11 Smart Ways to Reduce Your Travel Footprint

A little thought and planning can make your vacation more environmentally friendly.

As the high-travel summer season kicks off, we’d like to refocus on the environment, particularly ways we can make our travels a little greener.

The United Nations designated 2017 as The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Even more traditional travelers can make a positive difference to the environment during their adventures. A little extra thought in planning and a little extra effort during your travels can mean reducing your carbon footprint and traveling more sustainably while not missing out on experiences. Technology can also help. Below, some of the best and easiest ways to stay green while traveling, no matter your destination.

1. Ecotourism

Travelers who are serious about seeing the world while remaining environmentally conscious can explore ecotourism, defined by the Nature Conservancy as “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas.” Ecotourism emphasizes conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation, and is a way to explore our world without stressing its resources. (The right credit card can help you manage your financial resources during your trip. Check out the best cards for international travel here. See where your credit stands before applying by checking two of your scores free on Credit.com.)

2. Traveling Long Distances: Know Your Impact

In many cases, airplane travel is indispensable, especially if your travels take you overseas or across long distances. But with regional travel, choosing a train, bus or car over an airplane can go a long way toward conservation.

The stats: Two people flying in an airplane from New York City to Washington, D.C. create a carbon footprint of 472 pounds, while those same two people driving the same distance reduces the carbon footprint by half, to 229 pounds. The Fly or Drive Calculator on the BeFrugal website can tell you whether plane travel or car travel is better for the environment, based on your trip particulars.

3. Consider Bus or Train Travel Instead of Flying

Traveling by bus — especially one that uses renewable energy — can mean 55% to 75% fewer emissions than flying, according to a study on green travel by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Trains are another environmentally friendly option, and with Amtrak, you can purchase a carbon offset along with your ticket.

4. Donate to Offset Your Carbon Footprint

If plane travel is a must, you can keep it environmentally friendly by calculating the carbon footprint of your travels. Delta and United both have carbon offset programs.

5. Let Technology Help You Be Greener

Technology (apps, websites, electronics and more) can help the conscientious person travel their greenest:

  • You can have a positive impact on the community to which you’re traveling by learning about its specific needs and bringing items that can help. Let charity Pack for a Purpose be your guide: Set aside space in your luggage for supplies you can donate to community projects around the world (all tax deductible).
  • Find sustainable flights and eco-friendly hotels (and compare prices) using Glooby. You can search in Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, North and South America and popular cities within.
  • Eating locally can mean a reduction in emissions that would be used to transport your produce and other perishables. But while you might know all the ins and outs of eating locally where you live, it can be more difficult while traveling. The folks at Locavore solve this particular dilemma with their app, which provides details about local seasonal produce and nearby farmer’s markets.
  • If you must take a car in a city (rather than taking advantage of public transit), rideshare carpooling options are a more earth-friendly choice.
  • Make smart decisions when booking your trips: “Many environmentally minded groups, including the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund, offer eco-trips and outings that strive not to harm natural resources, wildlife or people. Backroads and REI Adventures also offer tours that aim to be environmentally low-impact,” reports The New York Times.

6. Build Good Habits

For local or international travel, familiarize yourself with recycling processes and different types of waste bins. Some areas separate recycling for paper products, plastic and cans, and many also have public compost bins.

7. Reduce Water Waste

Bring your own reusable water bottle along for the flight, the road trip, the hiking and even all the sightseeing you’ll do. Using a reusable bottle will keep the several plastic bottles you might have used during your trip out of the landfill. If you’re traveling someplace where bottled water is important, try a bottle with a built-in filter. You can also bring a travel mug for coffee and tea on the go, and you might even get a discount on your beverage, depending on the establishment.

8. Take it Easy on Hotel Resources

By now those little cards hotels leave in bathrooms sharing how many gallons of water it takes to wash the sheets and towels each day are so familiar they can be easy to ignore. But in the interest of the environment, don’t. Laundry accounts for 16% of an average hotel’s water usage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Cut down on the laundry load, save water and other resources. Simple.

Another way to be greener away from home: Treat your vacation lodging like you would if you were paying the electric bill — turn off lights you’re not using, take shorter showers and keep the thermostat at a reasonable temperature.

9. Public Transportation

If you’re traveling to a city with reliable public transportation, the greenest option is a no-brainer. One subway train in New York City transports many people into the city, meaning many fewer individual cars on the road. Check out the public transport options in your destination city before departing — you might be surprised what you find.

10. Explore a City by Bike

Bicycles and motorized bikes are good options for travelers who want the freedom of individualized travel with the benefits of reducing their environmental impact.

11. Sign up for a Tour

Walking tours, bus tours, bike tours – heck, even Segway tours – are excellent ways to see the sights while remaining conscious of your environmental impact. For some inspiration, check out National Geographic’s picks for top walking tours and Travel and Leisure’s 43 favorite walking tours around the world.

