You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

From carbon offsetting to daytime journeys – 10 ways to 'fly greener'

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 12/09/2019 Chris Leadbeater

© Getty A special message from MSN: 

Now is the time to take urgent action to protect our planet. We’re committed to stopping the devastating effects of the climate crisis on people and nature by supporting Friends of the Earth. Join us here.

There are many manglings of the English language which might be regarded as oxymorons (or contradictions-in-terms, to use a less weighty phrase). "Random order" is one; "the only choice" another. "Growing smaller" is a third; "open secret" a fourth.

And "environmentally-friendly flying" would certainly count as a fifth. Not least in the current hour - when climate change is an increasingly central part of the conversation. 

The aviation industry accounts for around two per cent of global carbon emissions. This, you might argue, is not a huge amount - certainly not compared to energy supply (26 per cent), or agriculture (14 per cent).

But equally, the flights you take over the course of a year are likely to form the lion's share of your carbon output. For example, a single journey by air between London and Dubai - a distance of some 3,400 miles - makes you personally responsible for the release of 0.44 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; an equivalent emission to 7.5 per cent of the average home's annual electricity use, or the charging of 56,000 smartphones. Make that a return trip - and if you are heading to the Middle East, you will probably need to - and you are up to 15 per cent of annual household electricity consumption, and 112,000 phones plugged into the mains until their batteries reach full whack. That's a lot of phones. Little wonder, perhaps, that the word flygskam ("flight shame") has entered the Swedish vocabulary, and slipped across into the British lexicon, in the last few months.

While Britain has not yet arrived at Sweden's level of introspection on the environmental effects of aviation, the question of how much flying is too much flying is likely to become more and more prevalent as fears over - and attempts to combat - climate change intensify.

So what to do? The obvious answer is to give up your wings, exit the airport and never leave the ground again. But such an idea is neither practical nor ever likely to be appealing in the busy modern world - even if we did all have the willpower and the spare 15 days to go The Full Greta Thunberg and travel from the UK to New York on the deck of a yacht. In reality, if you truly want to shrink your travel-related carbon footprint, you will need to take smaller and more plausible steps.

What and how? The following suggestions may all have their merits...

© Getty

Sign up for a carbon offsetting scheme

Carbon offsetting - the concept of compensating the planet for the greenhouse gases which are emitted as a result of your actions - has been at the forefront of the climate-change conversation for more than a decade. It has both its proponents and its detractors.

On the one hand, investing your money in, for example, a project which plants trees - those helpful entities which filter carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen in response - is a neat, even romantic way to pay off the environmental debt accrued by flying. On the other, critics point out - not unreasonably - that carbon offsetting is not the same as avoiding doing damage in the first place. Those who disparage such projects the most tend to argue that, even if offsetting schemes really can counter large emissions of carbon dioxide with equal amounts of oxygen (the success of such schemes is hard to quantify, and a matter of debate), they can also be decried as sticking-plasters for western tourists who refuse to alter their travel habits.

Watch: Prince Harry Reveals 7-Year-Old Boy Inspired His Green Travel Initiative: 'He Tugged on My Shirt' (People)

What to watch next
UP NEXT
UP NEXT
The ethical tour company Responsible Travel (01273 823 700; responsibletravel.com) is particularly scathing on this subject. "Carbon offsets sum up all that is wrong with our approach to tourism and the climate crisis," it argues on its website. [Carbon offsetting schemes] perpetuate the idea this crisis does not prevent unlimited growth with old and highly polluting technology, [and] shift the moral responsibility for carbon reduction to someone else (not the type of behaviour we need to encourage)."

But wherever you stand on this debate, it can also be said that the carbon offsetting "industry" (surely another oxymoron) has developed considerably in the last decade - and that those wishing to dabble in it can now rely on tighter regulations and stamps of greater quality.

