Why sustainability and travel are a great fit

Lizet Wesselman - 24/01/2023

Why sustainability and travel are a great fit

Lizet Wesselman - 24/01/2023

The end of the year is always a great time to evaluate the past year and think about your goals for the year after. In 2022, I was regularly asked “why sustainability and travel? They don’t even go together.” And even though I had never done an official calculation of my own footprint, I knew that it most definitely does go together. Sustainability goes with so many things if you’re willing to make different choices. So time to calculate my footprint and prove it! And I can tell you, even I was slightly surprised by these figures.

How to calculate your CO2 emissions

Technically, everything you do causes some emissions. From your own car, energy and gas consumption to the products you buy, new clothes or that plastic bottle of shampoo. Your food choices are also part of this, as a piece of meat is more polluting than a load of vegetables. On the other hand, you also have CO2 offsets. Have you participated in an ocean clean-up or tree-planting project, for example? Then you can deduct that from your CO2 emissions. This is also how companies produce “CO2 neutral” or even “CO2 negative”. So as long as you offset enough, your emissions go down.

This is all quite a lot of work to figure out, you’d have to keep receipts to make a list at the end of the year and calculate everything. You can also make an estimation, of course. There are online tools that can help you calculate your emissions, based on estimates. Or you can calculate exactly what you consumed of everything if you know exact numbers.

I personally chose to only calculate my transport-related emissions. The distances rolled out of my Google Maps summary, so I just had to fill in those numbers. My energy consumption is a bit difficult to keep track of, without owning my own home. And apart from that, I don’t really buy that much. And of course, the question was about whether travel and sustainability go together, so let’s calculate that.

My travels in 2022

2022 Was the first year I travelled “full-time”. Down the line, that came down to 8 or 9 months of travel. I stayed within Europe and visited Spain + Mallorca, France, Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic (twice), London and Greece. All of these distances could have been covered by train, but I had some tight timeframes with conferences, concerts and petsitting jobs. I got on a plane a bit more often than I would have liked, namely 9 one-way trips.

In total, I covered a distance of 16,149 KM! That’s not even that impressive honestly, but I saw a lot of beautiful things! And in the end, that’s the most important thing, right? Let’s start with the numbers.

Average CO2 emissions vs mine

Although I don’t spend much time in the Netherland, I wanted to compare my figures to Dutch people, it seemed logical. The average CO2 emissions of a household in the Netherlands are 19,000 KG of CO2 per year. This is almost 3x as much as the global average. Yeay the Netherlands! Nicely done. The average in Europe is 6,800 KG per year and the global average is 7,000 KG per year.

But that’s total emissions, including energy, food and products. So I made my own calculations for the average emissions per mode of transport in the Netherlands.

  • Car: Dutch people drive an average of 11,000 KM per year by car. That’s an emission of 2,041 KG per year, based on an average fuel-efficient petrol car.
  • Plane: Dutch people fly an average of 5,000 KM per year. An emission of 1,000 KG per year.
  • Train: Dutch people travel on average 1,488 KM per year by train. That’s only 50 KG of CO2 per year.

This is an average emission of 3,091 KG CO2 per year per person, for so transport only.

Now my numbers:

  • Car: I don’t have a driver’s licence, so this is really low for me. Although still 2,927 KM in 2022. That’s 543 KG of CO2.
  • Plane: I boarded the plane 9 times with a total distance of 5,809 KM. That’s 1162 KG of CO2.
  • Train: An impressive 6,364 KM, more so than the plane. This provided only 230 KG of CO2.

This is a total emission of 1,935 KG CO2 in 2022. That’s about 30% less than the average in the Netherlands! And that while I’ve been travelling all these months. Something that can’t be sustainable according to a lot of people.

Sustainable conclusions

Travel and sustainability go together just fíne! As long as you choose consciously.

As you can see, the biggest part of my travel distance was by train. But this also generated by far the least emissions. My distance by car was less than half the distance by train, but generates 2x as many emissions! This distance is all from 1 month, with 2 trips to a distant airport and renting a car for 5 days. So this gives a bit of an idea about the impact of renting a car for a week’s holiday.

My average distance by plane is a bit higher than the average in the Netherlands. Which makes sense when you travel so much. But despite this, my total emissions over 2022 are still 30% lower than that of the average Dutch citizen. Flying is definitely not good for the planet and I will always advise everyone to try to find alternatives where possible. But it doesn’t automatically mean that 1 flight is a terrible thing and there’s no way you’re making up for it.

What can you do for sustainable travel?

Trains!!! With this, I literally handed you simple proof that trains can make any situation more sustainable. You don’t necessarily have to give up your flight to your holiday destination for the train. But try to take the train, bike or other public transport more often in your daily life to compensate for that flight. And take trains on your destination, instead of renting a car to get around.

Take public transport from the airport to the city, instead of a taxi because it’s so convenient. That short time difference between a taxi to the hotel or a train, tram or subway isn’t going to have a huge impact. I’ll promise you that after your trip you won’t come home saying “I wish we took a taxi that first day from the airport, ruined the holiday!”. In the city itself, also take the train, tram, metro or rent a bike.

Cars are almost as bad as planes in terms of emissions. The only difference is that a plane flies closer to the ozone layer, making its impact much higher. But cars aren’t a great alternative. A roadtrip is almost as bad an renting a car will add up to maybe even more CO2 emissions than the initial flight. Do you still want to rent a car? Then make sure you rent an electric one!

I’ll teach you about sustainable travel

So this is basically why I started this blog. To show you that you can live sustainably, without always having to leave everything out. You don’t have to live vegan, plastic-free and car-free to do your bit for the environment. Sure, that has the most impact, but we still have to live a little too, right? If that really doesn’t make you happy, find ways that do work for you. But when you get on that plane, be aware of all the other things you do that have a bad impact on the environment. And then offset that flight somewhere else.

Would you rather not give up anything? Than plant trees. It’s quite a forest to compensate for any lifestyle though. For 1,000 kg you’ll need 31 to 46 trees, so you might want to get started. At WoodYouCare, you can plant a tree for as little as €5 and you can track where your tree ends up and how much CO2 you compensate with it.