A manual to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of our business travel. This is a wiki. Please contribute to it by adding the information and experiences you might have.
- 2.1. Rail: websites and apps
- 2.2. Rail: cards and fidelity programs
- 2.3. Buses
- 2.4. Ride sharing
- 2.5. Ferries
- 2.6. Other boat travel
- 2.7. Initiatives
- 4.1. Before your trip: planning well
- 4.2. On the road: a kit for pleasant and productive trips
- 4.3. At destination: take your time
- 4.4. At the end: document your trip
1. Staying at home
Edgeryders is a service company with minimal office facilities and no obligation of physical presence (no one has to commute). Our greenhouse gas emissions come from our use of computers and Internet and from business travel. It is safe to say that business travel accounts for the lion’s share. This manual is meant to help us reduce these emissions, but may also offer inspirations for other organizations to do the same.
1.1. Do you really need to travel?
In general, we do not recommend you travel just to have meetings, exchange words or other information. Valid reasons to travel can include, however:
Serendipity. If you want to work closely with certain people and to spend time together without an agenda, bouncing ideas around as they come: that’s something that is hard to replace with online tools, as it is a lot about having enough time together to catch mutual creative moments. Such a time would be a substantial investment; think two weeks or more of living close, not just of sitting in the same office.
Study visits. Spending a substantial amount of time in a different place to get to know a group, their problems, their way of working or a set of physical artifacts (let’s say, architecture) can hardly be replaced with digital communication. Short study visits (say, less than a week) can often be replaced with video interviews, videos sent as documentation material and the like.
Physical work. Non-digital work cannot be performed through digital communication tools. Sometimes you can replace your involvement with somebody living closer to the target destination. Sometimes the work is not important enough as the only reason to travel. Sometimes you’ll have to travel.
1.2. How to avoid traveling
You can replace most meetings with a blend of conference calls, written interaction via this forum, and other asynchronous collaboration tools. We explore this topic in detail in its own manual:
For some people, nomadic living is also a possible way to avoid at least half of the traveling – namely the return journeys. Everyone with a place-independent job can technically do this. The challenge is usually how to square this with partnership and family. Traveling nomadically with your partner would have the same emissions as traveling solo but with a return journey. However, nomads also have much more time to travel so can choose a carbon-neutral mode of traveling, which is carbon neutral even when traveling with a partner (sailing ship or cargo ship, or even bicycle). Alternatively, if you can manage a long-distance relationship then a temporary nomad life (of some months at a time) might be for you.
2. Staying on the ground
Air travel entails much higher CO2 emissions per kilometer than overland or sea travel:
In 2018, [global passenger aviation] CO₂ emissions totalled […] 744 Mt, for 8.2 trillion revenue passenger kilometres: an average fuel economy of 90.7 g/RPK CO₂ […] (3.61 L/100 km […] per passenger) […] For a comparison with ground transportation […] a Volvo bus 9700 averages 0.41 L/100 km […] per seat for 63 seats. In highway travel an average auto has the potential for 1.61 L/100 km […] per seat (assuming 4 seats)
(source: Wikipedia: Fuel economy in aircraft)
In addition, “the […] IPCC estimated that aviation’s total climate [heating] impact is some two to four times that of its direct CO2 emissions alone” (source).
So whenever possible, we propose to use surface travel.
2.1. Rail: websites and apps
Rail travel is relaxing and comfortable almost anywhere in Europe. Unfortunately, the degree of integration between the ticketing facilities of different railway companies is still limited – forget about the full interoperability of airlines. Despite this, the quality of intermediary services is growing rapidly. Seat61 has a handy guide to buying tickets for European trains online. Spoiler: it really matters who you buy from.
Omio (formerly GoEuro) runs simultaneous searches for trains, buses and flights. You can then pick your favorite travel mode by clicking on a tab. IN practice, it does not seem to be particularly strong on finding train itineraries.
Railtic is a search engine: it can find train rides, but won’t sell them to you.
From A to B is a multi-mode journey planner, best used in Germany but also good for Europe. In Germany, it includes trains incl. Flixtrain, buses and BlaBlaCar car pooling.
Rome2Rio is a multi-mode journey planner that seems to be built on the Google Maps APIs. Quite confusing at first, as you need to set dates and times of each leg of your journey separately. Not recommended except for getting a rough idea of what modes of transport are available from point A to point B.
