This blog post is the second in our series on how to reduce your carbon footprint! Find our first post by Sarah by clicking here.
Sometimes, you can’t reduce your footprint in all areas and that’s OK!
Many of our advances as a society have made life much better for people with a range of needs. A good example of this is plastic straws. Plastic straws, of course, contribute to our overall plastic waste, but there are many disabled people who rely on plastic straws as a safe and hygienic way to eat and drink. Alternatives like paper or metal straws aren’t always viable options for several reasons. Plastic straw bans can often hurt people who rely on straws for basic survival, so always make sure that while advocating for reducing waste, you’re not creating disadvantages for other groups of people. Advances in society have helped us live longer and better lives- some plastic waste is an inevitability. Do your best to reduce your footprint where you can, but don’t feel guilty if you can’t reduce it in every aspect of your life. And if you can cut out plastic straws, do so- but don’t take it away from people who need it!
This series is meant to be a series of ideas that you may or may not be able to employ in your daily lives but getting a better understanding and awareness is an excellent first step.
Jen & Jillian here –
Transportation can be a difficult area of your life to cut your carbon footprint. Not everyone, including us, can purchase an electric or hybrid vehicle, or choose to travel by train instead of plane, even knowing that transportation accounts for over a quarter of US carbon emissions (data from 2016). But there are other ways to reduce your carbon footprint while commuting or running errands. While not everyone lives somewhere where these are viable options, or is physically able to travel in certain ways, we encourage you to take an in-depth look at what’s in your area! In addition to reducing carbon emissions and working toward a more green future, many of these suggestions have the potential to improve your health by getting you moving, instead of a car.
Take public transportation more: Not only do gasoline vehicles emit greenhouse gases, they also are a major source of air pollution, which is linked to premature death and a myriad of systemic health problems. This is particularly important in areas that are prone to at-risk air conditions, like cities, or areas with climatic and geographic characteristics that lead to smog (like Los Angeles).
Riding public transit is easier than ever – many public transit systems utilize Transit App, which makes it very simple to find routes, plan trips, and in some cases, see real-time data on where vehicles are, or have their own in-house apps. Google Maps also offers transit instructions for a lot of cities too. Worried about getting stranded or needing your car in case of emergency? Many metropolitan planning commissions offer an emergency or guaranteed ride home program, like this one. Take a look at what’s in your area!
Riding public transit allows you to use your time for something else, be it napping, reading, or just relaxing, instead of paying attention to the road and dealing with the stress of traffic. More and more systems offer Wi-Fi and outlets or charging stations on their vehicles. Additionally, riding public transit will save you money over the long term. Data from 2016 indicates that money saved by commuting by public transit for a two-worker household is over $6000 annually – approximately the same amount spent on groceries (How public transit can (and must) help reduce carbon pollution). Additionally, many workplaces have pre-tax commuter benefits that can be used to pay for transit passes and many schools and universities have agreements that let students and/or staff ride for free with an appropriate ID.
Public transit also increases the efficiency of traffic, fewer vehicles promote fewer traffic jams and reduces fuel waste. In 2011, the American Public Transportation Association provided evidence that the use of public transportation ‘saved 865 million hours of travel time and 450 million gallons of fuel in 498 urban areas’ (Why is public transportation good for the environment?).
Jillian, before moving within walking distance of her job, commuted to work nearly every day by bus. She enjoyed letting the bus drivers deal with traffic and other drivers, zoning out instead of stressing out, and walking a little extra each day to get to and from the stops.
If you live in a bike/pedestrian-friendly area, start biking or walking more frequently! Not only are these activities good methods of exercise but they can reduce emissions from traffic congestion and fuel use (Reducing your Transportation Footprint). If you are concerned about safety, head to your local bicycle shop or bicycle advocacy organization to talk with people in the community. If there isn’t a local shop or organization by you, REI often offers bike classes. There are likely local resources to help you get started and give you ideas for safety precautions during your commute.
Check out TrailLink, a non-profit dedicated to developing trail networks across the United States. Another great resource is Google Maps. There is an option to include a layer with bike routes (head to the three horizontal bar dropdown in your browser to add it to your maps). This is an excellent planning tool and you can use street view to confirm your route before heading to the street or path. Many bus and train systems have bike racks in or on vehicles so you can become an expert multi-modal commuter!
This is Jen’s favorite method of commuting. She feels like she gets to work feeling fresh and a clear head to start the day. It takes time to really feel comfortable on the bike and the road but it is worth the effort. Make sure you have a helmet and proper lights/reflectors so that you stay visible. Also, it’s likely other people at your office are bike commuters, ask them for tips or see if they would ride with you the first few times. It’s always helpful to have someone guiding you.
There are bicycle collectives, cooperatives (co-ops), and communities all over the world. BikeCollectives has a comprehensive list of community bicycle organizations around the globe so you can look up your state or country to get more details on your local areas. In many cases, this will result in low-costs for transportation on your end and new friends and hobbies. Bike communities are very invested in sharing knowledge of bike maintenance and safety.
Carpool with coworkers or colleagues: Maybe you don’t live in a location that has good public transit or allows you to safely be a cyclist or walking pedestrian. Carpools or multiple occupancy-vehicles are an excellent way to reduce the number of cars/vehicles on the road and in turn minimize levels of pollution. This mode of transportation also saves money in terms of gas, vehicle maintenance, and parking fees. Many highways are adopting carpool lanes as an incentive for reducing the amount of vehicles on the road.
Larger workplaces often have carpool programs, and many metropolitan area planning commissions have programs to help commuters find a carpool buddy. Try searching for “find carpool [city name]” – here’s a program in Indianapolis.
Scooter and bicycle share programs: Many cities now have various programs that allow pedestrians to rent scooters or bicycles. These programs have an app that allows you to unlock and purchase a scooter or bike for a period of time for a fee. Some of these programs have docking stations scattered throughout the city for you to pick up or return the vehicle. Wikipedia has a description of bike-share systems and a detailed history, which you can read about by clicking here and a list of programs (click here). This can be an excellent mode of transportation for quick trips or recreation but make sure you return the vehicles to an appropriate spot, they can really clutter sidewalks and make things difficult for other pedestrians.
Fly less: Jet fuel is a high-carbon energy source so reducing the amount of flights you take per year can greatly reduce your impact. This also means that booking direct flights reduces your impact. The larger and heavier the aircraft, the more fuel is consumed. This means that even packing efficiently and light will have an impact (Reducing your Transportation Footprint). Some are deciding to completely abstain from flying (a task that is definitely easier in Europe, which has a strong passenger rail infrastructure).
Regulating the environmental impact of air travel is quite complicated. It’s difficult to have an excellent, green alternative for shuttling millions of people around the world every day. Click here to read a comprehensive article that explores some of the major issues. This article also highlights that the complexity should not deter us from working to learn more.