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Climate action: 10 Steps to drive and fly less

Travel accounts for around 25% of our individual emissions. Reducing the amount we fly and use our cars is therefore a great way to cut our footprint. 

Here, we provide a roadmap to reducing road and air travel.

Many of us rely on travel for everything from work and seeing family to doing our shopping or going for a walk. For some of us, cutting travel isn’t such an option. But for those who can, it’s a great way to address emissions. 

10 Steps to drive and fly less

Drive less

Driving a car has serious costs attached, including fuel, insurance, car tax and servicing. Cutting down on your car travel, sharing lifts or ditching your car altogether can therefore save you money as well as carbon.

1. Streamline your schedule

If you do lots of small car-based jobs on different days, you might be making lots of return trips that could be combined. You might therefore want to think about how you plan your time. For example, can you have specified car and no-car days and plan your jobs around them? Could you put all meetings that need a car on the same day?

With remote working becoming more possible, there are all sorts of opportunities to change our schedules. Perhaps you could work from home one day rather than drive to your place of work.

2. Change how you travel

Changing how you travel can require a bit of a mental shift. Why not take some time thinking about what makes you choose driving over walking, cycling or public transport?

For example, do you struggle travelling on public transport when it’s busy? With more and more employers offering flexible working, you could ask your employer whether you can work from home for a couple of hours in the morning so that you can travel into the office at a quieter time.

bike leaning against canal bridge

3. Consider getting an electric bike

Electric bikes are in fact one of the lowest carbon ways to travel – better than a pedal bike once you factor in the carbon footprint of eating extra food! They are quite an investment, but in the long run may save you money from cutting down on petrol if it allows you to significantly cut down on car use. An e-bike may make a journey more manageable than a push bike, especially if you have shopping or to manage the distance.

Some councils will allow you to hire an e-bike for a week so that you can test it out, so contact yours to check if this is an option. In Scotland, the government offers a loan towards getting an e-bike of up to £3000 (repayable in 4 years).

We cover e-bikes in our shopping guide to ethical bicycles, which looks at batteries, supply chains, workers' rights, along with the thorny topic of the climate importance of the diet of the cyclist! The Energy Saving Trust also has a guide to e-bikes.

4. Share your journeys

Carpooling can come in lots of different forms. It might be carpooling to get to work; sharing lifts with friends; or using a carpooling app.

The most simple place to start is speaking to friends or colleagues to see whether your routes or schedules match up. If you drive everyday to work, could you try and set up a carpooling arrangement with colleagues? You could also car share for other regular errands, like taking kids to school or driving to a supermarket. If you have a car, you could offer to take an elderly neighbour if you’re going into town, meaning they don’t have to drive too.

If you can’t find people already in your life to car share, you could look at using a car sharing club. Liftshare and BlaBlaCar are websites that allow you to find a driver going your way or offer lifts. It estimates that those sharing their regular commutes save £1,000 a year. GoCarShare does the same, but by connecting users on Facebook. Skoot allows you to match up only with existing friends for lift sharing. Lots of them automatically work out how much passengers owe the driver for petrol too.

Another option could be to try and persuade your workplace to establish a more formal carpool arrangement, supporting employees to find others on the same route. This calculator is a good tool to help you make your case: it helps you to calculate how much your employer might be able to save if they supported carsharing amongst their employees on things like leasing parking spaces and recruitment and retention of staff.

5. Use a car club

The average car is parked for 96% of its life. If you really want to cut down on driving, you might therefore want to go further and share the actual car. It may also make using an electric car more realistic – cutting your carbon even further.

Car sharing can take lots of forms. It might be co-owning a car with friends who live locally, splitting insurance and using a friend's car rather than owning your own, or using a more formal car sharing scheme.

Websites like Hiyacar and Getaround (London only) allow you to hire cars from other people in your area. You can also join a commercial car club, which allows you to book a company car, pick it up from a spot in your area, and return it once you’re done. Examples include Co-Wheels, Enterprise Car Club, UBEEQO (London only), Hertz 24/7 (London only) and Zipcar. Some of these allow one-way, as well as return journeys.

Some cities also have local community-based options, which are more socially focused and sometimes incorporate things like lift sharing and voluntary help schemes for people who can’t drive. CoMoUK (Collaborative Mobility UK), the national organisation for shared transport, has details of regional schemes, and lots of other information.

Using these options might let you get rid of your car altogether. Lots of them also use electric cars, so the actual use is also lower-carbon. They can work out significantly cheaper for individuals too. For the 30% of UK cars that drive less than 5,000 miles a year, owners would likely save by switching to a car share club.

