By Robert McGarvey
We have met the enemy and he is us (apologies to Walt Kelly).
Travel is an enemy of the environment. That is fact. And we are in the equation.
And that got me pondering what I could do – what you could do.
It can’t entirely be on the hotels and the airlines. There’s a part in this for us too.
Of course we’ve known for some time about the link between business travel and global warming. No news there. Except matters just keep getting worse. A recent article in nature climate change “The Carbon Footprint of Global Tourism” pulled no punches. Wrote the authors: “We find that, between 2009 and 2013, tourism’s global carbon footprint has increased…four times more than previously estimated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.”
They added: “The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonization of tourism-related technology.”
(Reporting on the paper is here in the UK Independent.)
Of course we’re not tourists. But, in my mind, business travel is a big part of this problem – especially as more of us are flying longhaul flights to Asia, Africa, etc. It is becoming one world, and – increasingly – I find myself feeling out of it because I am becoming the only person I know who doesn’t have a 10 year Chinese business visa.
Think about how much pollution goes into that longhaul trip. Air travel is a significant polluter – accounting for upwards of 2% of global carbon dioxide.
Ditto those x-country trips in the US.
But is that enough?
Let’s be honest. Hotels are negligible contributors to global warming and many now are scrambling to further cut their emissions. Of course we also can stay at LEED certified hotels but we probably can do a lot on our own in any hotel just by turning off lights when we leave the room, setting summer temps at 78 and winter at 68, re-using towels, and you know the drill. All good steps, if symbolic in many respects, but we know what to do and more of us are doing it.
The carbon culprit is air travel.
A solution, where possible, is to take a train because it is vastly less polluting. Many multiples less.
That’s very possible – indeed preferable – in Europe and it is increasingly a good option in Canada (read Chris Barnett on travel from Toronto and Montreal).
But it’s not a good option in the US, other than the short Acela route (Boston to Washington DC) and when I lived in Jersey City I often took the train to DC or Baltimore.
Don’t think about trains on many other US routes however – they just don’t cut it. As far as I know there is no train stop in Phoenix, for instance. The nearest is in a town called Maricopa which, oddly, is in Pinal County, not Maricopa Cty where Phoenix is. It’s a town of 50,000, 35 miles south of Phoenix, and, nope, I’ve never been. I see an Amtrak train, costing $90 to LA, that will take 8 and a half hours. I can fly American non stop, roundtrip for $167 and the flight is under 90 minutes. I guess I’m not going to Maricopa anytime soon.
And tell me about the train from LAX to Shanghai. Or Paris. No can do of course.
On the ground, increasingly, I use mass transit (subways preferably or light rail). Sometimes Uber. But I’m cheap and also honestly like subways, can’t think of any I disliked. So usually you’ll find me in mass transit on the ground when I travel.
Oh, and always walk when that’s an option. Better for you, better for the planet.
Here’s the bad news: the single biggest step the business traveler can take to cut his/her carbon footprint is to travel less – specifically, to fly less.
That’s really the only step that matters.
And often flying is the only real way to make the trip.
Before every flight, ask: do I need to go? Will a Skype video call suffice?
Does your company need to send three execs when one would do?
Can you piggyback trips – so that flight to Shanghai leads into a train trip to Hong Kong. Thus cutting out one air roundtrip.
Bottomline: cutting the carbon cost of business travel means doing less of it. Sure, that is a kidney punch to our elite dreams. But so what?
This mean utterly rethinking how we travel and, more to the point, how we do business.
Less face to face isn’t a bad thing. In fact it’s just reverting to how it was pre WW II. And that wasn’t so very long ago. It worked then. It can work now.
Heck, maybe we’ll also start sending letters via post. Wouldn’t that be something?