There are plenty of ways to see and experience what the world has to offer while not ruining the planet.

How do you stay true to your environmental ideals while traveling? Let us know in the comments. 

Image: andresr 

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Mortgages Are Bad for the Environment. Here’s What Can You Do About It.

Just how much paperwork is consumed annually by Americans buying homes may come as a bit of a surprise.

It’s no secret that the mortgage process is paper intensive. But exactly how much paperwork Americans buying homes consume annually may come as a surprise.

A report from the mortgage education website FreeandClear revealed that about 2.2 billion sheets of paper are used each year in this country for mortgages. That translates into 264,000 trees felled to print mortgage documentation. Beyond wood usage, “paper production involves considerable energy and water consumption, and generates significant greenhouse gas emissions and waste,” noted the report.

The company’s report is based in part on data from a 2016 Federal Reserve Bulletin, which said an average of 7.8 million mortgages are processed each year in this country. When that figure is multiplied by the approximately 280 sheets of paper FreeandClear said are used in an individual mortgage, you arrive at 2.2 billion.

To further quantify the environmental impact of this paper usage, FreeandClear tapped Environmental Paper Network, a nonprofit focused on issues surrounding paper production and consumption.

EPN used its “paper calculator” to determine the number of trees required for a year’s worth of mortgage paperwork. Their estimate of 264,000 is based on a calculation involving the total reams of paper required for 2.2 billion sheets of paper and the specific tonnage of trees necessary to produce those reams.

So what can be done about the paper intensive mortgage process?

Florida-based Digital Risk LLC is developing products to allow more of the process to be conducted via digital technology. Over the next several years, there will likely be a shift to greater usage of paper-free technology like e-signatures and the ability to review documents online or on your phone, said Digital Risk vice president Leo Loomie.

“A lot of strides have been made within the last year to move away from the historically paper intensive process,” said Loomie. “The technology is already there. It really just comes down to adoption.”

Here are some actions you can take to help reduce the amount of paper used when buying a home.

Do Your Research 

Though it only represents a small fraction of the process, many mortgage lenders have already switched to online loan applications.

“These lenders are beginning to make the transition to a paperless system,” said Tim Milauskas, a loan originator at First Home Mortgage in Maryland. “In many cases, borrowers can now create a secure online portal and upload their documentation directly to the lender rather than print out documents and hand-deliver them.”

Capstone Direct Mortgage Financing, in Thousand Oaks, California, is one such example. Over the past several years, the company has made a concerted effort to use less paper.

“We offer the ability to take your application online, save a pre-approval online and upload all of your paperwork to our (electronic document) system,” said Capstone founder Mike Wise. “We are trying to minimize any paper we use in our office and what we get from the borrower.”

Also on the horizon, said Milauskas, are automated systems that allow lenders to go directly to third parties to obtain financial information required from the borrower. One example includes lenders being able to access an applicant’s bank statements directly from the bank, rather than the applicant providing copies. (Here’s what you need to get a home loan fully approved, including your credit score. You can see where your credit stands for free on Credit.com.)

Ask Questions When Shopping Around

As you’re hunting around for the best mortgage rate and for the lender that best fits your needs, you can also obtain information about how technologically advanced a lender may be.

“Say to them, ‘I want this to be a streamlined, paperless process, do you offer that?’ ” said Loomie. “Ask them, ‘If it’s not entirely paperless, is it mostly paperless?’ ”

Many lenders and brokers allow loan applications to be completed electronically, but the vast majority of the paperwork associated with a mortgage comes at the closing, where wet signatures are still the standard. (Here’s how to plan for closing costs.)

Don’t Ignore Surveys 

Surveys represent an opportunity to weigh in on the mortgage process and effect change.

“A lot of folks look at surveys and say it’s not worth my time,” said Loomie. “I can say unequivocally that’s not the case, particularly in the mortgage industry. The surveys are very influential. Both large and small financial institutions put a lot of weight on the customer experience, they read your responses and deeply analyze and track customer feedback.”

In other words, use the survey to tell the mortgage industry you’d like it to use less paper.

“You can say, ‘If I knew how much paper was going to be used, I would have gone to a different lender,’” said Loomie. “And that sort of thing can be done throughout the process. Ask questions all along the way. Say, ‘Hey, why did you make me fax this when I know there are institutions that allow me to directly integrate this information online?’ The customer feedback will drive the adoption. They known being green is very important to customers.”

Lobby for Change

Customer service surveys are not the only place to voice your opinion. Reach out to officials at all levels — brokers, banks, regulators, elected officials and more, said Kim Porter of Environmental Paper Network.

“One of the positives about FreeandClear making this known is a greater awareness among people who want to see less waste,” Porter said. “People can start talking to companies and elected officials, and they can use their dollars wisely, choosing to work with companies who are advocating for less wasteful practices.”

Image: Weekend Images Inc. 

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