Q: How can I make my out-of-town trip more eco-friendly?
A: On the road again? Who doesn't love the excitement of heading out into the unknown to sights unseen - or to cousin Bill's second wedding, whichever pushes you to hop on a plane, train or automobile.
A super-comprehensive five-year-long research project by 45 research teams around the globe published in Environmental Science & Technology took a good look at various modes of transport. They didn't just tally carbon dioxide pollution, but also nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, water vapour and more, considering their long- and short-term impacts.
It may be no surprise that trains and buses creamed cars and planes.
But the researchers shocked a lot of people when they noted that while planes have a bigger impact than cars in the short run (causing short-term temperature increases), a single person driving alone from, say, Toronto to Montreal has a bigger impact on the climate (on a per-person basis) than one taking a plane.
If flying, minimize your fuel-sucking stopovers (takeoff and landing guzzles the most fuel) and opt for smaller turboprops over regular planes if you can on shorter-haul flights.
Now, how do you allay your lingering green guilt when you opt out of the train or bus and end up driving or flying to your destination?
Some airlines let you offset your flight on their websites, which is certainly convenient, though I prefer buying an offset through an outside organization that puts the money toward certified green energy projects rather than, say, trees that can potentially die.
Less.ca is a highly reputable carbon offsetter for flights, and offsetters.ca offers sound options for flights or a year's worth of driving (but won't let you buy credit to offset just one car trip).
At the airport, let them feel you up, if you can choose between pat-down and body scanner. You don't need the extra radiation. You'll already be getting a dose from flying high in the friendly skies.
Also, try to lighten your load. The lighter your luggage, the less fuel that's needed to haul your ass.
Moreover, pack right. That means making sure you have a few key things before you leave home. One: your own natural, paraben-free shampoo and conditioner. Trust me, you don't want to take in all the toxins in hotel soaps, loaded with hormone-disrupting phthalates from the fake ylang ylang scent or whatnot.
Plus those little throwaway shampoo bottles are totally wasteful and packaging-intensive. Sure, they may get recycled, but it takes a hell of a lot of petroleum to crank out all the mini conditioner bottles of the world.
Don't forget a good sized reusable water bottle or two so you're not buying a throwaway Evian every couple of hours. You can even pack a mini portable carbon filter for your bottle, good at getting rid of the chlorine taste of, say, Chicago's tap water.
Where are you staying when you get to town? Organic B&Bs are popping up everywhere from PEI to Bangkok, so do a little googling.
If you're trying to track down a hotel with a greener conscience, keep in mind that pretty much everyone is now asking guests to reuse their towels and sheets, so don't be wowed. Everyone can qualify for a couple of green points in the Green Key system, so look for hotels that have four or more keys (greenkeyglobal.com).
Most importantly, be sure to eco-proof your home before you leave for your trip. That means unplugging all the usual stuff we should be tugging from the wall daily, like cell chargers, coffee makers and laptop plugs, and turning off all the bigger stuff, too, like cable boxes and preprogrammed central air. Wouldn't want any energy vampires hanging around your home while you're off doing the macarena with Bill and Grandma.