Can We Still Travel in a World with Too Much Carbon?

Yesterday morning, I gave a keynote in Istanbul, Turkey without ever leaving my house. On the one hand, the efficiency of global video conferencing is amazing. I gave my keynote at 6am and then fed my kids breakfast. I helped keep myself and others safe from Covid and put less carbon in the atmosphere. But I found myself really wanting to actually be in Turkey.

I last visited in 1995. I remember incredible, highly unusual natural formations in Cappadocia and Pamukkale, vibrant markets with rugs, spices and beautiful pottery, sparkling Mediterranean seaside towns, and those historic places I learned about in Sunday School, like Ephesus and Galatia. I found myself sorely missing the ability to experience Turkish culture and food. To connect with people who share my interests and values about sustainability and business, that just happen to live on the other side of the planet.

I’ve had incredible life experiences gained while traveling, particularly internationally. My father has researched and written about the power of travel to shape future leaders. People who travel are shown to be more open, flexible and entrepreneurial. But the harsh reality is that travel, particularly flying, is a huge source of carbon. Greta Thunberg famously refuses to fly, but also had the time to sail across the Atlantic in effort to minimize her carbon footprint. The reality is few can do that. So what do people who care about climate do to reconcile all the incredible benefits, with the costs, of travel.

3 Ways to Travel with a Smaller Carbon Footprint

  1. Manage Your Impact

    If Covid has taught us one thing, it’s that some of the travel that many of us did was not necessary or beneficial. I do not miss the cross country flights or 9 hours on a train for a 1-2 hour meeting that could have easily been done over Zoom. But I can now also point to certain conferences, customer visits, or family trips that I would get right on that plane for, all over again. So step one is really prioritizing when travel really matters — and when it doesn’t.

  2. Prioritize Sustainable Travel Providers

    Last week I got a note from a friend asking for advice on what their company could do to reduce the impact of flying. He showed me a well thought out draft policy where the company would pay to offset any flight that an employee took. It was a huge positive step, but my recommendation was to first encourage being more mindful about travel choices. Encourage public transportation or renting hybrid or electric vehicles. Stay in eco-friendly hotels or inns. When you fly, select airlines, like Alaska or JetBlue, that have very strong environmental programs. We need people to reward those providers driving innovations that will eliminate fossil fuels from the travel experience. I personally can’t wait for my first solar powered flight!

  3. Consider Offsets

    Offsets are controversial for a myriad of reasons, but they are one option to financially contribute towards projects that reduce carbon footprints. Some airlines are offsetting all flights automatically. Many offer the option to purchase offsets at checkout. There are travel calculators that let you choose offset projects that resonate. Even booking engines that use the referral fees from the airlines to offset your travel. The behavioral economist in me sees that making the cost of travel higher, by including offsets, is a relatively effective mechanism to raise the bar for whether the travel is “worth it.”

Finally, this last reminder comes from an original premise for WeSpire, which is that practically green is more achievable than perfectly green. Now that many of us have experienced what a 100% travel drop looks like, I’m confident we can find a better, lighter way to bring the best of it back.

Quote of the Week: “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

Maya Angelou

Are you ready to build a better working world?