Reducing Your Transportation Footprint - Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (2022)

Transportation is now the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. In many U.S. cities and towns, the personal automobile is the single greatest polluter because emissions from millions of vehicles on the road add up. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, individuals can use cleaner modes of transportation to get around, from public transit to biking and walking.


Modern transportation relies heavily on petroleum, and passenger cars and light-duty trucks (i.e. sport vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans) contribute half of the carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. transportation sector. Burning one gallon of gasoline creates about 20 pounds of CO2—which means the average vehicle creates roughly 6 to 9 tons of CO2 each year.

It turns out that we can do a lot to reduce the impacts of driving, starting with the type of car we drive. Over the average lifetime of an American car, a 30-mpg car will save roughly $3,000 in fuel costs compared with a 20-mpg car. When buying your next car, pick the least-polluting, most efficient vehicle that meets your needs. Just switching from a vehicle that gets 20-mpg to a vehicle that gets 25-mpg car reduces your greenhouse gas emissions by 1.7 tons annually. Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’sGreen Vehicle Guideand the Department of Energy’s Fuel Economy website and Model Year 2017 guide for information about the emissions and fuel economy performance of different vehicles.

(Video) How to reduce the carbon footprint from transportation

Electric vehicles

Electric vehicles (EVs) offer a low-carbon alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles.Both the private and the public sectors are working to reduce barriers and expand EV sales worldwide. Automakers are competing to reduce battery costs (which make up most of an EV’s additional cost), increase battery range, and offer a wider range of affordable EV styles, including SUVs and minivans.

EV adoption varies by country, region, and city, but innovative public policies are encouraging people to purchase the vehicles. For example, California allows EV drivers to use HOV lanes even if they are driving alone.In Portland, Oregon, an extensive public charging network may have helped spur all-electric vehicles sales to three times the average U.S. all-electric vehicle uptake rate.

An EV can reduce your carbon footprint and save you money over the lifetime of the vehicle. Some EV questions to consider:

  • What are your needs?Consider how currently available EV models will fit your specific purposes, such as towing cargo or taking road trips. More diverse models planned for production in the next few years may also fit those purposes.
  • What are your typical travel needs?Compare your daily commute mileage with EV battery ranges. Since most daily drives range between 26-32 miles daily, an EV will likely work well. A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle may be appropriate if you regularly take longer trips, but you will still need a place to charge your vehicle.
  • Where can you charge your EV?Most charging takes place at home or the workplace. Consider what you might need to charge at either location, and include any potential costs. Public charging may also work if it is conveniently located.
  • Where can you find reliable information?PlugInCars maintains a section on consumer considerations for EVs. Consumer Reports includes popular EV models and performance reviews.

Curious to know which EV fits your lifestyle? Sierra Club’sPick a Plug-in quiz can help you figure out which plug-in electric vehicles, if any, might work for you.


Optimal driving techniques can also help you cut emissions and save money in a gasoline-powered car. Hard acceleration and braking can waste fuel and lower your mileage by 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent around town, according to theDepartment of Energy (DOE). DOE studies show that for every 5 miles per hour you drive over 60 miles per hour, fuel economy is lowered by 7 percent, so go easy on the brakes and gas pedal. You can also lower impacts by reducing time spent idling, and using overdrive and cruise control. And because a properly-maintained vehicle can improve your gas mileage and fuel economy by 4 percent, remember to have your vehicle tuned up, tires inflated, and oil and air filter cleaned out regularly.

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For more tips on driving efficiently visit theFuel Economy website.

Public Transportation

Individuals can save more than $9,738 per year by taking public transportation instead of driving. Moreover, this mode can lead to substantial environmental benefits. If your commute is 20-miles round trip, the switch to public transportation could lower your carbon footprint by 4,800 pounds annually.

American households that produce the least amount of carbon emissions are located near a bus or rail line. The people in those households drive an average of 4,400 fewer miles annually compared to similar households with no access to public transit.

