Make air travel more sustainable

Last updated: 11 January 2022

Aeroplane engines burn fossil fuels, which produce emissions such as carbon dioxide, the main cause of climate change. Air travel has a greater climate impact per passenger trip than other forms of transport.

The development of more fuel-efficient aeroplane engines is countered by the rapid growth of air travel and individual trips, which is causing increasing levels of aviation pollution.

Carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting is a way to compensate for carbon emissions produced by an activity, such as air travel, by purchasing units which fund projects that remove or reduce emissions from the atmosphere, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation programs.

Carbon offsets do not prevent emissions occurring in the first place. It is important to remember that you should make every effort to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions wherever possible before carbon offsetting to compensate for them.

Some airlines and travel booking services have partnered with accredited offset scheme providers and offer an option to purchase carbon offset units at the time of your booking. Carbon offsets are not fees that go to the airline or travel booking service.

Generally, passengers have to choose, or ‘opt-in’, to purchase carbon offset units, so it is a simple choice that you can make to help reduce the impact of your air travel.

Carbon offset units can be used for other activities to achieve carbon neutrality, a combination of reducing your greenhouse gas emissions where possible, and using offset units to compensate for the remaining emissions to achieve net zero emissions. This approach is sometimes called 'going carbon neutral'.

How carbon offsets are calculated

Many websites offer 'carbon calculators' that allow you to estimate the carbon emissions generated by activities such as air travel. Offset units reflect your portion (for example per seat) of the emissions generated by your flight measured by kilogram of carbon dioxide in tonnes.

While we all want to save our money where we can, especially when travelling, the cost of carbon offsets might not be as much as you think. For instance, a Melbourne to Sydney flight might cost around a dollar, while a trip from Melbourne to London might be around $25. This will vary depending on the scheme being supported.

In addition to offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, purchasing offset credits can:

  • support the habitat for animal and plant species
  • re-establish vegetation
  • generate employment where projects are undertaken
  • improve health and education for local people where projects are undertaken.

Air travel alternatives

The rise of online video calls and conferencing has reduced the need for some interstate or international travel for business needs.

For other travel for holidays, leisure and business, public transport and sustainable approaches to car use can all help us avoid excess emissions from air travel as much as possible.

Top tips for reducing your air travel footprint

1. Take a bus or train for longer trips

Travelling via public transport will benefit you and the environment in many ways. Travel within Victoria and interstate via public transport is convenient and comfortable and quicker than you might think (no airport commuting or waiting time).

2. Tweak your travel

Reducing your air travel footprint doesn't mean giving up your holidays. Instead, think about taking trips closer to home, avoiding flights entirely wherever possible and choosing sustainable holiday options. Research the airlines to find the newer, more fuel-efficient fleets, and take direct flights whenever possible.

3. Use sustainable travel on the ground

Where flights are unavoidable, travel overland and use local public transport at your destination. And don't forget your feet and legs! Walking, trekking and cycling are wonderful ways to explore.

4. Carbon offset your flights

Buy carbon offset units to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases released as a result of your air travel. Offset units support projects that reduce or remove emissions from the atmosphere, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation. Offset credits should be purchased from accredited offset scheme providers.

5. Carpool

Carpool with friends or colleagues to meetings or events if public transport isn't available. If flying is necessary, try to carpool to and from the airport.

6. Meet and catch up online

Save commuting time and reduce emissions by attending regional, interstate or international meetings by videoconferencing from the convenience of your own home or local office. A range of videoconferencing tools are now available online, many at no cost for smaller meetings. It's even possible to attend conferences online. While nothing can compensate for seeing family and friends in person, a regular video chat can help you feel more connected.

Other ways to reduce your carbon footprint

Minimising your air travel and carbon offsetting your flights are not the only ways to reduce your 'carbon footprint' and take action against climate change.