Responsible Summer Travel

June 21 marked the first day of summer–a reminder to entrepreneurs, founders and executives to plan that long overdue vacation to refresh and renew.

But going kitesurfing in Bora Bora or skiing in New Zealand necessitates boarding a commercial flight–a huge contributor to climate change. Around 2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions come from aviation; gasses and water vapor trails produced by aircraft mean the industry is responsible for around 5% of global warming. 

It’s a top-of-mind issue. In 2021, France banned short domestic flights; CANOPY member Jen Haile, City Director for Human Rights Watch notes the organization is reducing air travel to minimize its carbon footprint. But canceling all air travel isn’t an option; for most, neither is climate activist Greta Gruberg’s 15-day, zero-emission sailboat solution for cross-Atlantic travel.

Ahead of the summer holiday season, as half of Americans plan to travel more in 2023, Journal explores ways we can still enjoy our time out of office while being mindful of our impact, from boarding the Amtrak to Ojai to following news around Boom’s synthetic-fuel-powered supersonic aircraft.

Stay local (ish)

The Post Ranch Inn

California chalks up more than 268 million domestic visits and 17.9 million overseas arrivals every year. Bay Area residents might spend weekends in Sonoma wine country or Yosemite, but committing to immersing more deeply in familiar destinations on our doorstep will have the same restorative effects as far-flung journeys without the pain of long journeys and jet lag. Big Sur’s fog-enveloped bluffs and cathedral-like thickets of redwoods, stretching 144 km from Carmel to San Simeon and backed by the Santa Lucia mountains to the east and Pacific Ocean in the west, are among California’s biggest attractions, accessed by the iconic open-spandrel Bixby Bridge–in many ways a standing invitation to undertake a voyage of discovery amid the region’s wild landscapes.

Upscale resort Alila Ventana Big Sur offers upscale accommodations, including Redwood Canyon Glampsites, within the resort’s 20-acre redwood-canopied forest; at Treebones Resort you can become ensconced in yurts, twig huts or a hand-woven inhabitable “human nest” by local artist Jayson Fann. Or you might choose to embark on a different type of journey at nonprofit Esalen Institute, founded in 1962 as a center for New Age practices, where a roster of 600 annual retreats and workshops include Psychedelic medicines and the nature of mind and consciousness and The Shared Heart Summer Couples Retreat.

Go by train

People having a meal on the Amtrak

In Sweden, social pressure around flight-related carbon emissions has spawned the coining of new words, including “flygskam” (flight shame), “smygflyga” (flying secretly) and “tagskryt”: bragging about rail over air travel. While we’re not advocating taunting fellow travelers, choosing rail travel over a direct flight cuts emissions by 37%, climbing to 54% for one-stop flight routings–and could potentially help you close the book on how many “chuggas” come before the “choo choo”

CANOPY member Charles “Chuck” Sellman was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s writing around the slow pace of train travel and the encounters it fosters, and after boarding Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train from Emeryville for the 11-hour journey to Ojai, was a complete convert. 

I can get work done. I can watch California go by outside the window in places where there are no roads. It’s an interesting cross section of society–I’ve been given complete meals, bottles of wine… a lot of good things have happened on the train,” Chuck explains.

Summer 2023 could be the perfect time to relive your gap year rail pass experience, or follow in the tracks of writers like John Steinbeck. Amtrak provides direct links to Tahoe and LA from Emeryville, and criss-crosses the US, connecting Miami, New York, New Orleans, the Cascade Mountains and Tucson. You can even bring your car. 

Travel further, stay longer

A man on a balcony checking his phone

Depending on how often you fly to a given region, taking longer trips might help to reduce carbon emissions. For instance, if you regularly spend time in Europe or Asia for work, consider staying there longer, reducing back and forth and deepening your experience of a destination. While international remote work isn’t possible for everyone, if committing to spending weeks or months in a place suits your circumstances, reducing CO2 emissions is further food for thought–especially as long-term remote work has become more prevalent, post-pandemic. In September 2022, AirBnB implemented its on-brand “design to live and work anywhere” policy, which includes a baked-in provision for staff to be based in over 170 countries for up to 90 days a year in each location.