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Communities with strong public transportation can reduce the nation’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons yearly. To achieve a similar reduction in carbon emissions, every household in New York City, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Denver and Los Angeles combined would have to completely stop using electricity. If your community doesn’t have enough public transportation options, ask for more! Engage your city officials and tell them that good public transportation options are important to you, and good for the community.To help you get to where you are going using public transportation use or download an app to your smartphone or tablet like Learn more aboutPublic Transportation

Transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. Communities with strong public transportation can reduce the nation’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons yearly.

Air Travel

Did you know that you can reduce the impact of your air travel by choosing direct flights? Jet fuel is a high-carbon energy source, and take-off and landing are the most fuel-intensive parts of a flight, so the more connections you make, the higher your carbon footprint. You can reduce your impact by avoiding connecting flights when you book your flight.

The heavier an aircraft, the more fuel it consumes. Cargo and baggage constitute a large portion of an aircraft’s weight. Each individual traveler can make a big difference in fuel consumption by packing lightly and the weight reduction means fewer CO2 emissions from the aircraft. In fact, if all passengers packed one less pair of shoes, or roughly 2 lbs/1kg, the aircraft’s fuel savings would be the same as taking 10,500 cars off the road for an entire year. For packing tips check out theAmerican Society of Travel Agents.

How you decide to travel to the airport can impact CO2 emissions and local air quality—try minimizing your carbon emissions by traveling by train or other public transportation modes.Learn more about aviation and climate solutions atEnviro Aero.

Biking and Walking

Reducing Your Transportation Footprint - Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (1)Bicycling and walking are not just recreational activities; these options help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, traffic congestion and our demand for oil. Additional benefits include reducing other environmental impacts of motorized transportation, such as noise and the destruction of open space, wetlands, and other habitats.

For local guidance on bicycle and pedestrian trails check out Trail Link, a non-profit dedicated to creating a healthier environment and developing trails across the U.S. Your local bike shop is also an excellent resource for information on bicycle commuting and the latest bike gadgets and safety tools.

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For more information about increasing your community’s bicycle friendliness visit theLeague of American Bicyclists. If you are interested in growing your community bicycle and pedestrian networks, explore the Federal Highway Administration website to find out who is responsible for projects in your community.

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C2ES thanks the Alcoa Foundation for its support, which allowed us to develop our Reduce Your Carbon Footprint content. This important work is helping people take action to tackle the climate challenge. As a fully independent organization, C2ES is solely responsible for its positions, programs, and publications.


How can you reduce your climate footprint? ›

Top tips to reduce your carbon emissions
  1. Use heating controls. For most of us, the first step in cutting carbon emissions it to take control of our heating. ...
  2. Upgrade your heating system. ...
  3. Insulate your home. ...
  4. Draught-proofing. ...
  5. Low energy lighting. ...
  6. Energy efficient appliances. ...
  7. Low carbon travel. ...
  8. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
15 Apr 2021

How transportation can reduce carbon footprint? ›

Overall, the most efficient ways to travel are via walking, bicycle, or train. Using a bike instead of a car for short trips would reduce your travel emissions by ~75%. Taking a train instead of a car for medium-length distances would cut your emissions by ~80%.

How does using transportation affect climate change? ›

​Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation account for about 27 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor of U.S. GHG emissions. Between 1990 and 2020, GHG emissions in the transportation sector increased more in absolute terms than any other sector.

Why is it important to reduce carbon footprint? ›

Reducing your carbon footprint can help you live a healthier lifestyle, as well as save you money. Whether it's cleaner air, a healthier diet, or reduced energy bills, these benefits of reducing your carbon footprint also mean you're doing your bit to combat climate change.

How does transportation affect the environment? ›

Through the emissions from combustion of fossil-derived fuels, transportation systems contribute to degraded air quality, as well as a changing climate. Transportation also leads to noise pollution, water pollution, and affects ecosystems through multiple direct and indirect interactions.

