I’d like to think that I’m a relatively environmentally conscious person. I live a beef-free, kid-free, reasonably car-free life. I don’t invest in fossil fuels. I’m a minimalist. (I only own one pair of jeans.) But – and this is a huge but – I like to travel. I took eight one-way flights last year. So, it’s complicated.
If we choose to travel, there is surely a way to do so with Mother Earth in mind. So, when my partner and I planned a road trip from British Columbia to Alberta earlier this year, I wanted to make it as planet-friendly as possible. While it was slightly more effort and more expensive – to me, it was worth it.
Three of the locations on our itinerary – Vancouver Island, Vancouver and the Okanagan – have all signed the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism. These destinations have committed to halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero before 2050.
George Benson, a Vancouver-based climate expert and managing director of the Climate Displacement Planning Initiative, suggests travelling to destinations that are part of C40, a network of cities around the world led by municipal mayors who are united to confront climate change, or members of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. “I try my hardest to reward communities with my business that are courageous and trying to do the hard work of decarbonization,” he says.
Since we live in Toronto, our trip would begin with a flight. So, I bought carbon offsets. Planetair’s online travel calculator told me our one-way flight to Victoria and our return home from Calgary would produce 2.07 tonnes of C02. I paid $51.75 to offset that by contributing to a portfolio of Gold Standard-certified wind, solar and energy recovery projects. Then, to travel between B.C. and Alberta, we’d rent a car. The obvious choice here to limit our impact on the environment was an electric vehicle.
I had some charger anxiety – would we end up stranded somewhere? But taking a long-distance road trip in an electric vehicle in Canada is now easier than ever before. There are more than 20,000 public charging ports (at almost 9,000 locations) across the country – a 30 per cent increase since the beginning of 2022. And the chargers are not only to be found in big cities either. Parks Canada, for example, has over 400 EV charging stations installed from coast to coast, with another 50 planned by the end of 2024.
While our journey started on the island to visit family (hi, Mom!), we didn’t get behind the wheel until we arrived in Vancouver via ferry. Driving an EV from Vancouver to Calgary, Benson said, generates 1.5 kilograms of C02 equivalent versus 93 to 237 kilograms with a gasoline-powered car.
“Our choices always matter,” he said. “But it’s important to focus on where we get the biggest bang for our buck. It’s easy to grab our reusable cup and bag and call it a day, but the more impactful choices will always be tougher.” (Those “impactful choices” include flights, transportation and hotels – Benson says to look for properties that are powered by renewable energy and are mindful of water consumption.)
Before beginning the driving part of our trip, we checked into the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver which has outstanding views of the harbour and mountains, as well as the highest rating – five stars! – with Green Key, a voluntary global environmental hotel certification. They achieve this through sustainability programs like tracking and monitoring waste diversion and a rooftop bee apiary and garden.
In Vancouver, you can take the eco-friendly approach one step further with EcoMeter, a site that lists local restaurants that are reducing their environmental impact. It evaluates food waste, takeout packaging, supply chains and community initiatives. My top picks include Nuba for Lebanese food and Honey’s for the best doughnut of your life.
Although all the hotels and restaurants we visited are making considerable environmental efforts, they aren’t perfect. We saw hotels with environmental credentials that still used one-time-use shampoo and conditioner bottles and restaurants offering disposable food packaging.
With our Vancouver visit winding down, it was time to find an electric car. There are so many places to rent EVs these days. Hertz, Enterprise, Budget and Avis all have EVs in their fleets. Turo, the Airbnb of cars, also offers them. Ultimately, we went with Zerocar, a B.C.-based EV rental and car-sharing company that offers one-way rentals. Zerocar has 50 Teslas in its fleet with plans for more and additional vehicle pick-up locations in Toronto by 2024.
We hit the road with a full charge and the in-car GPS told us we’d need to make one stop in Princeton, B.C., (three and a half hours away) to plug in for just five minutes to make it to Kelowna, about 160 kms away. And that charger anxiety I had? When I realized the GPS would tell us when and for how long we had to stop, it disappeared.
We arrived in Kelowna in the Okanagan – not before stopping at a fruit stand en route – and checked in to the Hotel Eldorado. The property is also certified with Green Key and their four-star rating is thanks to features such as low-flow sinks and showers and reduced plastic use. We spent an afternoon at Tantalus Vineyards, the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified winery in B.C., which has incredible views overlooking the vineyard and Okanagan Lake and plenty of rosés, rieslings and pinot noirs to taste. From there, we set out to Revelstoke, 200 kilometres away. We left on a full charge and didn’t have to stop once.
In Revelstoke, we stayed at the Sutton Place Hotel, right at the foot of the mountain. The hotel runs a program that plants 10 trees every time an overnight guest turns down housekeeping. So far, the hotel property group has planted almost 270,000 trees in Canada, Kenya, the U.S., Madagascar and Tanzania. After a morning of exploring, we had lunch at Terra Firma’s Kitchen. Many of the menu’s ingredients come from their own small-scale, certified organic farm. Not only was everything we ordered exceptional (market veggie sandwich! Berry cheesecake bar!), but waste is kept to a minimum as compost goes back to the farm to help the next season of crops.
We drove through the Rockies next. We had one charge stop – in the town of Golden for 20 minutes – and used the time for a quick stretch and caffeine run and to take in the mountainous scenery around us.
In Calgary, we ended up staying at two hotels – Le Germain and Delta – due to a booked-up weekend. Both have a four-star Green Key rating; the former has geothermal heating and the latter is on track to reduce overall food waste by 50 per cent by 2025. One of our favourite stops here was Calgary Heritage Roasting Co., founded by former forest firefighters, who plant one tree in Canada for every two-pound bag of coffee sold. They’re at 100,000 and counting.
Benson estimated our road trip’s carbon footprint likely avoided 397 kilograms of C02, plus the flight offsets, but the exact number for hotels and meals would be trickier to calculate. “At the end of the day, we need policies,” he says, adding that he hopes one day ”people can – eventually – only buy zero-emissions vehicles.”
But in the meantime? We’re finally in the era of EV road trips in Canada and I’m here for it.
A portion of this trip was supported by Destination Canada, Destination BC and Tourism Calgary. They did not review or approve this story before publication.