I'm in humid Portland, Oregon, on assignment for Audubon magazine. Since I live a relatively "green" life at home - I walk most places, live in a house heated and cooled by the sun, and eat from my organic kitchen garden - and since I'm writing for an environmental magazine, it seemed to me that this trip would be a good chance to try to make my business travel as green as possible.
I quickly encountered complex the trade-offs. I didn't have time to drive to Portland, and there's no train service from my part of Colorado to the Pacific Coast. That left flying, the least "green" alternative (a recent study estimates that a coast-to-coast flight emits twice as much carbon dioxide per passenger as driving an SUV would, and three to five times as much as taking the train). So I purchased carbon offset credits from Terrapass to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from my plane flights. Carbon offset credits pay for renewable energy development and other projects that attempt to remediate or soak up the greenhouse gases produced by activities that use up fossil fuels, adding that once-stored carbon to the atmosphere. They're not a perfect solution, but buying carbon offset credits from a reputable organization like Terrapass is better than doing nothing. (I think.)
Then there's the trip to the airport, 120 miles over the mountains to Denver. There's no way to get there via public transit (that's one drawback to living in the rural West - there is no public transit). My husband and I carpooled in our Toyota Sienna van, which gets around 22 miles to the gallon. (We're thinking of trading for something smaller and more fuel-efficient - probably a Subaru Forester - next time we have spare money.) We've resolved to keep our speed to 65 miles per hour or below in order to increase gas mileage (over 50 mph, your mileage-per-gallon drops as much as 20 percent for each ten mile-per-hour increase in speed). That made the trip a bit longer, but not enough to be worth burning the extra fuel and adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
At the airport, we parked at an economy lot and took a shuttle with a dozen other people for the last few miles or so. A slightly greener option that saves us $4 a day in parking fees. Nice!
With flights right after lunch, we had to get something to eat so we wouldn't starve on the way to Portland. (Bringing our lunches would have been much greener, but I ran out of time at the last minute. I'll plan more carefully next time, and we'll eat better!) We picked from the limited fast-food options available, mindful of the environmental cost of processing and packaging food. We ended up with a Caesar salad in a plastic container and a slice of pizza in cardboard. I was feeling pretty good about finding fairly "green" fast food until we sat down to eat, and I popped the top of my drink, a San Pelligrino soda, imported from Italy. So much for my green consciousness: next time I'll drink local water from a water fountain. It may be purified and chilled, both of which use energy, but at least it won't be shipped halfway around the world. Here's to local water!
On the plane, I faced another one of those trade-offs when the beverage service cart came around. What's the greenest choice there? Not sodas, with their high-sugar content and high energy costs in processing, or juices, with their long travel distances. Ditto for wines and beers or mixed drinks. I chose bottled water, but again, next time I'll bring my own. How? I saw a guy in the security line with two empty water bottles, which he must have been planning to fill in a drinking fountain after making it through security. He and his bottles safely passed the scanner, so I'll imitate his strategy next time.
When we reached Portland, instead of renting a car as I normally do on business travel, Richard and I caught a red MAX line train on Portland's light rail system, headed for the hotel I'd picked because it fit into Audubon's travel budget and was a few blocks from the MAX. (Yup, it's much more convenient to rent a car, but Portland has great mass transit, so I had decided when I planned this trip that it was time for me to practice the values I do at home while on the road. And our daughter, Molly, lives in Portland and rides the light rail all the time, so she volunteered to serve as our tour guide.)
The toughest part of taking the MAX was getting the machine at the airport to take my money, but once we had our tickets, we simply walked a short distance to the train, waited a few minutes, got on and were off. The trip up was quick, the ride pleasant, and we exited three blocks from our hotel. The best part? Whizzing past the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate as we relaxed and chatted. Talk about feeling good about being green. . . .
Today I've mapped out the bus route to my first interview (thanks to Molly) and tomorrow I'm walking to the Metro Building to meet Tom Liptan, a landscape architect and green roof guru, who works for the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, and has promised me a tour of green roofs in his hybrid car.
More on green travel choices in this trip to a summer-green region in my next post!