Monday, September 3, 2007

Traveling green, part II

When I first wrote about traveling green in June, I fully intended to say more about the subject in my next post. But when I got home, the garden was bursting and I had an article to write on green roofs for Audubon magazine, so I didn't get back to green travel.

It turns out that traveling "green" is both easier than I imagined and harder. Headed for a destination like Portland, where light rail lines cris-cross the metro area and buses are frequent, cheap, and convenient, it just required a change of habits. Instead of reserving a rental car and finding a road map of the city, I looked up the Max line map on the internet before leaving, and figured out how to get to our motel. Once there, we looked up the bus map and schedules and headed out with an itinerary in hand. (Also, we had our daughter, Molly, who lives in Portland as a guide. But even without her, it wouldn't have been difficult.)

I interviewed Tom Liptan, Portland's green roof guru from the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services and talked to Mace Vaughan, Conservation Director of the Xerces Society, a non-profit whose mission is the conservation of invertebrates, those zillions of creatures without backbones from starfish to butterflies. (Why does Xerces care about green roofs? Roofs carpeted with soil and plants are potential habitat for butterflies, native bees, spiders and other arthropods in cities where habitat for the smallest among us is often scarce.) Richard and Molly did Dad-daughter stuff, which involved looking at art and tasting coffee and beer. We all got around handily without a car using light rail and the bus system, and saved not just money and fossil fuel, but also avoided the hassle of navigating city traffic and finding parking.

(That's me in Washington - not at work on a magazine article!)

On the weekend, we headed to my brother's house in Olympia, Washington, normally a two- or more-hour drive via traffic-clogged Interstate 5. But this time we three boarded an Amtrak train and spent the time talking and watching the scenery go by. Even with the cost of the round-trip train tickets, we still saved money over the cost of a rental car for a week, plus gas. (We got a discount on the train tickets because we belong to Colorado AAA.)

Back in Portland, we stayed at a motel near the airport, and took a free shuttle to catch our morning flight home to Colorado. On the drive home from Denver, we talked about trading our commodious Toyota Sienna van for a smaller car to get better gas mileage.

Last weekend, we did just that: using AAA Autosource, a painless way to buy a car without the haggling and time-wasting dance at a dealership, we drove our Sienna to Denver, spent about 15 minutes with Heather Parrish, our Autosource sales person, and drove away in a brand-new 2008 Subaru Forester. (Thank you, Heather!) The great thing about our new car, besides the gas mileage (we got 28 mpg on the way home) and the price (we got the fleet price through AAA) is that it's a PZEV, partial zero emissions vehicle. That means its tailpipe emissions are not quite zero, but close enough to meet California's new emission standards, the strictest in the United States. According to the test results for the California Air Resources Board, our Forester's tailpipe emissions are at 0.09 (not quite zero) and the average new car in its class has a score of 0.38 - quite a difference.

One last green note about the Subaru Forester: the plant in Indiana where our car was made was the first auto plant in the US to achieve zero landfill status. Nothing from the plant goes to the landfill: it's all reused or recycled. (The plant is also a designated wildlife habitat, for whatever that's worth.)

Now that I've had some practice with greening my business travel, I'm aiming for an even smaller carbon footprint in upcoming trips. It's not easy to change habits and rethink how I travel, but it's worth the effort to ensure a future for all of us on this extraordinary blue planet.


Ann said...

I loved reading about your "traveling green" adventures in this post and the earlier one ... It provided much food for thought. I've always been an enthusiast of carpooling for business and pleasure, and am going to see if I can think "green" in other (traveling) ways as well.
Enjoy your new Subaru!
-- Ann (who rattles around in an old, but economical Honda Civic)

Susan J Tweit said...

Thanks, Ann! We live right near downtown in our small town, so mostly I commute on foot or by bicycle. But when we need to go out of town, it's great to have a car that gets decent gas mileage. If we didn't need all-wheel-drive, we would have gotten a Prius or the new version of your Civic. But living in the mountains, we have to be realistic about snow and ice and the fact that to get anywhere from here, we're going to have to drive up and over mountain passes on winding roads that can be, well, interesting in bad weather.


PennyS said...

Good for you, Susan, for Traveling Green ! Your blog showed us how to do it and have fun. Both you & the planet gained positively. And, hey, I'm going to take a look at the Subaru Forester when I'm ready at the end of the year to get a new car. What an inspiration you are!

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