What is the carbon footprint of transportation? ›

The carbon footprint of transportation is measured in grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents emitted per person to travel one kilometer. This includes both carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Flying on a short flight or driving alone are the most carbon-intensive travel methods.

How can we save the environment on the road? ›

8 Green Driving Tips to Protect the Environment
  1. Buy a Fuel-Efficient, Low-Emissions Vehicle. ...
  2. Drive Slower and Smarter. ...
  3. Keep Up with Regular Maintenance. ...
  4. Give Renewable Fuels a Try. ...
  5. Check Your Tires Regularly. ...
  6. Use the Right Kind of Oil. ...
  7. Practice Shifting Gears. ...
  8. Walk, Bike, and Take Public Transportation.

How does public transportation help climate change? ›

Based on an examination of FTA's data and other academic, government, and industry sources, public transportation can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by: Providing a low emissions alternative to driving. Facilitating compact land use, reducing the need to travel long distances.

How much does transportation contribute to climate change? ›

The U.S. transportation sector is responsible for about a third of our country's climate-damaging emissions. In California transportation is the leading source of greenhouse gas pollution, accounting for about 40% of the state's emissions.

How can using public transportation help the environment? ›

Every vehicle on the road releases an average of one pound of CO2 per mile driven. Compared with driving alone, taking public transportation reduces CO2 emissions by 45%, decreasing pollutants in the atmosphere and improving air quality.

How can we reduce our carbon footprint online? ›

Here are 12 ways you can minimize your digital carbon footprint TODAY!
  1. Turn off your devices any time you won't be using them for 2 hours or more. ...
  2. Clean out your inbox regularly. ...
  3. Don't leave your devices plugged in for longer than they need to charge. ...
  4. Turn off AutoPlay. ...
  5. Try not to rely on navigation when possible.
20 Apr 2022

What is carbon footprint and why is it important? ›

Today, the term “carbon footprint” is often used as shorthand for the amount of carbon (usually in tonnes) being emitted by an activity or organization. The carbon footprint is also an important component of the Ecological Footprint, since it is one competing demand for biologically productive space.

What is the purpose of carbon footprint? ›

Carbon footprints estimate the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the production, processing and retailing of consumer goods. The aim is to identify major sources of emissions in supply chains to inform relevant stakeholders so that actions can be taken to reduce emissions.

What is a carbon footprint examples? ›

For example, the carbon footprint of a bottle of water includes the CO2 or CO2 equivalent emitted during the manufacture of the bottle itself plus the amount emitted during the transportation of the bottle to the consumer.

What reduces carbon footprint the most? ›

The top ways to reduce your carbon footprint

Eating no meat cuts an individual's carbon footprint by 820 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year, on average, about four times the reduction they'd get by recycling as much as possible.

What is importance of transportation? ›

The importance of transportation is that it enables trade, commerce, and communication that establish civilization. It is good planning that manages traffic flows and enables the undisturbed and steady movement from one place to another.

How can you relate transportation to energy and the environment? ›

Transportation systems are linked with a wide range of environmental considerations from the global to the local. Environmental impacts are related to transport modes, their energy supply systems, their emissions, and the infrastructures over which they operate.

What form of transportation pollutes the most? ›

Road travel accounts for three-quarters of transport emissions. Most of this comes from passenger vehicles – cars and buses – which contribute 45.1%. The other 29.4% comes from trucks carrying freight.

Which mode of transportation has the lowest environmental impact? ›

Rail and waterborne transport have the lowest emissions per kilometre and unit transported, while aviation and road transport emit significantly more. While the efficiency of rail and aviation improved markedly during the 5-year period covered by the study, the efficiency of other modes appears to have stagnated.

