Green Travel Series | Eco-Air Choices

Prioritizing Sustainable Options When Traveling

Thinking Green on the Road and Abroad

You are someone who prioritizes sustainability. Or maybe you don’t label yourself that way or even think of it like that. You definitely wouldn’t call yourself a “tree-hugger” or part of the Environmental Liberation Front. That’s a green extreme. It’s a spectrum. You. You do believe in recycling. You try to purchase organic produce. When you can. You attempt to minimize your use of plastic. You use washable napkins at home. Carry your own water bottle. Did you remember your reusable grocery bags? Most of the time. Maybe you’ve seen those Instagram pics of cute beeswax sandwich wrappers and you’re tempted to make your own. (Just me?) You may or may not have even tried composting. With varying levels of success. (I will never, not ever, be comfortable with worms under my sink.)

But while you may do your part at home in your corner of the world, do you keep up those green choices when traveling? I live in Copenhagen. It was the 2014 European Green Capital award winner. We moved here because of my husband’s job in wind energy, just one of the ways that Denmark promotes sustainable priorities. In a place like Copenhagen, it’s easy to be green. They’ve practically terraformed it for you. Even if you are a visitor. Rent a bike. Use the efficient public transportation. Eat organic. Shop local. Buy hip upcycled Danish design goods or edgy posters printed in soy ink. You know what I’m talking about. But what about other places? Do you try? Does it matter?

The impact of travel and tourism on local environments is big. Really big. Can it also be sustainable? The United Nations World Tourism Organization thinks so. The UN General Assembly voted 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.”

– Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” United Nations Sustainable Development Knowlege Platform¹

Travel. Enjoy. Respect.

Distilling it down, the UN believes we all should be able to travel, enjoy and respect. In fact, they think that doing so can also support sustainable development around the world. Let’s prioritize. I’m in. Are you? I think we can be determined in our choices. We can clearly show what we believe is important by where we put our travel monies and how we approach our exploring. From the very start of planning to the actual getting there and then the inevitable enjoying of your adventure. At every step, we have choices. Can we make those choices more sustainable? I think so.


Can you be sustainable when planning trip logistics?

Let’s start at the start. Yes. Yes is the answer. And it doesn’t necessarily have to cost more. Making the sustainable choice is not a privilege of the upper class or conversely, only in the realm of the tree hugger. (I’m from Oregon. We hug trees there.) Educating yourself on options is key. There are many parts of the planning process. But once a destination is determined, most people begin with the “how to get there” question. Does it require air travel? It does? Can we do it sustainably? Let’s explore.


While current estimates put air travel contributions at only 2% of the world’s carbon footprint¹, for travelers (even green-minded ones), this could be your biggest carbon sin. Depending on how often and how far you fly and from where. That 2% statistic averages flights all over the world. Some places emit more than others. More flights, more emissions. Statistics rise around places like London, New York and are rising each year with more flights. As air travel is often cheaper than other greener modes of transport, like the train – the usage continues to climb. And with it, the carbon impact.

Even if you don’t own a car, only buy organic and NEVER, not ever use bottled water, the impact of your long distance flight is NOT awesome for the environment. Planes emit carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere. That does not rock. But Mark Twain said that travel is fatal to prejudice and bigotry. How am I gonna expand my mind and broaden my horizons if I don’t meet the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea? (Or wherever your brain and humanity need expanding.) There are ways to mitigate the impact of your travel needs. I write a travel blog. I have the same needs.

Start by making educated choices. Being conscious about your consumption is key. Here are some options:

  1. Limit your total number of flights per year. Gah! No way you say. Can’t stay grounded? Keep reading.
  2. Limit long-haul air travel. While shorter distance flights do produce greater emissions per mile covered, long-haul flights do it for longer.² It’s simple math.
  3. Choose airlines that have established sustainability practices. From onboard recycling systems to fuel efficient priorities, some companies are just greener than others. (See below for best of industry choices.)
  4. Choose non-stop flights. This limits the surge of emissions created at take-off and landing.²
  5. Use the no-frills airlines. Packing passengers in like sardines economizes fuel. Remember that when the old guy in front of you leans his seat back right into your lap aboard RyanAir.
  6. Go for the cheap seats. Business class and first class seats take up more space. Read: less efficient. About 4x less efficient. Comfort DOES not equal sustainability in this case. Sorry.
  7. Limit your luggage. The heavier the plane, the less fuel efficient. Are you sensing a theme?
  8. Purchase carbon offsets. Seek out not-for-profit organizations and read the fine print. Make sure your convenience activism is actually helping.
  9. Take the train. For shorter distances, it does lower your travel footprint.

