“Take only pictures, leave only footprints” is a
common travel mantra. But how big is your carbon footprint? Several apps and
websites can help you calculate that – and find ways to reduce the carbon
emissions associated with your trip.
Some include an option to buy offsets – payments that
go to carbon-reducing projects such as wind farms or reforestation programmes. But
emissions can’t be reduced to zero simply by charging offsets to a credit card.
The World Resources Institute (WRI), an
environmental think-tank, cautions that while offsets make it possible to fund
valuable projects, they do not lead to completely carbon-free (or guilt-free)
travel. Newly planted trees, for instance, need several years to mature before
they begin absorbing significant amounts of carbon dioxide. WRI advises
travellers to reduce their carbon footprints as much as they can first – by booking
direct flights rather than multiple legs, for instance, or checking Greenopia’s
rankings of environmentally
friendly airlines – and then buy offsets from certified and third-party
But first, you need to calculate how big your carbon footprint
is. Here are several recommended tools that can help.
The Conservation International’s Carbon Calculator gives a quick estimate for the carbon
emissions of a single trip – based on how many miles you’re flying, how many
people you’re travelling with and how many nights you’ll spend in a hotel.
There’s also an option to promptly make a monetary donation to offset the
emissions; for example, a 500- to 1,000-mile flight with a travel companion
plus five nights in a hotel sparks a $19 donation. The US-based environmental
organisation also offers smart travel tips, such as avoiding layovers as most
carbon emissions occur on takeoff and landing.
Wondering which flight options emit the
least carbon before you buy? Careplane, a web browser plug-in, calculates emissions as you search
supported travel sites such as Kayak and Orbitz, allowing for quick carbon
comparison shopping. Long haul international flights in particular can vary
greatly in terms of their emissions, and the plug-in takes into account
variables such as the number of empty seats on a flight (which affects each
passenger’s share of the fuel burned) and the amount of cargo hauled.
Also for pre-planning, the free Flight Calculator Windows app estimates carbon emissions for flights around the world
and gives an option to immediately purchase offsets that fund a range of
verified projects from Carbon
Footprint Ltd. For iPhone users, the Green
Travel Choice app ($1.99) gives transport
options for any trip anywhere in the world, with the corresponding carbon
emissions for travelling by plane, bus, train, car, motorbike and more.
Travellers who are into airplane specs
should look no further than the International Civil Aviation Organization.
emissions calculator, like many other sites,
tracks carbon for flights – but takes into consideration industry data on aircraft
type, specific routes, fuel used and passenger load. Its Green Meetings Calculator is a
separate free iPhone app designed for corporate meeting planners. The app lists
possible meeting locations and the carbon emissions required to get there,
based on the cities from which participants are travelling. Planners of
international conferences can pick a location with low carbon emissions, taking
all participants’ flights into consideration.
For a carbon calculator
that fits into your everyday life, the Carbon Travel
Tracker iPhone app ($1.99) is designed to work in the background as you go about your travel. Turn
on the app, and then check in to see your CO2 emissions by day, week, month or
even year, measured both in tons of carbon dioxide and number of trees. There’s
an option to name and save individual trips, and the app automatically detects
whether you’re flying, driving or even cycling (which racks up zero emissions)
from point A to point B. For Android users, the free Ecorio
app is geared toward road-trippers and
commuters. It tallies carbon emissions for ground transportation only – car or
bus – and runs in the background as you head out on the highway. The app uses
Google Transit to find alternative mass-transit options for your trips, and it
gives you the option to instantly purchase offsets from your phone.
Calculate carbon offsets for your car,
plane or train trip with the free United Nations
Environment Programme Carbon Calculator iPhone app. Enter the mileage, and the app tells you
what size of mangrove forest, equatorial rain forest or seagrass meadow, among
other habitats, store an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. The 220-mile
train trip from New York to Boston, for instance, emits the same amount of CO2
as is stored in 2.5 cubic feet of mangrove forests. That’s about the size of a
The upstart company behind Offset4Poor, a website and free iPhone app (Blackberry
and Android in development), wants your offset dollars to help the poor.
Calculate carbon emissions for a road trip or flight and buy offsets to fund
worldwide projects that employ those in poverty, such as tree-planting programmes
that hire low-income workers, or projects that help both the poor and the
environment by distributing fuel-efficient stoves, as opposed to wood-burning
ones used in most homes in developing countries.