5 ways to shrink your holiday CO2, and feel even better

28th July 2023

Andy Williams

Co-founder, the wordy 'other half' | Intrigued by good content, and what it achieves | Bit of a nerd, quite creative, loves to write | Father, cyclist, activist | [ he/him ]

Illustrating how to enjoy an eco friendly holiday

Listen, you’ve earned this holiday – you deserve the break. But no one can not notice that Europe and the US are breaking records for heat this summer, again. It’s a phenomenon created by humans – all kinds, not just the tourist kind – and climate predictions say these events are going to get more frequent.

Oi! – I hear you shout. My summer holiday is the one place where I get away from the doom and gloom. It’s not a guilt trip.

Fair enough. So here are 5 ways to shrink your holiday CO2, and feel even better. Things that you can do before you go, while you’re there and when you get back, to give yourself the feel-good buzz of doing something positive about your holiday’s CO2 footprint. That way you can enjoy your time there even more.

1. Make good flying choices

If you’re not flying to your holiday destination, make this bit optional reading. But if you are, then you’ll already know that the carbon created by your flight dwarfs any you’ll create at and about your final destination.

You’re not the average, passive passenger right? You’d like to know how to reduce  your holiday flight’s carbon footprint and you absolutely can. Here’s the formula:

Newest aircraft + high seating capacity + high seat occupancy = lowest personal CO2  flight footprint. 

You might be surprised by the impact. Using the example of a one-way flight from Bristol Airport, UK to Faro, Portugal, we calculated these numbers:


Round Trip - 1 adult



Bristol- Faro

3402 km


692 kg

Bristol - Faro

3402 km


600 kg


92 kg (13%)

92 kg ain’t nothing. I weigh 82kg. So I can save more than my weight in CO2 by my choice of operator and aircraft. Looked at another way it’s the equivalent of driving 500 km in a VW Golf 2.0 GTD.

By the way, we’re using the Atmosfair emissions calculator here, widely regarded as the fairest and most rigorous. You’ll get lower numbers from some others – but that’s not the point is it? Try it out for yourself.

How about your choice of seat? So this is an eye opener. Swapping to a standard economy seat (no extra legroom or width) – on this aircraft type – makes a huge difference.


Round Trip - 1 adult



Bristol- Faro

3402 km


600 kg

Bristol - Faro

3402 km


480 kg


120 kg (20%)

So picking an operator with the latest aircraft  – and who flies them full – saves you a lot of personal CO2. Booking an economy seat could save more – and that’s an easy choice to make.

And if you’re not in the plane-spotting game, then averaged numbers for all airlines operating the same route  – Atmosfair again – shows this for our Bristol – Faro route…

BRS-FAO: Airlines ranked on CO2


* lowest *


+ 46 kg


+ 23 kg

So now you know.

2. Offset your trip

Independent offset schemes – like the ones highlighted by Atmosfair – can offer more innovation and more certainty of the outcome you’d want. There are lots more ways to capture carbon than planting trees, some with earlier payback to people and planet. For instance, regenerative agriculture traps carbon as effectively as forestry, grows organic food for humans, and creates a mosaic of habitats, benefiting biodiversity. Or, funding renewables in developing countries with already-low carbon emissions, to allow economic growth in those nations without parallel growth in carbon. And those schemes also offer greater transparency, more accurate carbon accounting, and zero greenwashing from the airline lobby.

So, if you want to feel really good about yourself, get a realistic figure for your flight’s CO2, consider a carbon offset price that reflects a high value offset scheme, and reach for the credit card.

3. Use public and active transport at your destination

Much depends on where you go, which is something to think about next time around. Some cities – like Amsterdam and Copenhagen – have re-thought the whole context of city living, and chosen to make cycling and walking their number 1 mode of transport. Simply the easiest, quickest and safest way to get about, they’re also a memorable holiday adventure right?

Electric trains, trams and buses (from green electricity) have virtually no carbon emissions. Diesel trains and scheduled buses still save roughly half the per-passenger CO2  of a conventional car journey. Charter buses tend to be fuller, so do even better. That all-inclusive bus trip to the sights and sounds of < fill in your blanks> might not be such a bad idea after all.

4. Make sustainable choices for your accommodation

Resorts are beginning to market themselves on their improving sustainability credentials. Overall that’s a good thing, because tourist accommodation accounts for 1% of total global CO2 emissions. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) can account for around 40% or more of a building’s total power use, and when you rank large commercial buildings for overall energy consumption, hotels are in the top 5.

So resorts and other sorts of accommodation that use renewables for power, make use of passive cooling, and conserve water in water-stressed regions, are making a meaningful impact.

This brilliant little article in Outside Magazine goes into some detail on how to track down or assess your chosen accommodation.  One thing to check for is the Global Sustainable Tourism Council logo on a resort website because – like all things sustainable – greenwashing is rife. This not-for-profit publishes minimum sustainability standards for the industry not only covering energy and water use, but cultural impact as well.

5. Rent your clothes

Thought we’d finish with something a bit more left field. Or actually, maybe not. I think we all know that the fast fashion end of that industry exploits both the environment and some of the poorest workers on the planet. So your choice is to pay more up front and get your wear from your kit. Or, rent a killer outfit, have your moment, and hand it back for someone else to clean and the next person to wear.

It’s not that weird right? You’d rent a wetsuit for that surfing lesson. Or skis and boots. So why not that red-carpet number? Or the icing-pink tailored jacket that – let’s face it – isn’t going to translate too well from the heat of Marbella to a wet winter’s eve in Motherwell, Matlock or Machynlleth.

Depending on your choices, you’ll shrink your baggage needs too. Even if you love gaming the low-cost airlines’ ever changing baggage rules (you do?! ) changing down to a large cabin bag from 13kg in the hold will save you stress, money and CO2.

In summary

We ought to face it: flying damages the climate and is both difficult and slow to decarbonise. Currently the gains made through increased fuel efficiency and (to a lesser extent) sustainable aviation fuel are barely keeping pace with the overall increase in air travel. Aviation’s carbon footprint is not shrinking.

But within that, you can have your personal impact. Fly less if you can. And when you must fly, fly cleverly. Offsetting is worthwhile, all the more so when you choose where your money is invested rather than relying on your airline’s ‘creative’ carbon accounting. And at your destination, your choice of accommodation, activity, transport and even clothing can all make a positive difference. Be curious.

This stuff – it isn’t just about the net impact on carbon’s bottom line either. It says something about the kind of person you are. In a good way.

So, have a great holiday.

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