Vacation – Let’s Take Our Green Habits with Us

The whole point of vacation is to relax, travel, have fun, explore, and “get away from it all”, a perfect excuse to chuck our green habits.

Road Construction Traffic JamGoing on vacation presents us with a conundrum. On the one hand, vacations give us a break from work, school, and daily commitments to refresh our bodies and spirits, enjoy time with family and friends, see new sights, revisit favorite places, and indulge ourselves. On the other hand, vacations generate a sizable carbon footprint, especially if they involve air travel.

Chances are people will not stop needing, wanting, or going on vacation in the near future, but we can mitigate the environmental impact of our vacations by taking our green habits with us. Sure, not having your towels washed every day is drop in the bucket compared to traveling via fossil fuel powered transportation. However, drops do fill up a bucket, and a partially full bucket is better than an empty one.

Michigan Vacation

I recently returned from a trip to Michigan with two friends I met at work over two decades ago. We now live thousands of miles apart so cherish our rare opportunities to get together in person.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Our travels took us from the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, up the center of Michigan, and then across much of the Upper Peninsula to a lovely house on Independence Lake. On our journey, we saw three of the Great Lakes: Michigan, Huron, and Superior (where we dipped our toes in the frigid 40° water). We explored lighthouses, forest trails, and lakeshores by day, and played games and enjoyed each other’s company at night.

We all flew to Detroit so our transportation was not low carbon (unless one considers three people driving around in the same car as carpooling). I did bring some green habits from home.

No Bottled Water

Not buying bottled water at home is one thing, avoiding it while traveling is another. I challenged myself to not buy or knowingly drink bottled water on the trip. I brought two reusable water bottles with me.

Author's Reusable Water BottlesI filled both reusable water bottles each day before we set out, stowed one in the car, and carried the other with me.

If you ask for water on an airplane, the flight attendant opens a bottle of water and pours it into a plastic cup. I avoided this bottled water pitfall by filling up my 24-ounce reusable water bottle at a drinking fountain after going through airport security. Finding a drinking fountain at the Detroit airport was not easy. I finally located one tucked into a niche next to the family restroom at one end of the terminal. Whew!

Reusable Shopping Bag

Our county banned single-use plastic bags in 2012 so reusable bags are routine here, even at stores not affected by the ban.

Reusable Shopping BagsI packed two roll-up reusable bags and wondered how they would be received in Michigan (I’ve encountered occasional hostility in other cities and states).

As it turned out, reusable bags were accepted and often welcomed at stores across the state, from the small general store near our vacation rental to a city grocery store. I handed back plastic or paper bags to a few efficient clerks who bagged my purchases while I was counting the money to pay for them.

Personal Towel

Author's Purse and Personal TowelsA couple years ago, I came across the concept of personal towels, which are small towels you carry with you to dry your hands in public restrooms instead of paper towels or electric hand dryers. I liked the idea and bought several; a washcloth or any small towel would work just as well.

I took two personal towels with me and attached one to my purse or fanny pack whenever we went out.

Not using paper towels in office, store, and airport restrooms may not make a huge environmental impact, but walking around with a towel hanging from one’s purse might raise an eyebrow, prompt a question, or spark an idea.

Waste Reduction

Breakfast Waste at the Hotel - Cereal, Milk, Banana, and CoffeeOn our first morning in Michigan, I ate a simple breakfast at the hotel: coffee, cereal, and a banana. I was shocked to see how much waste this small meal generated. Only the metal spoon and plastic tray were reusable and there was no recycle or compost bin in sight.

After that, I realized I’d need to pay more attention to what I was buying to eat and drink. We ate many of our meals with reusable silverware, plates, and glasses in restaurants or at our vacation rental; however, we ate delivery pizza one night and at least one fast food meal and consumed several bottles of wine. Recycling was a challenge.

Accountability

Airplane in FlightWe flew almost 10,000 miles and drove about 1,800 miles (including to and from our home airports) which emitted approximately 2.6 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. As a gift for my friends, I bought us each a 2-ton carbon offset and selected a reforestation project in the Mississippi River Valley for our donation.

