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Do you have a guilty conscience about how often you jump on and off a plane? The harsh reality we all have to face as travellers is that our carbon footprints are seriously harming the planet.
If having less impact on the world we all share is something that concerns you, there are many ways to be more eco-conscious. Whether it’s staying longer in each place, using a more eco-friendly method of transport, or being selective about the products you buy and use, technology can help.
These are ten of my favourite apps, sites, and products to help you cut down on waste and pollution, and have less impact on the environment when you travel.
WWF Footprint Calculator
If you want to fix a problem, you need to be aware of the extent of it. To that end, many organisations have put together online carbon calculators to help figure out which aspects of your life are causing the most environmental damage, and what you can do about it.
My personal favourite is the WWF Footprint Calculator, because it’s very simple to use and doesn’t require signing up before you begin. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has been around since 1961, with the tagline “For a future where people and nature thrive.” Who doesn’t want that?
The WWF calculator poses a range of questions about your lifestyle, including how far you’ve flown in the last year, and what your diet consists of. After completion, you’re given multiple suggestions for ways you can reduce your environmental footprint.
My results were that my lifestyle is less damaging than the UK average but a lot higher than the world average. Suggestions I received were to eat more seasonal, local foods and buy second-hand clothing. Finding local thrift stores certainly sounds manageable.
Green Globe is a leading certifier of eco-conscious travel venues, and has scouted out options all over the world to make it easier to find a “green” place to stay.
The app is simple to use, nicely laid out, and has a calming background of blue sea and sky. Choose one of the categories — hotels, meeting places, or attractions — from the main list, then pick your country. You’ll then be shown the most sustainable resorts, hotels, and tour experiences in the country.
The app explains that Green Globe rates each company’s sustainability against 40 criteria “which have been accepted globally as the definition of sustainable travel and tourism.” It’s not just a box-ticking exercise, though — the businesses undergo an on-site audit as well.
The number of listings varies significantly by destination, and while areas some are well-covered, others may feel a little sparse despite the 45,000 hospitality providers represented.
The app is free to download for iOS and Android. It’s very easy to use but rather basic, and once you’ve planned a trip and found a hotel or attraction, you won’t need it any longer. Still, it will have played a small but useful part in making your trip more eco-friendly.
When you finally touch down in a new city, there’s often no better way to get around than walking or biking. Not only will you discover more compared to driving or public transport, you’ll also be doing the planet a favour.
Spinlister works as a peer-to-peer bike lending app. It lists people (and in some cases, companies) who have a bike to lend in 22+ countries. The free app is very easy to use, if somewhat limited in destinations.
You’ll initially see a map of your surrounding area, with a search function for scouting options in another city ahead of time. Choose your pickup and drop-off times, and you’ll see small symbols on the map with information on how much each bike is to rent per hour, day, or week. Usually, prices aren’t too expensive unless you’re going for a high-end bike or specialist equipment.
Spinlister announced it would be shutting down in April this year, but rumours are swirling of a rescue bid, and for now at least, the website remains operational.
The theory behind the Trip Zero website is that “reforestation works.” If you book your trip through Trip Zero, it’ll calculate your carbon footprint, then offset it at no extra cost to you. The website calculates your total impact from when you leave home to when you get back, using what it believes is the most comprehensive carbon calculation tool in the world.
As well as forestry projects, this new style of travel agency relies on renewable energy and methane reduction to cancel out a traveller’s carbon footprint. There is also a low-price guarantee. In essence, the site earns a commission from your hotel bookings and puts it towards funding wind turbines and forest protection. Trip Zero is certified by the Green-e Climate Standard and the Verified Carbon Standard.
After you’ve booked your trip through this app, you’re encouraged to inspire your friends on social media to do the same. The app’s heart is in the right place, and it’s well worth checking out, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking we can entirely erase our environmental impact with such little effort. After all, it’s better not to cause damage in the first place than help fix it after the fact.
The Guardian recently published an article explaining that avoiding meat and dairy is the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your environmental impact. For many of us, reducing our meat and dairy intake is likely a lot easier than never flying again. That’s helped by there being plenty of apps to help find a vegetarian/vegan restaurant, check out all the ingredients in a product, or order vegan takeout.
One of the most popular such apps is Happy Cow. This is a vegan-friendly restaurant guide, showing places which are purely vegan, as well as those with at least a few offerings for vegetarians and vegans. If the area you’re visiting doesn’t have any options, you can write your own reviews of the places you find, and get them added to the database. The app has contact info available for all restaurants.
You can download the app, or simply check out the website. The price of this app is a little steep at £3.99, but if you’re using it regularly, you’ll easily get the value from it. If you’re unsure whether to pay, check out what the website has to offer first.
It’s worth taking a look at Vegman as well, since it does a very similar thing to Happy Cow but is free. If you’re just dabbling in the vege/vegan app world, try this out before you commit to paying for Happy Cow.
Recyclebank is a website which encourages people to recycle by earning points for their actions. Around since 2004, its goal is to encourage zero-waste communities.
Points are awarded daily via the app for every eco-friendly activity you complete, so long as the city you’re in has partnered with Recyclebank. Even if it hasn’t, you can also earn points for using the app to learn about leading more sustainable life. Either way, those points can then be turned into local deals, donations, or sustainably-made goods.
Although I enjoyed using the website, the app appears to be unavailable to download currently and has terrible reviews because rewards weren’t as interesting as many users had hoped. Still, if you’re less interested in the rewards than living a sustainable life, the site is a great way to remind yourself that even small changes can make a difference.
Using the BlaBlaCar app, you can find people in your area who are going the same way as you and, for a small fee, hop in the car with them. It helps reduce your emissions, and often your costs as well. While it’s not necessarily the right choice for those who don’t enjoy making small talk with strangers for a few hours, it’s certainly better for the planet than everyone taking their own cars.
While it’s usually been my last resort if I find myself stuck with no sensible train or bus options, I’ve still used BlaBlaCar often, and have always had great experiences. The app is free on iOS and Android.
Apple Wallet / Android Pay
Apple Wallet has long had the ability to save boarding passes and public transport tickets, among other things, and Android Pay recently added the boarding pass feature as well. While using them won’t make a big difference on a personal level, if all paper tickets and printouts were replaced by electronic versions, it’d definitely have a positive impact on the environment.
Although I do regularly use Apple Wallet and enjoy having my tickets on my phone instead of an easily-lost piece of paper, it’s important to make sure the company you’re travelling with doesn’t penalise you for not having a printed ticket. I’m looking at you, DB Bahn!
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Solar Recharging Kits
If you’re a traveller who’s interested in the environment and spends time off the grid, a solar-powered charger is a useful and eco-friendly way of keeping your gear charged up.
We reviewed and liked an earlier model of one of Goal Zero’s solar recharging kits, and as solar panel technology has improved in recent years, the company has expanded its lineup. The Nomad 20 is a particularly popular option, being powerful enough to charge a smartphone, tablet, or portable battery, while still fitting in a daypack.
If you’ve got enough patience and sunshine hours, you may even be able to recharge a laptop from it. Maybe they should call it the Digital Nomad 20 instead?
The last item on the list is one to look out for in the future, having recently raised over $400,000 from 5300+ Kickstarter backers.
The idea behind the Be. Toothbrush is simple enough: a battery-free electric toothbrush, powered by the user twisting the base a few times. The company behind the brush, Goodwell Co., say it will also be sustainable, 100% recyclable, biodegradable, and made in the USA.
Estimated delivery for Kickstarter backers isn’t until the end of this year, however, so we doubt the rest of us will be able to get out hands — or teeth — on it until at least 2019.