What is one way that you can reduce your carbon footprint when heating your home? ›

Recycle at least half of your household waste. Set thermostats 2°F lower in winter and 2°F higher in summer. Heating and cooling account for half of all home energy use. Wrap an insulation blanket around your water heater and set the unit's thermostat to no higher than 120°F.

Why should we protect our environment any 10 points? ›

Protecting our environment is the foundation for sustaining our planet, community and economy. Our environment supports and houses our ecosystems, allowing them to grow and thrive. If we fail to protect our environment, we will put the lives of humans, animals, plants and more at risk.

Why is it important to protect the environment? ›

Healthy ecosystems clean our water, purify our air, maintain our soil, regulate the climate, recycle nutrients and provide us with food. They provide raw materials and resources for medicines and other purposes. They are at the foundation of all civilisation and sustain our economies.

How can you protect the environment as a student? ›

7 ways college students can help save the environment — and not...
  1. Reduce single-use plastic waste. ...
  2. Find other ways to get around. ...
  3. Buy clothing and other items at thrift stores. ...
  4. Make changes to the way you wash your clothes. ...
  5. Try eating less meat. ...
  6. Join the sharing economy. ...
  7. Turn off the lights.
21 Nov 2021

How public transport can be improved? ›

The efficiency of public transport could be largely improved by giving priority to buses, trams, and other public vehicles on the road. This can be achieved through the implementation of more bus lanes, also known as 'queue jump' lanes.

How public transportation helps the economy? ›

They provide mobility, can shape land use and development patterns, generate jobs and enable economic growth, and support public policies regarding energy use, air quality and carbon emissions.

How does transport and vehicles cause climate change? ›

The transport sector contributes approximately one quarter of all energy related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Today's transport sector is predominantly based on the combustion of fossil fuels, making it one of the largest sources of both urban and regional air pollution.

How do vehicles contribute to climate change? ›

Highway vehicles release about 1.4 billion tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere each year—mostly in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2)—contributing to global climate change. Each gallon of gasoline you burn creates 20 pounds of GHG. That's roughly 5 to 9 tons of GHG each year for a typical vehicle.

How does transport and vehicle affect global warming? ›

The direct route by which the transport sector contributes to greenhouse gas emissions is through the combustion of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels contain a substantial amount of carbon, and when these fuels are burned in the presence of oxygen they form carbon dioxide, the most extensive greenhouse gas by volume.

Why should people care about transportation? ›

Public transportation contributes to a healthier environment by improving air quality and reducing oil consumption, and through better land-use policies. It also helps to expand business development and work opportunities. And, it is critical for emergency situations requiring safe and efficient evacuation.

Why should people be encouraged to use public transportation? ›

Benefits of public transport

you can enjoy a less stressful journey by letting someone else do the driving. you don't have to worry about finding a parking space. it reduces congestion in towns and cities. using public transport is cheaper than owning and operating a car.

Why we should use public transport essay? ›

Encouraging people to use public transport is a good way to reduce pollution and other traffic problems. If better public transport facilities will be made available it will discourage use of individual vehicles. That will also help in saving time, energy, money and other resources.

How can we reduce our carbon footprint at home? ›

How You Can Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions at Home
  1. Get a home energy audit.
  2. Use Renewable energy.
  3. Purchase Solar Panels.
  4. Buy Green Tags.
  5. Purchase Carbon offsets.
  6. Adjust your thermostat.
  7. Install solar lights.
  8. Use energy-saving light bulbs.
16 Sept 2021

How can we reduce our carbon footprint online? ›

Here are 12 ways you can minimize your digital carbon footprint TODAY!
  1. Turn off your devices any time you won't be using them for 2 hours or more. ...
  2. Clean out your inbox regularly. ...
  3. Don't leave your devices plugged in for longer than they need to charge. ...
  4. Turn off AutoPlay. ...
  5. Try not to rely on navigation when possible.
20 Apr 2022

What is a carbon footprint examples? ›

For example, the carbon footprint of a bottle of water includes the CO2 or CO2 equivalent emitted during the manufacture of the bottle itself plus the amount emitted during the transportation of the bottle to the consumer.

