A new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters has found that determining the most ecofriendly mode of transportation isn’t as simple as it seems. There are lots of factors involved in dictating the environmental footprint of your chosen transportation method, the authors say, from the energy involved in maintaining an airport to the greenhouse gases seeping from an SUV’s tailpipe, and boiling it down to tailpipe emissions is a gross oversimplification.
However, few of us have the time, or wherewithal, to become transportation engineers and figure out whether it’s better to travel by bus at 9 a.m. or by plane at 4 p.m., or whether it’s more polluting to deliver gasoline to a bus station or jet fuel to an airport. So pick your favorite travel method, and follow our tips on how to make it greener.
When it comes to fuel consumption, airplanes are the worst, but according to the study, they require a lot less energy to manufacture than trains. And because they’re such a widely used form of transportation, airlines (at least some of them) are investing in biofuels to replace their potently greenhouse-gas–emitting jet fuels.
To green your air travel:
• Find a flying recycler
A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2006 found that most airports and airlines throw away enough aluminum cans to build 58 new 747s, and they throw out an equivalent amount of paper and plastic. Try to find an airline that at least recycles what little bit of food packaging they dole out these days. A few that do are Virgin, Horizon, and Southwest. When it comes to other green practices, Continental and Jet Blue have younger and more fuel-efficient fleets—but they don’t recycle. If you can’t recycle onboard, hold on to your aluminum cans and recycle them when you land.
• Fly nonstop and during the day
Shorter flights don’t reach the same high altitudes as higher flights, and research has shown that the contrails they produce can have a more detrimental impact when it comes to global warming. Likewise, contrails emitted by airplanes at night have a greater warming effect on the planet than contrails emitted during the day, according to a 2006 study published in the journal Nature.
To save some money:
• Know when to book
Airlines update their seat selections three times a day: 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 8 p.m. Book as close to those times as possible to get the best deals.