Green Team: A Glimpse at Environmental Impact of Travel


A Glimpse at Environmental Impact of Travel

Travel Green

For members of the Foreign Service, travel is a large part of life.  From Dakar, a trip to the United States can easily mean 2+ plane rides in addition to car, train, or donkey cart rides before arriving at a final destination.  Travel usually means carefully packed suitcases and carry-ons, snacks, food en route, and multiple cups of water or other bottled beverages.  While air travel is a miracle of sorts, it is not without cost to the environment:  high usage of fossil fuel, emissions that damage the atmosphere and contribute to pollution and global climate change, disposable cups, napkins, paper products used during flight, not to mention paper for tickets, energy used to clean and maintain airplanes, etc.  To fully understand the full impact of travel, we would also need to consider resources used for travel, lodging, food, etc. while at our destination; as well as the effects on the environment itself (increased waste production, water usage, destruction of nature).

But for now, let’s examine what the impact of the flight could be.  It is estimated that each mile of commercial air travel produces a little more than half a pound of carbon dioxide per person.  Increasing carbon dioxide emissions cause about 50-60% of global warming.  According to the carbon footprint calculator (, a roundtrip flight alone from Dakar to Chicago, IL uses over 3,000 pounds of carbon for a single traveler. reminds us that “A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment, and in particular climate change. It relates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced in our day-to-day lives through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation etc.  The carbon footprint is a measurement of all greenhouse gases we individually produce and has units…of carbon dioxide equivalent.”  According to we would need to plant at least 36 trees and have them live for at least 25 years in order to offset the carbon emissions for one person on our roundtrip flight alone.

You can find other ways to reduce carbon footprints at:

Ways we can be “green” while traveling:

  • Visit the website by Climate Counts, an organization dedicated to providing climate and product ratings of anything from a hotel to a tennis shoe.  This site offers scores of many airlines and hotels on their efforts to reduce their ecological footprint.  Support those airlines and hotels that are trying to protect the environment.
  • Purchase carbon offsets. Many airlines will let you do this right when you purchase the ticket.
  • Travel light (heavier planes use more fuel & emit more carbon)
  • Carry reusable mugs/bottles for water refills while in flight
  • Travel with a group (particularly when travel is by car or truck)
  • Buy snacks in economy size packaging and put individual servings into reusable containers (instead of snack size packaged products)
  • Walk when exploring a new area
  • Explore & support true eco-tourist sites
  • Support hotels/resorts that have green practices
  • Don’t take what you won’t eat/use (reduce waste)
  • When possible, limit the number of flights you take, or consider alternative forms of transport
  • Conserve water usage (i.e., showering together)
  • Conserve energy usage (i.e., unplug appliances at home before leaving, limit usage of lights in hotel rooms especially when not there, keep heat/air conditioning at moderate rates, )
  • Reuse bags, water bottles, coffee mugs
  • Recycle whenever possible
  • Purchase locally produced and environmentally friendly products