Why is a carbon footprint important? ›

The carbon footprint is also an important component of the Ecological Footprint, since it is one competing demand for biologically productive space. Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuel accumulate in the atmosphere if there is not enough biocapacity dedicated to absorb these emissions.

What you can share to help deal with and prevent the effects of climate change? ›

There are plenty of other ways to tackle climate change: Buy and grow local food, use renewable energy and energy-efficient appliances, insulate your home, nurture soils and grasslands, run for office, explore high- and low-tech ways to capture greenhouse gases, support research and organizations that can mobilize more ...

How will you reduce your environment footprint and increase your environmental handprint? ›

Then, incorporate these suggestions to reduce your ecological footprint and make a positive impact!
  • Reduce Your Use of Single-Use, Disposable Plastics. ...
  • Switch to Renewable Energy. ...
  • Eat Less Meat. ...
  • Reduce your Waste. ...
  • Recycle Responsibly. ...
  • Drive Less. ...
  • Reduce Your Water Use. ...
  • Support Local.
27 Apr 2017

What are 10 things we can change to reduce greenhouse effect? ›

Things we can do to reduce greenhouse gases
  • Keep fossil fuels in the ground. ...
  • Switch to electric vehicles fast. ...
  • Be energy-efficient citizens. ...
  • Use renewables to power the world. ...
  • Change our diets. ...
  • Double the area of forests and restore habitats in the UK. ...
  • Stop funding fossil fuels overseas. ...
  • Empower women.

How does carbon footprint affect the environment? ›

Our carbon footprint has a negative impact on the environment in multiple ways: It is the main cause of human-induced climate change, it contributes to urban air pollution, it leads to toxic acid rain, it adds to coastal and ocean acidification, and it worsens the melting of glaciers and polar ice.

How can we reduce our carbon footprint 2022? ›

8 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
  1. Eat Less Meat. ...
  2. Waste Less Food. ...
  3. Travel Efficiently and Infrequently. ...
  4. Make Your Home More Energy-Efficient. ...
  5. Reduce Plastics Use. ...
  6. Recycle Properly. ...
  7. Shop Sustainably. ...
  8. Take Political Action to Fight Global Warming.
7 Jun 2021

What can college students do to help climate change? ›

10 ways college students can live more sustainabily
  1. RECYCLE. The easiest way to help fight climate change is to recycle. ...

What can schools do to reduce climate change? ›

Ten things schools can do to address the climate crisis
  • Food. Go vegetarian. ...
  • Travel. Stop school trips that involve flying. ...
  • Curriculum. Explore links to climate change across all subject areas. ...
  • Materials. Recycle everything. ...
  • Energy. Switch off lights. ...
  • Clothing. Avoid cheap uniforms imported from far afield. ...
  • Banking. ...
  • Transport.
18 Mar 2019

How does digital footprint affect climate change? ›

Digital Carbon Footprint figures:

digital technologies are responsible for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and its energy consumption is increasing by 9% a year. the internet emits 1.6 billion annual tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

What impact does a digital footprint have on the environment? ›

According to several studies, our digital footprint accounts for anywhere between 2.3-3.7% of global carbon emissions, equivalent to the emissions of the entire aviation industry.


1. Webinar-Digital Decarb: Using Smart Technologies to Cut Emissions
(Center for Climate and Energy Solutions)
2. Tech For Our Planet: Digital Solutions for Climate Challenges | #COP26
3. Routes to a Smaller Carbon Footprint: Transportation Emissions
(Sustainable NCW)
4. Google Cloud Sustainability Summit
(Google Cloud)
5. Reducing Your Carbon Footprint | Webinar + Quiz
6. Climate and transport: 10 facts explained
(International Transport Forum)

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