An efficiency focus reveals opportunities to reduce impact in ways other than cutting flights. ” – Brighter Planet 2011 report on Air Travel Carbon and Energy Efficiency

Some airlines are better at it than others. If you are looking to travel sustainably, but not eliminate air flights altogether – take a look at these top eco flyers when booking.

Brighter Planet did an assessment of the industry in 2011 and ranked the top air travel companies based on their overall carbon efficiency per mile. They took into consideration the following five factors: fuel use efficiency, passenger load, seat density, freight sharing and total flight distance.

Airline Transport World Magazine awards annually an Eco-Airline of the Year. They base it on an airline’s commitment to managing carbon offsets, increasing fuel efficiencies and contributing to sustainable local economies.

Another great website to follow eco-airline policy development and evolution is Enviro.Aero.

Here are some of the world’s best eco-airlines:
Air Canada

Not a top choice according to the 2011 Brighter Planet report on airline carbon efficiencies, Air Canada is taking progressive actions to rectify that. They have a two-fold approach that strives to contribute less: emissions, noise and waste; and works towards more collaboration. The airline recently announced they will participate in alternative biofuel research.

Air Canada to operate biofuel flights in support of environmental research on contrails and emissions.” – April 27th, 2017 via www.Enviro.Aero

Air New Zealand

Winner of the Air Transport World’s Eco-Airline of the Year for 2016, Air New Zealand is committed to efforts that will cut and offset carbon. They are also requiring all suppliers to adhere to an environmental code of conduct so as to focus on sustainability across all levels.


Dedicated to practices that limit air travel impacts to the beautiful Northwest United States and beyond, Alaska airlines continues to win the most fuel-efficient airline in the US year after year. This according to the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT). Alaska pushes their green agenda to composting flight waste and using biofuels.


Living in Copenhagen. I will admit that Norwegian is my favorite, so when I discovered that they are also Europe’s most fuel-efficient carrier on trans-Atlantic flights you can imagine my joy. Especially because they are beginning direct routes from Copenhagen to the west coast of the United States. Norwegian also has one of the youngest fleets in the industry, with planes averaging 3.6 years old, which helps their efficiency and lowers overall emissions. And how cool is this;

[Norwegian uses] “green” approaches, or Continuous Descent Approaches (CDAs), designed to reduce overall emissions during the final stages of the flight.” – Norwegian Airlines website

Singapore Airlines

First operator in the world to offer “Green Package” flights on long-hauls between Singapore and San Francisco. They will do so by using biofuels, more efficient airplanes and operational improvements.³

Gold stars (in no specific order) also go to the following airlines for progressive practices and prioritizing sustainable options:  Virgin AtlanticJet Blue, Cathay Pacific, RyanAir, Frontier, and EasyJet.

Selecting flights based on efficiency adds a new, complementary tool to the sustainability toolkit, empowering travelers to more aggressively manage their impact. ” – Brighter Planet

But with few industry standards in place, the most eco-efficient airline can sometimes feel like an arbitrary award. What exactly does it measure and how is it reported? Here’s to hoping that programs like CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) put out by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will achieve the aggressive goal of carbon neutral growth from 2020 on.

Want to get involved?

What do you think? Stop flying? Or start making smart choices? Green Travel is a topic I feel passionate about. And this is just the first in a series here on the blog. Tell me what you think. Stay tuned. Up next. Eco-lodging. Does where you stay make an impact? And can your choices help your travel footprint? Again. The answer is Yes.

