Earth Consultants

Applying Lean Six Sigma to the Environment

Compare airline flights to determine lowest carbon impact

3 min read

Brighter Planet has created a cool plugin called Careplane (link no longer active, anyone have an update?).  For each flight option that comes up in your search for airline flights, a calculation of the amount of metric pounds of carbon equivalents (carbon footprint) will be displayed below each trip option.

The plugin connects to your favorite travel website (Bing, Orbitz, Kayak and Hipmunk) easily and automatically.

This plugin truly helps us strive towards the “Triple Bottom Line,” where we can compare economic (price), social (company values and reputation) and environment (footprint and sustainable materials). Typically, we only look at one option, price! We select whatever is cheaper, ignoring these other key factors, which drives companies to cut costs and take shortcuts. These shortcuts usually impact the workers, the customers and the environment in a negative way, and we continue to reward that behavior. Having the ability to see all three options when making a decision is the ultimate scenario.

“Every dollar you spend is a vote for how you want the world to be and who you want to control it.”

I think that summarizes the Triple Bottom Line concept fairly well.

Careplane allows you to compare airline flights based on price, the environmental impact of the flight, and add that to your own feelings about the airline company (are they good with their employees? support good causes? provide good service?).

I’m currently looking to take a flight from Portland to Guadeloupe (in the Caribbean).

Using Orbitz, I find many different options. Let’s see how Careplane helps me decide on the best flight.

Option #1 Return Trip – Guadeloupe to Miami to Dallas to Portland.
Total airline miles = 4106
Carbon footrprint (lbs of CO2e) = 60,035 

Option #2 Return Trip – Guadeloupe to Miami to Chicago to Portland.
Total airline miles = 4300
Carbon footrprint (lbs of CO2e) = 54,891 

Intuitively, you would think that the shorter distance flight would have the lower carbon footprint. How does Careplane calculate the carbon equivalents for each flight, if that’s not true? Here is a quote from their website…

“How can equally-priced flights between the same cities differ hugely in environmental impact? Like cars, some aircraft guzzle fuel while others sip it. Plus, flights vary in the amount of cargo hauled and the number of seats left empty, which affects each passenger’s share of the fuel burned. Careplane takes it all into account.”

You might have also noticed that the price of the flight is the same, so selecting option #2, we would reduce our carbon footprint, and not pay any extra. In this example, my options are all with American Airlines. However, in other scenarios, I might have some airline choices. I might even be willing to pay more for a flight on a different carrier that has provided me more reliable service, doesn’t lose my bags, treats me well, and who supports the same causes I do.

Let me know if you download the plugin and it helps you decide on your next flight…

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