Flixtrain is the sister company of Flixbus. It does not simply resell train seats, it actually runs a small network of its own trains, for now limited to some cities in Germany. It promises trains running fully on renewable energy.
The Trainline makes you compare and book train and bus tickets for many railway companies in Europe, using your loyalty cards and buying tickets at (they say) even cheaper prices. @ilaria is happy with it.
2.2. Rail: cards and fidelity programs
The reality of European rail travel is that each international trip will consist of several legs, each ran by different companies. There seems to be nothing comparable to Skyteam or Star Alliance in airlines. This leaves us with a maze of (national) railcards, rail passes, fidelity programs etc. There seem to be serious opportunities: for example, Deutsche Bahn issues Bahncards that look attractive if you are doing a lot of your travels in Germany.
Interrail passes are promising; they start at around 200 EUR for 3 days within a month. They also work as a perk for Edgeryders staff: if you are traveling a lot in a given month, and it makes sense to buy an Interrail pass rather than just tickets, you get to keep your Interrail pass when you are done with company-related travel. So, go ahead and take that holiday break, the train ticket is paid for!
Much more research is needed in this area.
Bus travel has upgraded a lot in Europe in recent years. You can now expect onboard toilets, good seats, wifi and power sockets.
The landscape of bus travel is even more fragmented than that of rail travel. Some operators are micro companies that only offer one or two long-distance lines.
Flixbus is a German startup vying for dominance in Europe. They have a good network centered on Germany, with destinations from Oslo to Paris, Milan and Kiev. Best coverage outside of Germany seems to be in the Netherlands and Central and Eastern Europe.
To travel even more cheaply with them, you can purchase discounted Flixbus vouchers on eBay – or sell your own there in case you don’t need them. To keep your vouchers from expiring after 12 months, you can use them to purchase a trip an cancel it right afterwards, which results in a new voucher for the trip price less a 1 EUR cancellation fee.
BlaBlaBus is a new coach service set up by ridesharing platform BlaBlaCar. Provides bus connections within Europe.
2.4. Ride sharing
Also of course, there is the age-old tradition of hitchhiking, and its widespread resurgence could save a lot of emissions. For those who want to try, see Hitchwiki, the hitchhiker’s manual.
In the Mediterranean Sea, there are numerous ferry connections and they are almost ridiculously cheap for foot passengers (for example Palermo – Tunis 13 EUR, Palermo – Genoa 52 EUR). Ferries are not in service because of foot passengers, these rather just fill up spots not taken by the passengers of transported cars and trucks, and some free deck space just because a ferry comes with a lot of space. So a ferry foot passenger is “zero marginal emissions”: adding or removing all foot passenger does not change number of ferry journeys or their CO2 emissions in any way. That makes it a green way to travel, as long as cars are ferried around.
The advantage of a ferry is that you get one long trip instead of piecing together multiple train and bus journeys. That avoids missing connections due to delays and may even give you a full night of sleep. For example Palermo – Genoa is 20:30 hours by ferry, and 17-18 hours by bus and train if you don’t miss a connection.
Some tips for ferry travel as a foot passenger:
If you want comfort, book a cabin bed. Usually, 4-bed shared cabins are available, either inside-facing or outside-facing (with windows). The latter are more expensive.
"Deck space" means camping. At least with Grimaldi Lines, you don’t have to reserve a seat and can instead use “deck passage”. That’s obviously the cheapest option, but it means you have to bring sleeping gear if you want to sleep. At night, people are literally just sleeping everywhere in the large common deck rooms. You do well to grab a space early on, as sometimes the boat will be so full that it’s difficult to get a good sleeping spot if you wait too long. Also, the engines can be quite noisy and the lights will stay on in the deck spaces, so be sure to prepare for that if you want to sleep.
How to do computer work. There is no Internet (at reasonable cost) available during passage. You usually can get satellite Internet access via wifi, but that’s only reasonable for very low bandwidth applications like plain text chat and e-mail. But you can totally do computer work that does not need it. try to be lucky and find a chair and a power outlet somewhere, for example in the staircases. These are well-loved by others for charging phones and often blocked. But if you bring a multi-plug that also includes four USB charging sockets, you’ll certainly be able to get a power socket. People will also ask you to guard their device while it’s charging. Otherwise, you can bring an external battery pack or replaceable notebook batteries for 10-12 hours of work.
