Green Corner: Sustainable Travel, Part 2

Story by Pia Amberger, Environmental Management Division, USAG Ansbach DPW

ANSBACH, Germany (June 1, 2017) — With so many long weekends coming up in the future, are you considering taking a trip to a major city in Europe? But how will you get there? By car? By train? Or maybe by plane? What do you know about the carbon footprint that your trip will have?

You can find many free, easily available online CO2 (carbon dioxide) calculators for all types of transportation. One such calculator is offered by the Deutsche Bahn website, which is also available in English. If you search for a trip by train you can click on the Environmental Mobility Check and it shows you how many kilograms of CO2 that trip would create if you make it by car, train or plane. Furthermore, you can see in several graphs how much nitrogen oxides (NOx) and fine dust the different modes of transportation produce and how much energy they consume.

Let’s say you want to visit Berlin next weekend. If your starting point is Nürnberg, then that trip would emit 4.5 kilograms of CO2 by train, 68.8 kilograms of CO2 by car and 137.2 kilograms of CO2 by plane (see graph below). The CO2 emissions of different transportation means are also dependent on the occupancy of the vehicle. The same trip to Berlin in a fully occupied car with five passengers causes a CO2 output of only 13.8 kilograms. This signifies a decrease of roughly 80 percent.

In theory that same reasoning is also applied to travel by aircraft. The more passengers, the smaller the CO2 output per kilometer flown. However, that is only possible if the flight is fully occupied and if it’s a long-distance flight. Takeoff and climbing emit the most CO2. With short distance flights, those two major emission occurrences lead to an especially high CO2 output per kilometer. Even more so because shorter distances less than 1,000 kilometers are performed by smaller aircraft that are typically only occupied at about 70 to 80 percent. The plane’s occupancy in our example is assumed to be 71 percent, as the flight distance is less than 500 kilometers.

Another form of transportation not considered in the Environmental Mobility Check are intercity bus services whose demand in Germany since 2014 has grown considerably. While they do have a smaller CO2 output than a train, especially when fully occupied, the train has the added advantage that it produces no nitrogen oxide and only a small amount of fine dust.

In the next Green Corner, we will talk about cruise ships and their impact on the environment.

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Check out Part 1 of this column HERE.

Check out the June 2017 environmental newsletter HERE.

Check out more environmental news from the Environmental Management Division HERE.

Nürnberg to Berlin: carbon dioxide output in kilograms per person.

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