Taking Sustainability On The Road: Tips For More Sustainable Travel

Since most of us have completely stopped and restarted traveling at some point within the past four years of pandemic and recovery, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how and why I travel as well as how I can ensure that my travel has the lowest impact possible on the environment. A question sustainability professionals are increasingly asked to consider is how to make university-related travel more sustainable as we look to achieve carbon neutrality. The answer is complicated, but below are some things to consider and tips to make the most of your trip!

Photo of four young professionals in front of AASHE Conference signage.
U-M sustainability staff (left to right: Anna Balas, Grace Maves, Jazlynne Cathey, and Alex Galens) represent all three U-M campuses at the 2023 AASHE Sustainability Conference.

The first step of becoming a more sustainable traveler is choosing when you actually need to travel. Most business can be conducted over Zoom, and conferences often have hybrid options with recordings available to watch later. If you aren’t presenting or are really only interested in a few of the sessions, consider virtual attendance and skip the significant impacts of air travel. If it’s really important to network in-person at a conference, consider sending one representative from your department instead of your entire group!

The reality is that avoiding travel altogether is one of your biggest opportunities for individual action, and while the tips below will decrease your impact in small ways, they will not fully mitigate the impacts of your trip.


Once you’ve decided that you will be traveling, a little preparation is important for reducing your environmental impact! First, decide how you’re getting there. Driving by yourself is convenient, but costly to the environment, so look at public transportation or carpooling options. If you’re going to downtown Detroit, take the D2A2 bus or carpool with colleagues. For regional destinations like Chicago, take a train. You can relax, get work done on the trip, and avoid Chicago traffic!

Selfie of two colleagues riding the train from Ann Arbor to Chicago.
Anna Balas (right) and her colleague Kelly Jones (left) head to Chicago on the Amtrak train (fun note: it’s called the Wolverine!).

If you’re heading to the airport, you can ride the Michigan Flyer to save on parking costs and the greenhouse gas emissions of driving alone. When booking your flight, keep in mind that direct airline flights have lower emissions than connecting flights.

Finally, when making hotel reservations, ensure that you choose a hotel near your meeting location or with convenient public transportation. This will allow you to skip a rental car or rideshare and get some fresh air before your meetings. 


Pack for the weather and remember your walking shoes! Choosing appropriate shoes and outdoor clothing will allow you to walk and take public transportation on your trip instead of renting a car or calling a rideshare.

Travel is often an excuse to use disposables, but it doesn’t have to be! I always take my reusable water bottle along even on airplanes. As long as it’s empty, reusable water bottles are allowed through TSA security, and I just fill it up on the other side (there are touchless bottle filling stations right on the other side of security at DTW). Plus they’re cheaper than expensive airport bottled water and let me skip the plastic cups on the plane for water.

During the Trip

Make the most of your travel time! Familiarize yourself with local public transit, explore the city on foot, or use a bike-share app to bike around town. Avoid ride-share services and rental cars when possible!

Conferences are often full of free swag, but be choosy with your free items. Only take what you know will actually be useful, and resist the temptation to grab free junk—you’ll just have to carry it home.

Finally, dine-in to experience local cuisine and reduce the single-use plastic associated with takeout.

Even if you are traveling, there are always opportunities to make more sustainable decisions! With a little thought ahead of time, you can be prepared to take low-emission transportation at your destination and reduce your emissions throughout the trip. Consider how you can make your next business trip a little more sustainable and encourage others in your department to do so as well!