Did you know that in 2019, flights taken for University business (booked through Campus Travel and Unitravel) generated an estimated 27,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, over a distance of 130 million passenger kilometres?
Per full full-time equivalent (FTE) staff member, that is over 13,220 km and almost 3 tonnes of carbon emissions for 2019. The actual numbers, however, are likely significantly higher, since data for the many flights booked outside Campus Travel and Unitravel could not be collected, and personal flights are not included.
Air travel is the largest contributor, after electricity, to the University’s carbon emissions. In the Sustainability Plan 2017 – 2020, the University has committed to:
- Offset staff air travel emissions – 50% by 2018, 100% by 2020
- Reduce air travel emissions per staff member by 5 to 10% for international, 10% for domestic by 2020
So what can you do?
Here are some ideas to reduce emissions from air travel:
- Reduce or eliminate flights by using videoconferencing technology. The University has equipment which can be used i.e. addition to other video conferencing platforms including Skype and Zoom.
- Plan travel carefully to minimise total trips and/or distance.
- Choose an airline that has better reported emissions reduction performance, e.g. use the Atmosfair website to compare airlines over similar routes.
- For those business class travellers amongst us, downgrade to an economy seat which has a footprint around one third as much as a business class seat. Imagine the environmental impact of a first class seat!
- Choose a direct flight where possible to minimise fuel usage.
- Pack lightly.
- Finally, purchase verified carbon offsets to offset your remaining carbon footprint from air travel.
Emissions from flights are calculated based on the distance travelled and the class of travel. If you are interested in the details, download the calculation methodology.
Is it really necessary for you to fly?
Do you really need to fly to achieve professional success? Is there someone else (e.g. an earlier-career researcher) who would benefit more from a travel opportunity?
Here is a selection of recent research outlining the challenges of reducing air travel in the academic environment, and some surprising results:
- Research at the University of British Columbia (PDF 906.5 KB) found that academic air travel has a limited influence on professional success, and that there are opportunities for academics to reduce their air travel emissions “while maintaining productive careers”.
- An Australian study (PDF 1.5 MB) highlights the conflict between university sustainability policies and the sector’s focus on internationalisation.
- An article addressing the fear of not flying in the academic community (PDF 483.5 KB)
- Grappling with “academic flying in the age of climate change” (PDF 392.4 KB)