Travelling Light

There’s a lot of discussion these days about transport and carbon dioxide emissions, and with good reason: on average about a third of the energy we all use is spent getting us from A to B, so it accounts for a large chunk of our emissions. Depending on your circumstances there’s a lot that can be done, often with financial as well as environmental benefits. Here are just a few suggestions.

Stay at home! Not surprisingly, the way to cut your emissions completely is not to travel in the first place. Not travelling at all is often not an option, but you might find it possible to combine a number of small trips together, so reducing the time, miles, and money spent travelling forward and backwards. If planning a holiday, taking one week-long trip is going to involve less travelling than a number of weekends away for example.

Not travelling as far also comes under this category. Often we have a choice about where we’re going, and so can opt for the nearer one by shopping nearby for example. All else being equal this is likely to be a common approach as it will save time and money travelling too.

Change mode of transport. Another one that most people will already understand pretty well: there are lots of different ways to get around (aeroplane, train, boat, bus, car, bicycle, and on foot to name a few) and all use different amounts of fuel to get you a certain distance. Not all are interchangeable of course, but using a train instead of an aeroplane, or a bicycle instead of a short car journey will often work out as more environmentally friendly.

Public transport has other benefits too; for example by using the bus service through Girton you can help ensure it is profitable and so continues to exist for those members of our community who rely on it.

Short journeys, such as those within the village or into Cambridge, are often the best candidates to be replaced by walking or cycling, particularly as cars are at the most inefficient over short distances and when stopping and starting a lot.

Commuting. For many people getting to work and back makes up the biggest part of their travel. Is it possible to share transport with others who live nearby? How about cycling when the weather is fine? Could you work from home one day a week, or travel off-peak to avoid congestion? Employers are often happy to help as time wasted travelling is of no benefit to them either.

Change the way we drive. There are times when there is no realistic or practical alternative to driving, but you don’t have to spend money on a new car to increase your fuel efficiency. Avoiding rapid acceleration and braking by thinking ahead and driving at a relatively constant speed will help, as will driving slightly slower. A recent study for the German Autobild magazine (report in English together with graphs here) comparing fuel efficiency on a test track of a number of cars at different speeds found that typically for every 10 miles an hour faster they drove (above 40 mph), they lost around 5 mpg in fuel efficiency. I was able to test this out on a journey recently, and found that by cutting speed from 70 mph on dual-carriageways/motorways to about 60-65 mph I added 10% to my car’s fuel efficiency. This is turn means 10% less spent on petrol, at the cost of the journey taking a few minutes longer.

Change car. It would probably not be efficient to scrap a perfectly good car on a whim, but next time you are replacing a vehicle, take a look at the fuel efficiency. There’s a lot of talk at the moment about electric and hybrid cars, but often these fail to take account of where the electricity used to power them comes from. If coal is burned to generate the electricity, it’s probably not much better than burning petrol in a conventional car!

As always, we hope that you don’t take this as a personal attack on your lifestyle. Sustainable Girton isn’t on a crusade to force change but instead we hope that by providing some ideas and information you might find things that you want to do that will also help the environment.