A carbon offset does not negate travel and doesn’t give us a free ride; however, it is a tangible way to take responsibility for our actions.

The other day, I was talking to one of my friends from the trip and she said it was too bad we couldn’t buy carbon offsets for local projects. What a good point! While it might not necessarily offset the carbon from a trip, donating time or money to green projects in our own communities is a reasonable alternative.

While I did take some of my green habits with me to Michigan, I feel I could have done better in the areas of food and recycling. I’ll endeavor to up the green factor of my next vacation.

What green habits do you take on vacation?

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Carbon Offsets — Air Travel

Airplane in FlightSome of our family members are traveling by air and car during the holidays which got me thinking about carbon offsets so I decided to research the topic.

AAA projects 93.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holidays (5.6 million by air, 84.4 million by car, 3.3 million by other means). Fossil fuel powered travel by air, car, bus, or train is not green. However, purchasing carbon offsets may give a green tinge to holiday travel.

What is a Carbon Offset?

A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere. Carbon offsets are measured in metric tons (2,205 lbs) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions.

If a company develops a project that reduces carbon dioxide emissions, every metric ton of emissions reduced results in the creation of one carbon offset. Project developers can then sell these offsets to help finance and operate their projects.

Carbon offset buyers decide how many metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions they wish to offset and receive a certificate.

Carbon offsets seem simple in concept but are complex to manage and track. The intent is that you purchase an offset certificate that is used to fund a specific project and then retired so that no one else can purchase that particular offset.

Purchasing Carbon Offsets for Individuals

There are two types of carbon offsets. One is for businesses and governments trying to comply with regulatory caps on the amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit. The other is for individuals or businesses wishing to offset their air travel, car commuting, and energy use. In this post, we are dealing with individuals.

Carbon offsets are sold by for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations. In the travel industry, some airlines, car rental companies, and travel service companies offer carbon offsets as an add-on at the time of purchase.

Purchasers may utilize online calculators to determine their carbon footprint or carbon emissions for a single event, like a round trip airplane flight. Some sites provide “packages” where you may purchase an offset to cover your carbon emissions for a year. Calculators vary widely so check out what standards are used and what items are included. As an example for air travel, calculators may include all the pollutants generated per flight, while others factor in departure dates (it’s more fuel efficient to fly in July than in January), airline carrier and seat class (economy, business, first class.)

The types of projects funded by carbon offset purchases include:

  • Generating renewable energy via wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal power.
  • Methane capture from dairy farms, landfills, and abandoned coal mines.
  • Creating carbon sinks through reforestation or avoiding deforestation.

Several certification standards have been created via collaboration among businesses, governments, regulators, environmental non-governmental organizations, and project developers. These include American Carbon Registry, Green-e Climate, Chicago Climate Exchange, Clean Development Mechanism, Climate Action Reserve, Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards, and Gold Standard.

Criteria for projects generally includes:

  • The greenhouse gas or carbon reduction must be measurable, quantifiable, and verifiable.
  • It should represent reductions above and beyond business as usual. The reductions would not have occurred in absence of the project.
  • The reduction should be permanent for the useful life of the project.
  • The project should not cause higher emissions outside the project boundary.

Selling carbon offsets is a business with limited regulation. Buyers should research companies before buying carbon offsets. Look for companies that offer transparency and accountability.

  • Review information on carbon offset projects to confirm they are in line with your goals.
  • Read policies to make sure projects are selected based on accepted standards and verified by independent third party verifiers.
  • Check verification and audit reports.

Think About It

Carbonfund.org Carbon Offset Certificate ExampleAfter completing my research, I decided to purchase carbon offsets for my oldest son’s air travel for the year. I chose Carbonfund.org, a nonprofit organization, that will use it for a reforestation project in the U.S. It cost $12 to offset 6,000 miles of air travel.

Buying a carbon offset is a small way to take responsibility for personal carbon emissions and contribute financially to projects that reduce emissions. However, flying 6,000 miles still generates over 1 metric ton of carbon emissions that would not have been generated if the flights had not been taken.

We still need to strive to reduce our carbon emissions.

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