Booking ferry trips:
Directly at the ferry line. You can book tickets directly with the ferry line. Expect old-fashioned websites, and that payment systems may not work the way they should. In that case, Direct Ferries is another option (see below).
2.6. Other boat travel
There are some more options to travel by boat, including Atlantic and Pacific passages:
Freighter travel. You travel aboard a commercial cargo ship. Rates are usually per day of travel and vary from 60 - 130 EUR. An example of an agency offering this type of journey is Langamreisen. If you find a way to directly agree on this with the shipping company, it will probably be much cheaper.
Recreational boat travel. This typical boat journey offer you can find at Find a Crew is a middle-aged male captain, traveling for fun, anywhere on the world. You will have to help aboard as part of the crew, and in most cases are expected to contribute to harbor costs and food expenses etc… There are no fixed dates of departure (“it depends on the weather”) and mostly no fixed routes given, so when trying to use this as a mode of traveling it will really be stretching it. But you may be lucky, of course
Sailing cruise ships. There is at least one large (26 passenger) sailing ship doing Atlantic crossings, in this case once per year in each direction: the Chronos. One crossing Caribbean Sea to Portugal will take 26 days and cost 4600 EUR
Engine powered cruise ships are the worst! Engine powered cruise ships are available in plenty to cross the oceans, and when knowing the tricks it can even be cheaper than living in a hotel. Some digital nomads do this as a way of living, and there is now even Nomad Cruise for them. However, their carbon emissions are worse than flying, and there are plenty of other pollution issues they cause. Numbers are hard to find, but here are some from a 2006 Guardian article:
“According to our calculations, a cruiseliner such as Queen Mary 2 emits 0.43kg of CO2 per passenger mile, compared with 0.257kg for a long-haul flight (even allowing for the further damage of emissions being produced in the upper atmosphere). […]”
“Travelling to New York and back on the [Queen Elizabeth 2] […] uses almost 7.6 times as much carbon as making the same journey by plane.”
Flight-Free Travellers Network: Facebook group where you can find suggestions and support for traveling without taking a plane.
3. If you must fly
When it comes to flying, not all flights are the same in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. This and how to choose flights wisely in practice deserves more analysis, but here are a few pointers already:
Fly as short as possible. Even if it is not practically possible to use surface travel for all of your trip, you can at least minimize the part of the trip done by airplane. The lower limit will be the ocean crossing, usually. For example, you could fly Lisbon – New York (5432 km) rather than Berlin – Los Angeles (9341 km), saving 42% of air travel. Dublin – New York is similar (5129 km), saving 45%.
A great tool to find short flight connections is flightconnections.com. When you have some good candidate airports, you check their exact distances with Wolfram Alpha with queries as in the examples above. That makes sense as usual maps do not provide a good visual sense of distance due to distortions inherent in the map projection.
Choose a fuel-efficient airline. Because, there are vast differences in the fuel economy between airlines due to airplane fleet and seat density:
In 2014, MSCI ranked Ryanair as the lowest-emissions-intensity airline […] with 75 g CO2-e/revenue passenger kilometre – below Easyjet at 82 g, the average at 123 g and Lufthansa at 132 g – by using high-density 189-seat Boeing 737-800s.
From that example, flying with RyanAir compared to an “average” airline would reduce the CO2 emissions of the flight already by 1-(75/123) = 39%. They are called “economy airlines” for a reason …
Avoid too short and too long flight legs. Very short (<2000 km) flights or flight legs have a bad fuel economy due to the high fuel consumption during ascent. Likewise, very long (>5000 - 6000 km) flights or flight legs start to become less fuel efficient due to the added weight of the fuel for the whole flight. Then, it makes sense to make a stop to re-fuel (see). (TODO: good numbers for different flight lengths and aircraft types)
Fly light. This makes some limited sense: for example on a 4,600 km flight, each kilogram of added weight consumes 15% of its weight in fuel, producing roughly 45% of its weight in CO2 emissions:
Airbus presented the following measures to save fuel, in its example of an A330 flying […] 4,600 km […]: […] 100 litres […] of unused potable water consumes 15 kg […] more fuel.