Most of note here, perhaps, is The Gold Standard (goldstandard.org), a regulatory body, set up in 2003, which audits environmental initiatives according to the rules laid down in the Kyoto Protocol (the 1992 United Nations agreement which governs international action against climate change) and the 2016 Paris Agreement. To receive its rubber-stamp, projects have to provide social and community benefits - usually in developing countries - in addition to carbon offsetting measures. Such schemes include the likes of the Breathing Space Improved Cooking Stoves (ICS) Programme (see carbonfootprint.com/gs_india_cookstoves.html) - which attempts to provide energy-efficient cooking facilities to homes in under-privileged parts of India.

© Getty

Fly with airlines which have embraced carbon offsetting

As of the last decade, a growing number of airlines offer in-house carbon offsetting schemes - facilities which let a passenger pay a small environmental surcharge on the cost of their tickets, with the money subsequently being donated to suitable projects.

Of course, following this path is easier said than done - not least because different airlines take different approaches. UK travellers, for example, are somewhat hamstrung by the fact that British Airways does not currently offer a carbon offsetting scheme to passengers (although it has supported carbon-reduction projects in Kenya and Scotland - see ba.com/information/about-ba/csr/corporate-responsibility). Nor do American Airlines or Emirates, at time of writing, allow their customers to off-set - although American states that "we are constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to reduce both costs and emissions" (and lists ways that it has done so on its website), while Emirates says that it is reducing the size of its footprint "by employing advanced technology throughout our group, including in aircraft and engines".

Other airlines, though, have been more proactive on carbon emissions. Qantas, for example, has an official offsetting scheme (see qantasfutureplanet.com.au). Lufthansa, meanwhile encourages passengers to "make a voluntary donation to climate protection through our independent partner, myclimate, and offset your flight's carbon footprint". The website in question (lufthansa.myclimate.org) takes the details of your flight, and calculates the cost of offsetting it. In the case of a return journey between London and Munich - 1,180 miles and 0.198 tons of carbon dioxide - the bill comes to £4 (in total).

© Getty

Book a holiday which has built-in carbon offsetting

Again, being able to offset the carbon emissions created by your holiday depends entirely on your destination - but, increasingly, travel companies are making their environmental stance a crucial part of their pitch for customers.

Take Original Travel (020 7978 7333; originaltravel.co.uk) as an example. The London-based luxury tour operator has committed to offsetting not just the emissions from flights taken by its clients (and its staff) - but also the related effects of ground transportation and hire-car journeys. This is built into the price of a holiday, rather than being an optional extra charge. Similarly, Scandinavian Travel (0207 199 6015; scandinavian-travel.co.uk), which specialises in skiing breaks to Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, has been selling carbon-neutral holidays since 2017 - offsetting emissions via reforestation schemes in the UK and the Amazon, and an energy-efficient stoves project in Kenya.

____________________________________________________

More on our Empowering the Planet campaign:

Make a donation to help our cause

Sign our petition to help prevent plastic in the ocean

Learn how you can ask UK parliament to stop climate change

____________________________________________________

Fly on newer aircraft

While there are exceptions to the rule, generally, newer aircraft are less harmful than those which have been lumbering across the skies for the last decade.

Earlier this year, easyJet came top of a poll of airlines taking a proactive stance on cutting carbon emissions, partly because of the introduction of newer, less polluting planes to its fleet. Specifically, the low-cost carrier has started to draft the Airbus A320neo into its pool of aircraft - and says it will have 100 of them in the skies by the end of 2022. The A320neo is reported to be 15 per cent more fuel efficient than the standard Airbus A320 - and is also used by Lufthansa, which became the first airline to take delivery of the plane (in January 2016). The German national carrier also appeared in the top ten of the carbon-cutting survey - published by the London School of Economics in March.

Gallery: Environmental impact of 20 foods (Stacker)

Do something good in recompense

It is, admittedly, not the same as carbon offsetting - or not contributing to carbon emissions in the first place - but, increasingly, there is a trend for getaways where holidaymakers assauge their flygskam by making another positive contribution to environmental wellbeing. This year, Thomas Cook (01733 224330; thomascook.com) introduced voluntary beach-cleaning programmes at 16 of its European hotels - including seafront properties in Ibiza and Mallorca. The tour operator - Britain's third biggest - says 1,500 people participated in the scheme over the summer season, clearing 25,000 items of litter. "As consumers, we’re becoming much more aware of the impact our behaviour is having on the planet," says the firm's corporate affairs director Alice Macandrew. "This awareness is filtering into our holiday mindset, with more and more customers wanting to give something back to the destination they visit."