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49 thoughts on “Green Travel Series | Eco-Air Choices

  1. Anisa

    These are great ideas that I think I can implement to help the environment that I had never really thought about. I do already try to take direct flights, but you gave me more motivation to try and pack less. I will also take into consideration the airlines that are more green. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes, sometimes the best choices is the best for the environment – like direct flights. Glad I could offer a little food for thought about #GreenTravel. Cheers from Copenhagen! Erin

  2. One of the best things about living in Europe is that instead of flying everywhere, we can drive. We used public transportation for a long time for our travels, but sometimes it just took tooo long. I’ve had to get used to not having a dryer, having a small refrigerator and no air conditioning. These were all luxury items, but I find simplify our lives by not having and I know it helps a little. Living in a town where I can ride my bike instead of driving a car always makes me feel better, just knowing I’m not polluting the air to go 10 minutes down the road, but in Cali I would have. Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes – I can’t imagine our life in Oregon without a car – it just wouldn’t have worked – the public transportation infrastructure just not as established as in Europe.

  3. Wonderful post. You address so many issues I’m concerned about and enlightened me about others. I’m sharing. Enjoy your time in Copenhagen. It’s one of the places I hope to visit one day.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Thanks so much Elaine. It’s a topic I am passionate about. I am constantly learning more myself and happy that I could offer some new insights. Cheers from Copenhagen – where it is VERY easy to travel sustainably! Cheers, Erin

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  5. Interesting post, thanks. I hadn’t really considered the lesser emissions for direct flights, I will definitely take that into account. And it is good to know which are the most efficient airlines. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Just making people aware that they do have a choice is my goal! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  6. Flying is definitely something I feel uncomfortable about in terms of environmental impact. I love your practical suggestions for the little choices you can make that make a difference, and will definitely note the green airlines (glad Air New Zealand is on there!) for future reference.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Happy to help Lorna – just trying to offer options and inform people that they do have choices! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  7. Katy Clarke

    As you would say Erin, AWESOME SAUCE! Travel is a privilege and therefore we should take the responsibility to be more aware of the impact of our choices. Some great actionable tips here. I am fully on board with this series of posts.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Fantastisk! It’s definitely a labor of love – feel strongly about make conscious choices that can hopefully limit our impact when traveling!

  8. I’ve never thought about how the budget airlines are more fuel efficient by cramming us all in so it’s good to know that the vast amount of flying I do is “greener” than it could be! I never fly first class either, haha!! But I’m guilty of taking a lot of road trips and I guess those aren’t very fuel efficient compared to taking the train. I’m very environmentally aware and hate it when I can’t recycle and compost on my travels, it goes against the grain to put recyclables in the garbage. This is a great idea for a series Erin.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes – sometimes taking the “cheap” airlines is not always the most enjoyable experience, but knowing that they might be the more sustainable options eases a little of the pain?!?

  9. Clare Thomson

    Really interesting post, Erin. Good to know that those of us who can only afford short-haul bucket airlines are doing our bit for the environment for the same time! We always try to fly direct too – it’s much better and easier when you’ve got children with you. Eurostar from the UK to Europe has made train travel to some destinations far more attractive and comfortable than flights. I’m not a fan of driving long distances but I could totally get on board with rail travel. Thanks for making us think on #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I wish that I could pop between London and Paris on the Eurostar – it sounds like the perfect marriage of sustainability and glamour to me!

  10. This is definitely something to think about. We try to be green when possible but I never thought about it with air travel. We live in the States so if we want to go anywhere outside the US chances are we’ll have to take a long-haul flight. But we do try to fly direct whenever possible and there’s no way in heck we’re going to pay for four business/first class seats. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes – long-haul’s are inevitable if you want to see certain places. Making it as direct as possible and selecting airlines with sustainability processes in places helps!

  11. Great post and a bloody important topic. Its good to highlight this stuff, but also love how you’ve given it a positive spin and focused on all the things you can do to travel more ‘green’. I didn;’t know much about the better airlines to use, so this has been really useful – thank you and look forward to reading more in this series! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Thanks kindly! I know I didn’t really think about it much before, I usually booked the cheapest seats or the ones that were in my mileage plan alliance, without much thought to sustainability practices. But now that my eyes have been opened, I definitely try to choose the greenest option.

  12. So interesting. One of the reasons I love traveling is learning about environmental issues in other places, but I’d not put much thought into the airlines. They are just a necessity. Interesting that those you listed are some of the better airlines overall too. Nice when business success can go hand in hand with being a good citizen. #FarawayFlies

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Right? Doing good CAN be good business. And how we choose to spend our travel dollars can support those beneficial businesses!