6. Drive more efficiently

If you don’t feel able to cut down on your actual travel, you could find ways to drive more efficiently. There are lots of ways to drive so that you use less fuel:

  • Accelerate and break gently. This can include anticipating traffic or pedestrians, so that you don’t have to keep speeding up and slowing down. Rather than using your breaks, coast to slow down.
  • Maintain a steady speed. Changing speed between 45 and 53 mph every 18 seconds can increase your fuel use by 20%.
  • Avoid high speeds. Cars are usually most efficient when driven between 30 and 50 mph. Above these speeds, cars use more and more fuel as they go faster. Travelling at around 75 mph will use about 20% more fuel than travelling at 60 mph.
  • Keep your car well maintained. Having tyres that aren’t properly inflated can increase your fuel use by up to 4%. You can pump up your tyres using the air machine at your local garage for around 20p. Check the correct tyre pressure on the tyre information card, which is usually stuck to the inside of the driver’s door frame.
  • Cut down on load/weight. For a mid-size car, fuel consumption increases by around 1% every 25kg of weight carried. This includes roof or bike racks.
  • Get a fuel consumption display. They cost around £30-50 and will help you monitor and learn more fuel efficient habits.
Person holding passport and boarding pass in hand with bag

Fly less

One return flight to Bali will use more than one person's carbon budget for an entire year. It is by far the biggest emitter per kilometre of any transport mode.

The good news is that by cutting a few flights each year or going flight free, you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint.

7. Switch to other options

Flying emits more per kilometre than car, coach, ferry or train. Train or coach are your best bet, from a climate perspective.

The Man in Seat Sixty-One is an incredible source of information about anything you’d need to know about train travel. It can tell you how to get to virtually anywhere in Europe by train.

Unfortunately, flights can be ridiculously cheap compared to other modes of transport. This can make it much harder for those on low incomes to reduce their travel footprint unless you’re happy to holiday closer to home. If you feel able to save, you could put aside a fiver a week for a holiday budget to give you more options.

Buying an Interrail pass for Europe can sometimes be cheaper than buying individual train fares. It allows you to travel on almost all European trains for a specified number of days within a given period of time.

Alternatively, you could consider doing a lower budget holiday once you arrive to free up some cash for the travel. For example, Couchsurfing can help you find free accommodation, as can the Warm Showers website if you’re on a bike. The Workaway and WOOFING websites match you up with projects or farms looking for help in return for free food and accommodation. You’re expected to work for five hours a day, five days a week, but often on fun activities like planting. Many are friendly for children or ‘digital nomads’ too.

Our guide to travel booking companies also has lots of ideas for alternative lower-impact holidays.

Obviously, travelling by car or train can also take much longer than flying. If you don’t have long enough to factor in more days needed in transit, you could make the travel part of the holiday. Road trips in Scotland or sleeper trains in Europe are great options!

8. Join a wider campaign

Taking action can be easier and feel more meaningful if you know that others are doing the same thing. The Flight Free UK campaign allows you to pledge not to fly either for holidays that year, for the year full stop, or even for life!

9. Prioritise your most important travel

You may not want to quit flying completely, but some journeys you make are likely to feel more important than others. For example, many of us rely on flights for seeing friends or family, something that can be very important to us.

Instead of banning yourself from flying entirely, you could start by working out which flights mean the most to you. Prioritising visiting people or travelling to places you plan to stay for a long time, for example, might be a way to cut the flights you think mean less in your life.

10. Speak to your workplace

Some workplaces ask employees to fly for meetings or other reasons. Why not speak to your workplace about if this is necessary? With more and more people meeting online, digital attendance may well be an option.

Alternatively, if you do need to travel, you could ask about taking the train. It may be more expensive, but many workplaces are trying hard to cut their carbon emissions so may well be up for supporting this. Many trains in Europe also have good WiFi, meaning you can work on the train if needed. You could ask your employer to look into joining Climate Perks which supports employers to offer paid ‘journey days’ to staff who travel on holiday by train, coach or boat instead of flying.

Why is it important to drive and fly less?

Driving less and flying less are crucial actions for addressing climate change. Transport accounts for about 25% of our emissions. Of this, cars are responsible for 40% and flights for 24%.

In order to decarbonise our transport, we will need to travel less, switch to greener options, improve the efficiency of vehicles, and run them on greener fuels.

Climate Gap Report

In October 2022, Ethical Consumer published its second report looking at consumer action on climate change. It looked at ten key actions consumers, governments and companies must take for the UK to reach its emissions reductions goals, and how far we are from meeting them.

It found that although there has been some progress in some areas, we are on track to miss most of the key targets.

When it comes to cutting emission from transport, there has been some reduction although there is still scope for more changes around reducing and changing travel options.

Read a summary of the current performance for emissions from transport in the 2022 report.