Offset your carbon emissions

A boat with passengers going down a river in a jungle

Many airlines offset a portion of their carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets–essentially spending dollars generated by flight purchases on initiatives that sequester carbon, such as planting forests. Carbon offsets aren’t perfect, but as Bruce M. Usher, a Columbia Business School professor explained to the New York Times, “it’s virtually impossible to get to zero” without them.

CANOPY has become carbon positive–removing more carbon from the atmosphere than is generated through our operations and the daily commutes of our members combined–by purchasing credits via SeaTrees to plant kelp forests and mangroves. These plants protect coastal ecosystems while locking up five times more carbon than land-based trees. Other initiatives include working with pocket-forest organization Sugi to plant trees in Beirut and supporting the Jacundá Forest Reserve project through Cool Effect, improving rainforest conservation in Brazil while creating jobs and housing. Consider contributing to carbon offset projects that speak to you.

Pack light, go paperless, fly direct

A man walking through airport security with his carryon luggage

Aircraft use the most fuel and produce the most harmful emissions during take-off, accounting for as much as a quarter of an airplane’s total fuel supply on short-haul flights. Optimizing flight paths by minimizing stops is much more fuel efficient (although airlines generally charge more for direct routes as travelers will pay a premium for convenience). Consider paying carriers’ $25 or $50 fee for a preferred seat instead of booking inefficient legs or whole trips for status-enhancing miles. 

Skipping printed boarding passes minimizes resources expended in producing,  transporting and managing post-consumer paper and ink; packing light saves fuel. Finnair has calculated that if every passenger on its flights could reduce their luggage by one kilo (2.2lbs), the airline’s saving in one year would equate to 20 roundtrip flights between Helsinki and Tokyo.

Choose responsible tourism

Swimmers in the ocean swimming around a reef

Taking a backpacking or biking vacation when “luxury” means a night at a solar-powered eco-resort is one way to reduce your carbon footprint, but this style of trip isn’t for everyone. Sustainable travel company Responsible Travel freely admits that vacation-related carbon emissions contribute to global heating, and seeks to enact positive change by suggesting guests fly less frequently and choose trips that positively impact communities and protect natural ecosystems.

If flying somewhere remote is a must, a thoroughly vetted gorilla safari, turtle conservation expedition or ayurvedic retreat in Sri Lanka is worth weighing against a trip anchored by the F1 Grand Prix in Dubai. Plus, being eco-conscious doesn’t mean slumming it. In Madagascar’s otherwise underdeveloped luxury hospitality scene, private island resort Miavana stands out for its $14,000 a night accommodations and conservation experiences, like guided hikes to relocate lemur troops, which create sustainable livelihoods for hundreds of local people. 

Plan future trips powered by technology

An Overture jet plane

Unsurprisingly, technology is the largest contributor to reduced aviation emissions. Artificial intelligence (AI) assisted navigation systems are helping to identify ways to reduce burning jet fuel. Carriers are modifying routes to avoid climate-warming vapor trails and implementing new design elements, like the Boeing 777x’s wingspan-extending folding wingtips, to improve efficiency.  Down the line, we might even take to the skies in a Star Trek-inspired, ionic-wind-powered aircraft currently in development at MIT.

New propulsion technologies show promise for navigating the skies on short and mid-haul trips. Sweden-based start-up Heart Aerospace is a frontrunner in electric-powered aircraft concepts for regional travel; investors Air Canada and United are planning to fly its planes on short domestic routes. Hydrogen-powered engines, a staple in space rockets, are hard to apply to planes but hybrid hydrogen-electric tech shows promise. Airbus has bet big on hybrid hydrogen aircraft and announced three ZEROe aircraft concepts, slated to launch by 2035. 

For long-haul trips–which represent 60% of aviation emissions–the focus for airlines targeting IATA’s “net zero carbon by 2050” is on developing sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) that can power existing airplane engines. Fifty airlines are investing in SAF and close to half a million flights have used SAF to some degree–last year, Swedish airline BRA was the first to test-fly a 100 percent SAF, according to its vendor Neste, produces SAF biofuel from 100% renewable waste and residue raw materials, such as used cooking oil and animal fat waste. Other SAF include biofuels made from crops, which can apply pressure to global food supplies and deforestation, and “synthetic” or “e-fuels”, made by artificially combining hydrogen with ambient pollutant, carbon dioxide. Air Company’s CO2-derived SAF is already powering the US Air Force and Boom’s incredibly sleek sustainable supersonic aircraft, soon to added to United’s fleet.