Responsible Travel goes further - offering a wide range of holidays which allow participants to "give something back". These include a seven-day marine conservation break in Portugal - a scuba escape with a difference where divers spend their week in the waters off Lisbon, plucking debris, plastic rubbish and discarded fishing apparatus from the ocean floor. The trip costs from £1,169 per person - including lodging, all meals and diving equipment, but not flights (the catch, obviously, being that you will need to fly - or else embark on a 24-hour rail odyssey - to get there).

© Getty

Fly in economy

If you are going to fly, doing so via the cheap(er) fares keeps your carbon footprint a little smaller than if you are lodged in the posh cabin - on the basis that a larger seat in business or a fully-reclining flatbed in first eats up room that could otherwise be used to accommodate another passenger on the same aircraft. Lufthansa's carbon-offset calculator converts this "waste of space" into monetary value. The cost of offsetting return flights between London and Berlin (1,180 miles) is £4 if you are travelling in economy, but £5 if you have your laptop open in business - and £11 if you are quaffing the fizz in first.

Fly in daylight

There is a scientific theory that flying in the day is better for the environment than travel by air at night - because of the effect of con-trails on global warming. Contrary to occasional perception, the lines of white matter visible behind an aircraft speeding along at high altitude are not chemical pollutants but (mostly) water vapour - literally, condensation trails - which immediately freezes into ice crystals in the chilly temperatures at 36,000ft.

In 2013, NASA, no less, put out a report which suggested that these strands across the firmament can have a positive impact on our planet - because, like conventional clouds, they reflect solar rays away from the earth and back into the great beyond. "White cloud tops act like mirrors, reflecting incoming sunlight back out into space and promoting a cooling effect," the piece commented (while adding a caveat that "clouds can also serve as a blanket, trapping heat emitted from Earth’s surface, inducing a warming effect"). Scientific substance or airy hokum? A proper verdict on the benefits (or lack of them) of contrails is still in the "pending" file.

Take a direct flight

While there are a huge number of variables involved - the length of the flight, the strength of head- and tail-winds, the number of passengers on board (to list just three) - it is fair to say that take-off consumes a greater ratio of fuel than any other phase of a flight. On a four-hour service, the burst of engine power needed to elevate the plane to cruising altitude can account for anywhere between 10 and 20 per cent of total fuel use. By this measure, a direct service to your destination - where you only take off once - makes for a smaller addition to your carbon footprint than an indirect trip where your soar up from the runway twice or more (and complete your journey by a longer route).

© Getty

Pack light

Quite simply, the less you take with you, the less fuel the plane has to use to carry it.

Go by train instead

The only fool-proof way to lessen the environmental impact of the flights you take is not to board a plane in the first place. Again, this is easier said than done - but if you have the time and the appetite for holidays where you catch the slow boat and/or the fast train to your chosen place, then, increasingly, you are able to do so.

Eurostar (03432 186 186; eurostar.com), which is due to chalk up its 25th birthday in November, now serves 10 destinations directly from London (11 if you count Disneyland Paris and Paris proper as different places). Original Travel, meanwhile, is set to launch a rail-only getaway to Sweden in the new year - a week-long odyssey that will ride the rails all the way from London to Gothenburg via Amsterdam and Copenhagen, spending at least one night in each of these continental cities. Prices will start at £1,960 per person.

Gallery: Simple tips and tricks to going zero-waste (StarsInsider)

MSN UK is committed to Empowering the Planet and taking urgent action to protect our environment. We’re supporting Friends of the Earth to help solve the climate crisis - please give generously here or find out more about our campaign here.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Telegraph

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon