One Flight = HOW Much CO2?! Slashing my holiday footprint …

Ginny Figlar Colón by Ginny Figlar Colón | December 3rd, 2008 | 5 Comments
topic: Eco Travel, Green Living

I did the math in my head. We have one car that barely gets driven, a TV and DVD player that get unplugged when not in use, plus a diet free of meat — and I have to admit that I was feeling a bit overconfident when I plugged my numbers into the carbon calculator at

That is, until I entered my air travel habits.

Living abroad means I take one overseas trip every year. Sometimes two. Just one commercial flight creates about 184 kilograms of CO2 per passenger. And my transatlantic flight came out to 1.7 tons roundtrip. That’s a whopping 25 percent of my overall footprint (!!!), which added up to 7 tons of CO2. According to, the average total footprint per person in industrialized countries is 11 tons, while the target is 2 tons to effectively combat climate change. So, clearly, I still have a long way to go to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

The timing of this realization couldn’t have come at a worse time — right in the middle of holiday travel planning. When we decided to cancel our trip back home to the States, my eco-conscience thanked me. Instead, we’ll be staying closer to home for our holiday getaway, taking the train to somewhere here in Europe.

Of course, sometimes air travel can’t be avoided, especially this time of year. Here are some other ways to keep dirty travel miles to a minimum over the holidays and beyond:

  • Instead of pouring a glass of wine from South Africa or Chile at your holiday gatherings, opt for grapes grown nearby. For those living on the East Coast, wines from Europe are often the greenest, according to, since they come over via container ship.
  • Send packages early by ground rather than waiting until the last minute and choosing 2nd day air. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, ground shipping is six times more fuel efficient than shipping by air. You can also offset the carbon emissions created by shipping your order from some websites including
  • Choose domestic frozen fruits and vegetables for pies and side dishes over out-of-season imports. (Read more on Gaiam Life about how eating foods in season and eating local can shrink your climate change impact.)

Anyone else finding ways to reduce your carbon footprint for the holidays?


  1. Thanks for the great tips. I didn’t know plugging your tv and dvd reduces so much. I too am sticking closer to home this year for the holidays in order to help conserve. I hope other do as well.


    jh | December 3rd, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  2. Very interesting article. I have a general understanding about the concept of a carbon footprint although I’ve never actually measured mine. I do, however, ride my bike rather than drive and things of that nature. I like to travel as well though so this article caught my attention. I know flights use up a lot of fuel, but I’m a little confused as to how a flight can result in such a high carbon footprint if these flights are happening whether you buy a ticket or not. I can see having a personal jet being really bad but it seems like taking a commercial flight is similar to taking the bus. These buses and planes are running whether or not you personally are on them or not. Is this taken into consideration when calculating carbon footprints?

    Melissa | December 5th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  3. Melissa,

    What you have to remember, is that a bus or plane that is 50% full will use less fuel than one that is 100% full.

    (Geek alert – stop me if I’m boring you)

    The reason for this can be explained by basic physics – the fuel is used to drive the engines which push the plane forward. This happens because of Newton’s third law of motion – every action has an equal and opposite reaction – to push a plane forward, you have to push an amount of weight backwards. Now, the heavier the plane (More passengers) the more weight that you have to push out of the engines, so the ‘cost’ of the flight is affected by your presence.

    Just think about how much energy you expend when you carry a bag of shopping – you certainly wouldn’t expect to expend the same amount of energy if somebody put twice as much shopping in the bag – or would you?

    (This is possibly over-simplified, but the basic principles are OK-ish)

    I’m still trying to understand the figures involved in the CO2 calculations – with particular regard to the C02 weighing more than the fuel itself (Probably explained by the fact that the fuel is mixed with air before combustion.

    I’ll post more info when I’ve got my head around it.

    Bob | December 19th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  4. [...] about 3.5 percent of the world’s human-generated carbon dioxide; autos about 15 percent. However, traveling by air isn’t necessarily better than a trip by car; releasing greenhouse gases such as CO2 at high [...]

  5. Great tips you shared. Thank you.

    Air Travel Discount Girl | September 24th, 2010 | Comment Permalink

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