  13. Great tips – air travel is definitely one of the less environmentally friendly things I do but it’s good to have options to try to limit that. #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes! Air travel does have options – I think just being aware when we make our plans is key. Every little bit to help mitigate our impacts is important. Cheers from Copenhagen!

  14. It’s fantastic to find another travel blogger who values traveling responsibly and sustainably. I always think others must assume I’m a crazy tree hugger, but in reality I want to find a balance. I do think we can all do our part to cut back on plastic use and carry reusable water bottles, and I’m glad to find someone who has written such an extensive post on eco-friendly airlines! Thank you for being very informative. I’ll keep your post on my radar for the future.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Thanks Brooke. It is a topic that I feel passionate about and I don’t want to beat it like a drum, but just offer information so that people can make educated choices when they can! Up next – eco-accommodation. Stay tuned! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  15. Interesting and enlightening post, Erin. I love that you’re starting a new series on this topic! Great idea! Good to know about the direct flights, I had never really thought about it that way. #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Thanks Corey! Glad it resonated with you. Have been thinking about it a lot lately and know that we can all make informed choices if we put our mind to it! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  16. Interesting facts here, good to know because I have always wondered how can travel bloggers reduce carbon footprint when we are travelling so often? Hope we can find more ways to help reduce the impact of air travel on the environment while we can still jet-set to see more of the world! #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Thanks Kat. It’s a balance right? I don’t drive a car, so maybe I can take another air flight. But I can choose one who’s impacts are less and then mitigate my carbon elsewhere. Thanks for engaging – cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  17. This is a really interesting read – and I’ll definitely be channeling your advice next time we’re packed into a budget airline! I’ve recently discovered we all love train travel, and now we’re back in Europe we’ll definitely be looking to take more train trips!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      HAHA! Yes. The pain is real. But beneficial for the environment! Just remember that and channel your inner green goddess when you’re slammed in like flying sardines!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      The train here is unfortunately not always the cheapest option. Danish train system is ok. Not a super fun experience and when there are five of us traveling it doesn’t always work out for costs. It’s a balance and we try to really process our choices. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  18. I admit I use disposable napkins, and don’t compost, but I can’t abide by the flies, and the napkins just add more laundry to the mountain I already have… I knew there was a reason I only fly direct! I fly Alaska Airlines a lot and I love that they’re so environmentally friendly. I’m also from the PNW, after all! #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      No one is perfect – it’s a balance. But trying to be aware of the options and trying to make positive choices is key!

  19. Wonderful post! It’s such an important topic that 10 – 20 years ago may have been only doable for the rich, but now is so accessible to everything. Green is the way to go and the world are making it easier for us. We just need to make the right choices! Love this! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I’m sure there are more to add to this list and if you are interested you can always check an airlines corporate website for their published sustainability standards before booking! Cheers Ahila!

  20. Interesting post. I always feel guilty about the amount of rubbish we create on flights (plastic cups and so on) which no doubt is incinerated rather than recycled. But the bigger issue is obviously the plane itself and our insatiable desire to travel. Stephen Hawking said recently that we need to find a new planet to inhabit in the next hundred years due to the impact we’ve had on this one, sobering stuff.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Kind of like Wall-E?!? AAAAHHH. Scary stuff in deed. Trying. I’m trying to do my part – hopefully a little eye-opening and education will extend the idea that we can be sustainable while traveling too. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  21. You are a lady on the same page as me when it comes to the environment. Honestly, in the past few weeks my husband and I have seriously been looking into moving to Scandinavia because of the progressive thinking and care for the planet that is part of every day life. We don’t see that kind of environmental respect in Australia. Your tips about flights and luggage weight are all such important considerations for doing our bit for the planet. I am sharing this post with my followers far and wide! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Scandi’s have very progressive attitudes about using sustainable energy and limiting carbon footprints, but they aren’t perfect and are not great when it comes to trash and having a disposable culture. I don’t need this? Just throw it away. It’s a funny dichotomy.

  22. Lots of interesting tips in this post – I never thought the weight of your luggage had an impact. Quite happy also that Ryanair make the European list. Not that I particularly like them, but they are a big player in Ireland.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I LOATHE Ryanair… but when they are the cheapest AND eco-friendly, I reluctantly make that choice. Often. Especially living here. They are MILITANT with the baggage – which I guess is also better for the environment, but UGH it doesn’t always feel nice. 😉

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