So the 50 kg difference of sending a more lightweight colleague to fly, who then also flies without baggage, would save 22.5 kg of CO2 emissions. Compared to the total emissions of the flight of about 289 kg (source, for BKK–HND) that’s a maximum achievable saving of ~8%.
Turboprop engines are more fuel efficient than the usual turbofan engines (see), but they are not used at all on intercontinental flights, the only ones that usually cannot be replaced by ground transportation.
Some airlines may already use significant portions of sustainable aviation fuel. That’s not sustainable of course, but better than nothing.
4. Making the most of your journey
Travel time does not have to be a “dead zone”. You can and should reclaim that time to work, play or reach out to your loved ones. This is much easier when traveling overland, without the annoying interruptions of air travel. In Edgeryders, we commit to not making trouble paying you for work done while on the road.
4.1. Before your trip: planning well
If you do have to travel, we recommend you spend some time planning your trip carefully:
Merge your trips. @alberto believes in “merging” trips: if you can, schedule your trip so that you go from destination B directly to destination C. This way, you can cover two destinations with only three legs of your journey, instead of four (two there-and-back journeys). This generalizes even better to more than two destinations.
Travel together. By taking a colleague or friend with you on your travels, you transform hard-to-use travel time into important facetime for socializing and / or business purposes. It’s much more fun, cheaper (by sharing a room), easier (by sharing the coordination effort) and safer (by having an experienced colleague or at least another pair of eyes and ears if something goes wrong). Because it’s more fun, it can make strenuous journeys such as a multi-day boat or train journey acceptable. Of course, to make this possible you’ll have to start planning early: when selecting the people to work on a project resp. to go to a certain event.
4.2. On the road: a kit for pleasant and productive trips
Experienced travelers have many tips and tricks for making the most of the long hours you will spend on the road.
A noise canceling headphones set eliminates the hum of the road. This helps you feel more rested, and is especially good if you want to sleep.
A travel pillow can be a great help if you want to sleep.
Make sure you pack power banks not to run out of juice (though most trains and buses in Europe nowadays offer power sockets). Always take an international power adapter with you, it can save a lot of frustration!
If you plan to do a lot of writing, you can improve your writing posture and comfort even without an external monitor. The Roost holds your laptop screen at eye level, and an external keyboard helps you maintain a correct elbow and wrist position.
4.3. At destination: take your time
If you do decide to travel, be aware that most of the value added by your trip is going to be in socializing: getting closer to clients and partners, better understand their world and their point of view. For this reason, we recommend you take time to spend with the key people you are visiting. A good rule of thumb is to spend at least three nights out.
4.4. At the end: document your trip
Make sure that your colleagues and the community (including people you do not know, or who have not even joined Edgeryders yet) make the most of your trip by carefully documenting what you learned. In most cases, this is best done by writing a post in the appropriate category if this platform. Be mindful of the client’s confidentiality needs: they might require that the documentation is not shared publicly.
5. Compensating emissions
All travel (but esp. air travel) results in direct greenhouse gas emissions. We strongly suggest to follow the following policy in any Edgeryders project to deal with this fact:
When we have to travel because remote collaboration is not possible, we allocate an adequate amount of the project budget to the compensation of the travel emissions.
The idea is to bake emission compensation right into the project budgets of all our project applications. That is hard to decline for any client, avoids any budgetary issues later, and may even
How to measure. Before compensating, you should estimate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by your trip:
- For air travel. A good tool that includes factors such as aircraft type, intermediate stops and route-specific aircraft occupancy is the ICAO Carbon Emissions Calculator.
How to compensate. There are many ways to compensate emissions, and not all of them are equally trustworthy or cost efficient. We need to do more research in this area, but here are some initial pointers:
Treedom, an Italian company providing a service of emission compensation by tree planting. The trees have IDs, you can choose their variety and location, and are informed about their status. Edgeryders started its forest there with one Avocado Christmas tree, a gift received from @ilaria when she proposed the compensation scheme.
LifeGate, another Italian company providing emission compensation via tree planting.
SouthPole developes emissions reduction projects worldwide for both individuals and organisations, including forestry, renewables, waste management and energy access projects.
United Nations Carbon Offset Platform. A platform with many initiatives to choose from, certified by a UN certification scheme.