Digital Nomads and the Environment

It’s an exciting time to be a Digital Nomad; a new community which seems to be growing and growing as the years go by. Although it might appear to be just be a cool term for ‘Independent Location Worker’, it differs in the sense of community that is created by this growing group. Digital Nomads seem eager to create a new future, in which we say goodbye to our dirty old habits and grow towards a sustainable and prosperous future.

Although I love being a Digital Nomad, one of my major objections is the impact of travel on the environment. Even though it sounds amazing to be traveling every week, the amount of released CO2 is not to be ignored in this lifestyle. Digital Nomads are not in one location, and actually travel around the whole globe, reaching from Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro, from Cape Town to Vancouver.

As a CO2 pirate and active in the battle against CO2 pollution this is a sincere problem for me; and I am figuring out how to do the most I can to limit my polution.

How sustainable is it to be a Digital Nomad?

It’s too easy and blunt to say Digital Nomads are high polluters just because they travel a lot. There are many factors that come into play, and I would like to have a deeper look at some of them.

Travel

AGS_PaperplaneDigital Nomads Travel; a lot. We are proud of the fact we have no fixed homebase. We are proud to explore the world while working on our laptops. And we are not afraid of flying.

Because this lifestyle is rather new there are no numbers of how many miles an average digital nomad travels per year. To get a better estimate I have looked at my own travels over the last 6 months and cross referenced this with some other Digital Nomads. I will save you the calculations for now, but the total sums up to:

Kilometers traveled Flying: 19360 –> 2.5t CO2 (This probably needs to be multiplied by a factor 2 due to ‘radiative forcing‘.
Kilometers traveled by driving: 8000 –> 1.5 t CO2

In the Netherlands the average amount of kilometers traveled per person per year is 20.000km. Business people seem to be above this average. For work Digital Nomads actually seem to travel less. We tend to work close to where we live. The coffee place around the corner, the co-working space in town or our own living room.

The numbers above are based on personal experience, and especially flying to long distance locations can make a huge impact. The CO2 pollution based on these 6 months would be around 8.0 ton per year, just for travelling.

To put this into perspective, we all should try to limit our total polution per year to 2.0 ton per person a year to slow down and reverse climate change (eventually we should get to 0.0 t). The amount of CO2 a citizen of the EU produces each year on average is 9.1t; so just by travelling we remain only slightly below the average.

What can you do to minimize impact while traveling as a dital nomad?

  • Take a direct flight (take off and landing use enormous amounts of fuel).
  • Fly Economy Class (the less space you use, the more people can fit in one plane)
  • Don’t take stuff you don’t need. Fly light.
  • Look at places closer to home, you don’t always have to fly far away.
  • Stick around in one place. Try not to travel to a new place every week, settle down for a few months.
  • Try to share your ride, for example using blablacar or groups on Facebook.
  • Try to travel together.
  • Try using public transport.
  • Compensate CO2 for both flight and car.
  • Make sure your tyres are properly inflated, check this at least once a month.
  • Don’t drive too fast, around 100/110 km/u seems to be the optimal. As speeds above this will increase your fuel usage and CO2 pollution quite a lot.
  • Be aware that a full blazing air conditioning adds about 10% fuel usage, but open windows do the same. See what works best in each situation, but don’t do both.

In the next few posts I will have a look at more aspects of being a Digital Nomad, where we actually seem to get a below average CO2 output. Think about food, accomodation and general mindset.

Note: The statements in this post are my personal opinions. Even though I try to be as factual as possible, some things are not proven (yet) by (scientific) evidence.

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