Holidays and carbon footprints: our lust for foreign travel should be quelled

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said that “climate change is the moral challenge of our generation” at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali.

While many of us are doing our bit for the planet – by insulating our homes, installing low-energy lightbulbs and recycling religiously, our willingness to live a low carbon life is often at odds with how we choose to go on holiday. And social care staff are no different, see

The number of British people travelling abroad has more than tripled over the past 20 years, due largely to the cheaper cost of flying, although there is a heavy carbon cost of jumping on a jet. One return flight from London to Australia emits about four tonnes of carbon dioxide a person and even a short hop from Edinburgh to Malaga emits more than half a tonne of carbon dioxide for each person. With just one short flight you are likely to emit the equivalent of all the carbon dioxide you may have saved in the home throughout the year.

What then are the alternatives? Mile for mile, some cars with one person on board emits similar proportions of carbon dioxide to a plane, although with more passengers this comes right down.

Trains – as long as the line is electrified – emit far less carbon dioxide per person a return train trip from London to Edinburgh emits just 50kg of carbon dioxide, less than three times that produced by driving or flying the same distance.

There are lots of fantastic places you can reach by rail, such as the Scottish highlands, Penzance where you can catch the ferry to the Isles of Scilly, and Holyhead for the ferry to Dublin. And now that Eurostar is plugged into the European high-speed network you can reach many destinations on the Continent in a day. With rail, however, prices vary enormously depending on when you book, in the manner of air travel.

Low-impact holidays, such as camping, have had a renaissance because of the improvement to tent designs as well as the growth of “luxury campsites”, such as Feather Down Farm Days in Hampshire and Canvas Chic in France. And there are now greener options available for most types of holidays, from city breaks to summer holidays.

The Green Tourism Business Scheme has certified more than 1,400 tourism businesses in England and Scotland – from B&Bs to five-star hotels that use energy and water more efficiently, send less waste to landfill and source local, seasonal and organic food.

You can do several things on holiday to make it greener. Small actions, such as turning off the lights, air-conditioning and heating when you leave your hotel room, can make a major difference to your holiday’s environmental footprint.

So too will using a bike instead of a car. In the UK most people live within a mile of the National Cycle Network. For details of your nearest routes visit the website of the sustainable transport charity Sustrans.

Green places to stay in the UK

Apex Hotel, Edinburgh (0845 365 0000)

A four-star hotel in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, which has the gold award in the Green Tourism Business Scheme for its commitment to reducing energy and water use and using environmentally friendly chemicals.

Mossgrove Hotel, Cumbria (01539 435251)

A Victorian mansion in the heart of the Lake District that has been refurbished as a modern, eco-friendly hotel, including beds made from sustainable wood sources and a restaurant that serves fair trade and organic food.

Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall (01637 860555)

A large, family-friendly hotel on the north Cornish coast that has energy key card readers for the rooms, low-energy lightbulbs and a new eco-friendly spa.

Ecocabin, Shropshire (01547 530183)

A cosy solar-powered lodge in the Shropshire hills. The cabin is built out of wood, wool, reeds, lime and clay and has everything you need for a week’s self-catering, including a fully equipped kitchen, dining area, utility room, lounge and bathroom.

YHA Midlands (0870 770 8868)

The Youth Hostel Association’s newest hostel in the heart of the National Forest has a range of eco-features, including solar water heating and a wood-fuelled boiler that uses sustainable wood chips sourced from the forest.

Richard Hammond runs – an online guide to green holidays

This article appeared in the 10 January issue under the headline “Green path to holidays”


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