Going Green: Sustainable Transportation [12 Tips]

Part 2 in an 8-Part Exclusive WebEcoist Series on How to Go Green

Image via Vicki and Chuck Rogers

With the current transportation model (read: inefficient combustion engine) sucking up bank accounts and fossil fuel reserves alike, causing economic strain and political and environmental instability, it’s worth taking the time to evaluate your transportation habits and consider how you can improve efficiency. This article will offer beginning tips for two key areas related to “greening” your transportation: alternatives and improvement. This isn’t about extreme lifestyle changes or complicated modifications. You don’t have to sell your car, nor do you have to become a hypermiling addict to get results. But because fossil fuel use is the global community’s #1 environmental challenge, it simply makes sense to look for ways to create a personal, positive impact. Here are some essential first steps.

1. Alternatives: reducing your car’s carbon impact through diversification.

Bicycle. You don’t have to bike everywhere, but simply incorporating bike transportation into your lifestyle will not only reduce your gas consumption but keep you in great shape as well. Start by using your bicycle for errands – such as going to the corner mart for beer, the grocery store for dinner, and the drug store for shampoo. If you bike daily for 10-30 minutes, you’ll get all the cardiovascular exercise you need in a week, and save 1-4 gallons of gas per week. That means $16-64 saved a month. Not bad.

Walk. Sounds silly, but what’s sillier is seeing people drive from one side of the strip mall to the other. Explore the joy of walking a little bit every day – it’s healthy and energizing.

Carpool. No longer is carpooling all about tolerating the annoying coworker. Convenient and pleasant carpooling programs are popping up everywhere and all kinds of custom scenarios are being conceived. Erideshare is a reliable option. Save half or more on your gas bill.

Telecommute. In today’s information-based job market, rarely does a position require that you be present every day. It’s mostly a psychological hurdle, but you can and should make a compelling case to your boss to telecommute one or two days per week. Studies show telecommuting increases productivity and employee health (which saves the boss money on health insurance). Start with those arguments and add the emotional call to action of being an ethical citizen concerned for the planet as your final touch.

Look for ways to drive less. Fuel has been so plentiful and so (relatively) inexpensive that we have simply taken it for granted that multiple errands and disorganized shopping routes are no big deal. Spend a week with a log, keeping track of your various trips and driving patterns, and then look for ways to make things more streamlined. For example, group your errands by distance and drive in an organized path that minimizes distance.

Mass transit. San Francisco has BART. New York has the subway. Chicago has the L. Los Angeles has…well, wherever you live, consider mass transit for your work commute. Many mass transit systems are quite modern and even offer Wifi and charging; and the potential for as much as $5 saved daily is attractive, as well. (P.S. Los Angeles actually does have options, as do most large cities; check this list.)

2. Improvement: increasing gas mileage, optimizing your vehicle and getting the most from the gas tank.

PSI. To properly inflate or not to properly inflate – it’s a debate that doesn’t seem to, uh, tire. Yet the best research still finds that properly inflating a car’s tires can save up to $20 per month in gas. Sure, that’s no new iPod, but it’s still cash: over $240 a year. Sunk cost: $10 for a tire gauge.

Simple mileage hacks: maintain a clean air filter to improve gas mileage by 10%; get the vehicle aligned; get a tune-up. Maintaining your car proactively is actually a very simple (and sensible) way to ensure optimal efficiency.

No more rage against the machine. Driving aggressively (accelerating fast, braking hard) needlessly wastes up to 30% more fuel than when driving patiently and slowly.

Trade it in. If you drive an SUV or an extremely inefficient car, consider trading it in for a hybrid (e.g. a Prius) or even a used fuel-efficient vehicle such as a Honda if you can afford it. The initial investment will more than make up for itself, so long as you aren’t purchasing a hybrid SUV or Lexus.

– Geek out: investigate hypermiling techniques and tools. There are a number of devices that can help you keep track of how efficient your vehicle is at any given moment (iPhone offers an app, naturally). This will help you align your driving habits more efficiently, and it can be fun, too.

Advanced options. Got cash but not gas to burn? Retrofit your vehicle to run on an alternative fuel (but avoid the corn-based ethanol, which is causing more harm than good).

This list is not intended to be comprehensive, but should be helpful in getting started. Come back in the future for more advanced tips.