenomenon, it just requires that people recognise the causation of their decisions. Environmental activist Greta Thunberg publicly opted for sea-travel rather than air travel, in an attempt to reduce her personal carbon emission footprint. But for those who have no choice but to fly when they travel internationally, here’s some things you can keep in mind.
Do You Need to Fly?
The foremost consideration that should be made with air travel is whether it is necessary, or if the destination is accessible via another greener means. Royal Dutch Airlines released a statement urging people to only opt for air travel if necessary. Understandably, plane travel can be unavoidable for people wanting to travel overseas from Australia. However, it doesn’t hurt to challenge yourself and reconsider your internal travel options. Train travel, in places such as Europe, is an excellent way to reduce your time in the air and gain an entirely different experience. On-the-ground travell is the greener option, but it’s also an opportunity to immerse yourself within the culture and engage in a truly enriching experience.
While it’s often viewed as a temporary and removed act, carbon offsets are a way the individual can neutralise their emissions on an aircraft. Airlines such as EasyJet, Qantas and British Airways have made pledges to become carbon neutral through offset programs in the coming years. Carbon Offset programs are often critiqued as ‘band-aid solutions,’ however, it is a more environmentally conscious action than complete inaction. And airlines such as Qantas use their carbon offsets to fund environmentally-driven projects both domestically and internationally.
Airlines are often criticised for their inability to act in a transparently when it comes to being greener, so here’s what it looks like for an airline to take environmental considerations into account.
Upgrade fleets: The older the aircraft the more environmentally damaging the make up the plane normally is. Newer aircraft are fitted with more environmentally conscious features, such as winglets.
Environmental programs: Environmentally framed programs must be accountable and transparent in order to prove to the consumer that it is not simply greenwashing. So, this includes showing customers how programs such as carbon emission offset schemes do what they state to do.
Fittings and materials: This can include aircraft that are fitted with certain considerations in mind—carbon fibre seating, for example.
Plastic consumption: it’s important to consider the excessive single-use plastic present on aircraft during mealtime. Airlines like Etihad have pledged to reduce single-use plastics by 80% by 2022.
alternativeairlines.com allows users to search flights through filters like ‘plastic-free flights’ and ‘Eco-Friendly Airlines’.
It is estimated that up to 50% of an aeroplane’s emissions are released in taxing, take-off and landing. Therefore, it’s more environmental to choose a non-stop flight over travel that requires multiple stopovers. Environmental analysis has found that flying during the day is another way to lower air travel emissions. The David Suzuki Foundation discovered that the plane’s contrails can reflect sunlight away from the earth and therefore at night the contrails trap heat the would otherwise have escaped.
The decisions made in the aircraft also have drastically different environmental impacts. A study conducted by the World Bank has discovered that sitting in first class can have a carbon footprint nine times greater than economy passengers. It is also important to pack lightly—the lighter your baggage, the less weight on the plane and subsequently less fuel is burnt.