The Green Adventure

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Challenge #6: Green Travel

With the holidays coming up, it is time to start thinking about how we can have fun and help fight dangerous climate change at the same time! So, the next few challenges are going to focus on going green this holiday season. Today, I'm going to talk about travel since Mark and I just returned from a great trip to Napa and San Francisco. Though Mark was at a conference during most of our time in Napa, I was lucky enough to have nearly a week of environmentally consious R & R.

So how did we make our trip eco-friendly? Well, let's first look at how it was eco-unfriendly.

Unfortunately getting to Northern California from Ann Arbor requires a long flight. And, to make it worse, my mom graciously came all the way from London to watch Little A for us, so make that 6 long flights! Using TerraPass' flight emissions calculator, I found out that our Detroit to SFO jaunt cost us 1,622 lbs of CO2 each, and my mom's flight from London and back racked up 2,927 lbs of CO2, bringing us to a grand total of 6,173 lbs of CO2... yuck! Lucky for us, we can turn this terrible act of carbon emissions into a stimulus for renewable energy industry growth through the purchase of renewable energy credits (REC's.) Using TerraPass our penance comes to $29.95, not bad. But, before we commit to purchasing our REC's from TerraPass you'll have to wait for the next Challenge where I'll discuss REC's and the companies that sell them in detail.

OK, so how exactly was this intercontinental extravaganza eco-friendly?

As soon as we arrived in San Franciso we headed straight to Fox Rent A Car where we took our 5% internet coupon to rent a discounted Hybrid car. We really wanted to try out the Toyota Prius since everyone who owns one seems to love it, but they we're unavailable that day. So we were given a 10% discount on a Honda Civic Hybrid. It was one of the highlights of the trip! I had so much fun driving it! First of all, you can see your fuel efficiency on the dash right next to your speed instantaneously, and you can quickly learn how to drive most fuel efficiently and at what speed the car is the most fuel efficient. Plus, the car actually turns off whenever you're stuck in traffic or stopped at a traffic light. Thus, you waste almost no fuel just idling. Then the car simply restarts when you touch the gas pedal. It has plenty of power for highway driving or for cruising the winding, hilly roads between the Napa Valley towns. The only disadvantage that I can see is the smaller trunk size. But, this car can hold a baby jogger and a few bags of groceries so it will work for 90% of Little A and my cargo-carrying needs. We got over 40 mpg in real-life driving. (See for why that's important.) For a trip from San Francisco to Napa, cruising all over Napa for 4 days, and back to San Francisco we used only 7 gallons of gas! Overall it was a great car. I can't wait to buy one, though I'm considering holding out for a Plug-In Hybrid.

It was very interesting to see how California has implemented energy conservation on such a broad scale. Obviously their tactics are working since their state's energy usage has plateaued while the rest of the US (especially Texas which is the worst offender of the states) continues to dramatically increase our energy usage. In all of the public restrooms there are well-positioned reminders to use only the paper towels that you need and to turn off the lights when you leave. The hotel only changes your linen every third day (as long as the same guest is using the room) unless the guest requests otherwise, and CFL's are commonplace in restaurants, hotels and shopping centers. It seems obvious that if lots of people begin to practice energy conservation on a broad scale publically and often that their habits would bleed into their personal, home, work and school lives as well. Conservation is a cheap, simple, and key step in promoting responsible energy use globally. We can learn from their example.

Of course the best eco-friendly highlights of our trip to Northern California involved food and wine. Though we did not have the opportunity to taste any organic wine on this trip, it was wonderful to drive by beautiful farms producing organic grapes. It is nice to know that sipping world class Cabernet and Chardonnay from organically produced grapes is not contradictory.

On my second day in Napa I stumbled upon the Yountville visitors center and was lead to a fabulous Olive Oil Store near St. Helena called the St. Helena Olive Oil Company. There I tasted many delicious olive oils, but the best (it won the Gold Medal Award at the 2006 L.A. County Fair) was the Rutherford Hillside Estate Reserve Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Now this was a wonderful find! Not only did I stumble on a delicious olive oil, but it was organic. But wait, there's more... the olives for this oil are grown at Harris Ranch. Harris Ranch is powered by 100% on-site solar power and thus its olive oil is green-e certified. (Again, I'll discuss REC's, green-e, and product certification in my next Challenge.) This olive oil is a gift worth giving to your friends, family or yourself for the holidays. Lucky for us they have a website, so you don't have to travel to Napa to get some. It is so good, I hope mine lasts through the holidays!

On our last night in San Francisco we experienced the best highlight of the trip. We ate at a fabulous and climate crisis-fighting restaurant. The restaurant, called Millennium, is located near Union Square in the newly refurbished Hotel California. All of the food that they serve is organic and vegan. It is absolutely delicious! Even the most committed meat-eater will walk out of this place with a grin from ear-to-ear. We started our meal with a wonderful mushroom dish that tasted like the best fried calamari that I have ever eaten. We also devoured a grilled green salad with fresh figs, a portobello mushroom and polenta dish full of southwestern flavor, and a root vegetable and lentil dish to rival your grandmother's Thanksgiving offerings. To top it all off we ate a vegan chocolate cake that is rivaled only by the flourless chocolate cake at Fish la Boissonnerie in Paris. If anyone wants to know what to get me for Christmas, I'd love a Millennium Restaurant cookbook. Yum!

On your next vacation or holiday adventure to visit family or friends, think about how the way that you travel can support businesses, and encourage techologies and ideas for a sustainable future for our children. Offset your holiday travel by supporting the growth of the renewable energy industry. If you plan to rent a car, rent a Hybrid. For shorter distances choose train travel over airline travel. Choose local, organic and sustainably farmed food. Practice energy conservation habits such as turning off lights, and minimizing the use of fossil fuel based heating and air conditioning systems, appliances and laundry services. Support green businesses when you buy holiday gifts by buying sustainable, fair trade, organic products that are produced using renewable energy. In general, limit your consumption, but broaden your experience of local flavor by visiting parks, farmer's markets, local festivals and small businesses. Travel can teach us new ways to care for our planet by exposing us to new ideas in new places. Enjoy the Adventure! I can't wait to hear about yours.


  • Hey Jessica, glad to hear you're going to be guest-writing on reallifenews! Thanks for another info-packed and inspiring blog. This year for Christmas we've asked the grandparents to only give experiences (e.g., a coupon for a weekend with grandma, or tickets to a play) to our kids instead of wasting $$ and resources on junk. I'm looking forward to seeing the creative experiences they come up with.

    By Blogger Ally, at 4:54 PM  

  • Great idea! We've been suggesting that the grandparents contribute to Claire's 529 instead of gifts. So far we have had some success. It takes a lot to convert grandparents away from buying kid-gifts. Slowly, but surely! :)

    By Blogger Jessica, at 3:51 PM  

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