The figures: Can we travel zero-emissions?

September 6, 2019

A few days ago, Greta Thunberg arrived in New York after a 15-day-crossing of the Atlantic Ocean aboard a zero-emission racing sailboat. Greta’s actions beg the question, how can we reduce our CO2 emissions when travelling?

Sailsquare – peer-to-peer sailing holiday platform – compare common means of transport to identify the most environmentally considerate ways to travel. The data identifies sailing holidays as a standout means of transport, and – when paired with travel by bus, train, and carpooling – a more environmentally considerate alternative to flying and cruising.

Travelling without emitting CO2 is a utopia

“Greta’s actions present the foundation for a necessary, deep reflection on how we holiday. Substantial efforts need to be made to limit our impacts on the environment, to do this we can consider travelling slower, more locally, and more responsibly” Maxime Courtaigne, Sailsquare Head of International Development.

The sailboat – the most responsible means of holidaymaking

Idyllic islands across areas including the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and East Asia are much sought-after holiday destinations. Carbon emissions data suggests that a cruising holiday is an approximately 18 times more pollutant than a sailing holiday. “Due to the relatively modest size of sailboats, their water tanks, and power storage, there is typically a more resourceful mindset. This way of thinking resonates closely with slow tourism” Saxon Bosworth, Sailsquare’s UK Country Manager.

Airplanes around 7 times more pollutant than trains, buses, and carsharing

Despite the allure of budget airline prices, travellers may want to consider more environmentally friendly alternatives to shorter flights. Europe’s deregulated coach services, trains, and increasingly popular sharing economy carpooling platforms such as BlaBlaCar, act as more responsible means of travel. 

1 cruise ship = 1 million cars

The impact that cruise ships have on the environment is undeniable. Not only is it the greatest producer of CO2 emissions, there are also the effects of the ships grey water waste and noise pollution. A study by NABU found that a single, mid-sized cruise ship uses 150 tonnes of fuel per day, the equivalent of 1 million cars. The increasingly popular form of travel-focused on richness and responsibility, known as slow tourism, clearly opposes conventional cruise ship holidays.

Lowering your day-to-day emissions 

CO2 emissions are, of course, a part of everyday life. According to the BEIS UK figures, solo car journeys are approximately 171g of CO2 per passenger, per km. Can a combination of trains, buses, and new carpooling models offer sufficient alternatives for commuting and using cars day-to-day? The rise of carshare services in the UK such as BlaBlaCar and Liftshare acts as encouraging signs for the future.

3 ways to reduce your CO2 footprint

Traveling slowly: seeing more with less

Slow tourism is the concept of travelling slowly, taking special care to be respectful and sustainable. This way of holidaymaking encourages experiencing more by doing less and taking time to understand and appreciate different cultures. Travel has increasingly become a fast-moving consumer good, with access to new destinations being easier than ever before. Last year in Sweden, the anti-flying movement, flygskam, originated and quickly amassed a lot of support. The Swedish word, meaning “flight shame” was coined by Olympic athlete Bjorn Ferry. Subsequently, the term tagskryt (train brag) became a social media wave, as travellers now share their train travel in support of the more environmentally friendly means of transport. By choosing to travel by coach, carpool, or train, you can take a step to reduce your CO2 footprint.

Both sides to travelling locally

The wealth of beauty across the UK can be somewhat easy to overlook with the attractive prices of budget airlines. Before your next holiday, consider the travel destinations at your doorstep – such as: the World Heritage Site of the Jurassic Coast by the English Channel, the stunning landscapes of the Isle of Skye in the Scottish northwest, and the 16 glacial lakes of the Cumbrian Lake District – just to name a few.

Europe, slightly further afield, offers regions of so much diversity in culture, landscapes, and wildlife. As discussed above, travel by coach, train, and carpooling services, that are particularly established in other major countries around Europe act as low emissions travel alternatives – that can even save time! The train network means that you can travel from London to Paris in 2 hours and London to Amsterdam in 4 hours. Whilst coaches offer unrivalled options for those working with a budget, with trips from London to Paris starting at £13 and London to Barcelona starting at £20. v

8.4 tonnes of CO2 per year

According to the myclimate carbon calculator, a roundtrip from London to New York emits 1.8 tonnes of CO2, with the average European emitting 8.4 tonnes of CO2 per year. Removing all air travel from your life can be a difficult and inhibiting choice. Carbon offsetting organisation offers an equilibrium when travelling by plane. For this UK to USA flight, myclimate suggests an offsetting package of £43.79, which you can allocate to specific projects, such as, helping small farmers in Nicaragua working on reforestation.

The calculation

The main sources of information used for this report are:

BEIS UK: for all data concerning the CO2 emissions by means of transport

NABU: for data concerning the CO2 emissions of cruise ships

myclimate: for data concerning CO2 emissions flights

The emissions data for a sailing trip were calculated according to these assumptions: