Ask Eartha: How to travel in style while keeping it sustainable (column) |

Ask Eartha: How to travel in style while keeping it sustainable (column)

Eartha Steward
Special to the Daily
Airplane travel can be enironmentally detrimental because of greenhouse gas emissions. However, you can offset that energy expenditure in a number of ways.
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Dear Eartha,

Summer is a time for vacations, and I am taking a long one – 2 months to be exact. What are some ways I can save energy while I am away? Also, I will by flying, and I know that is heavy on the carbon emissions. How can I offset these emissions? — Gail, Breckenridge

Ahhh, summer! That time when we all take time off and get to relax in the sun. But getting away can mean that we leave home with a plethora of appliances at home running – using energy when we aren’t around to reap the benefits of doing so. And we end up paying for it — literally. Additionally, many vacations involve either driving or flying long distances, which can wreak havoc on our carbon footprints.

But have no fear, Ms. Steward is here to help you reduce your impact on the planet while you relax in the sun. Let’s start with those pesky carbon emissions from excess travel. Airline travel provides a huge contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the New York Times, one round trip flight from New York to San Francisco can yield 2 to 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person, and with the average amount of flights per year increasing, you can see that each flight can have a significant impact on the environment.

Car travel is also amped up during the summer months. Although traveling by car isn’t as impactful on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) as air travel, the frequency of car travel makes it a concern. There are ways, however, that you can offset these carbon emissions, and feel better about making a trip, environment-wise. A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or offset an emission made elsewhere, according to Wikipedia. These offsets can be purchased to fund projects like renewable energy or reforestation, and diminish the impact of a person’s own GHG emissions. Companies like Terrapass, Native Energy or Carbon Fund all have these available for purchase.

Those GHG emissions creep up in other ways as well. The energy used by your home appliances also has an impact on the climate, not to mention your wallet. Without knowing the type of appliances you have, it will be hard to calculate, but let’s assume you have an Energy Star refrigerator — one that is more efficient. These fridges will pull 45-55 kilowatt hours a month, which means over the course of two months, the global impact will be about 160 pounds of carbon emitted. That means about $13-$14 out of your pocket as well.

My recommendation would be to clean out the fridge and turn it off for the time you are away. For one, you shouldn’t have any perishables that you would want to come back to anyway after two months. Do your best to eat all the food in there and clean it out. Be sure to leave the doors cracked to avoid any mold or mildew buildup.

And why stop there, Gail? There are other electrical devices pulling power in your home while you are away, as well. The water heater expends a large amount of energy heating up your water, even while you are away. Before leaving, turn the heat on this device down to 100 degrees, turn it on “vacation mode” (if you have it), or just turn it off altogether. Unplug any and all appliances that live on your counter also — toaster, blender, hair dryer, phone chargers, etc. These can pull a “phantom load” while plugged in, so save yourself some money by unplugging them all. Finally, be sure to turn off all lights or add timers to LED bulbs while you are gone. The houseplants are fine with the dark, and the timers can help if you are worried about burglars.

Gail, thanks for being concerned with your carbon footprint while on vacation. Taking steps to ensure that you are saving energy can not only help the planet, but also save you money while you are away. Good luck and safe travels while you are away!

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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