The good practices
Be inspired by initiatives, thoughts and experiences of other people from the ExPlane network!
Soeren from OCEAN, Sorbonne University
During Soeren Thomsen’s visit at Université Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD) in Dakar, Senegal in mid 2018, he and his Senegalese colleagues investigated climate change impacts on the West African coastal ocean. Soeren tells us about the insights he had about pushing for more inclusivity in the academic world while cutting carbon emissions.
During Soeren’s visit, the team did not only work on the research, they also had long discussions on how difficult it is for the growing African scientific community to join the international debate. Together with colleagues from around the world, Soeren and his colleagues decided to work on concrete solutions to set the path for inclusive, just, and sustainable international collaborations.
Soeren explains: “The international scientific knowledge exchange system is simply too slow and too broken to offer solutions at the required speed and scale so that everyone can participate.” In his opinion, virtual communication is key to making the scientific community more inclusive.
“In 2020 when virtual communication became the norm, this was unfortunately not in response to long lasting issues like inclusion, justice, or the massive CO2 emissions from to fly-in events, but due to the deadly coronavirus,” Soeren says. “This is a sad but important fact. After this crisis is over, we need to ensure that the scientific community doesn’t simply go back to “normal”. Structural change is needed; implementing strict new travel policies within universities can play a key role.”
Below, Soeren presents two simple and concrete solutions to pursuing a more inclusive and less carbon-intensive method of scientific collaboration. These options allow (young) researchers as well as students to skip international fly-in events while increasing their international network.
Abi from Edinburgh University
When PhD-student Abi Whitefield was a MSc student in Environmental Protection and Management at Edinburgh, she decided to not participate in a compulsory course field trip due to its carbon emissions. This decision did not only send a clear message to her teachers and peers, it also benefitted her: she got to design her own research project instead.
Abi knew a field tour to Morocco was a compulsory component of the degree when she applied for the MSc course in Environmental Protection and Management. She didn’t want to go. Not only due to a slight fear of flying, but due to the immense environmental impact of the journey there. Luckily, her course director was completely supportive of her decision: “They started planning alternative activities for me.”
It’s somewhat ironic that a university school that focuses on climate change and the impacts of excessive carbon release causes a large carbon footprint through compulsory field trips.
“It’s somewhat ironic that a university school that focuses on climate change and the impacts of excessive carbon release causes a large carbon footprint through compulsory field trips,” says Abi. “I think my refusal has made both the course director and the School of GeoSciences more aware that they need to offer less carbon-intensive options for students.”
Abi: “Eventually, it was decided that I would undertake an individual study, which focussed on environmental behaviours. I sent out a survey on environmental beliefs, behaviour changes and barriers to change, even asking the public about their opinions on flying.”
Groene Locomotief from Ghent University
The group of students called Groene Locomotief (Green Locomotive) at Ghent University offered the university a set of ideas to make their travel policy greener. This eventually resulted in a new travel policy.
Through discussion nights and an awareness campaign, the Groene Locomotief managed to convince Ghent University to rethink the way they travel and facilitate travel. The group of students came with a set of ideas which they offered to the university.
It was important for them to prove that an internationalisation strategy can be combined with lowering carbon emissions from travel. Among the ideas in their proposal was the simple solution to only reimburse travel by train or bus if the trip by train or bus is 6 hours or shorter.
Ghent University was one of the first universities to implement a more sustainable travel policy: take a look at an overview of all measures here.
Christoph from ETH Zürich
Christoph Küffer is a senior researcher at the Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zürich, and professor for urban ecology at the University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil. He is now into his fifth year of (almost) not flying. This is what he learnt.
As an ecologist I have the choice between flying to conference rooms where I discuss how to better analyse more data that shows ever more dramatically how badly affected our ecosystems are, or I can work together with social scientists, artists, urban planners, and practitioners at home to innovate carbon-free cities.
I got off to a slow start with flying. Before I finished my studies, I’d never even set foot in a plane, nor did I have a driving licence. That was nothing unusual at the time – not for an environmental science student, anyway.
Fifteen years later, I have travelled at least ten times around the world for work, I regularly flew to other continents, and I have a driving licence in three different countries. Nowadays that’s nothing unusual either, not even for an environmental scientist.
Five years ago, I decided to give up flying. I like travelling, and I don’t like changing my life. So it would be convenient if I could now report that it’s impossible for a researcher to give up flying. But that’s not the case. Flying less, or not at all, is indeed possible – sometimes even there are benefits. Here then are three points in favour of not flying.
Erasmus by Train
Aiming to link the Erasmus and Interrail programmes for a more sustainable and united Europe, the student-led initiative Erasmus by Train was founded in January 2020.
Ever since, they have been actively trying to raise public awareness of these two European youth programmes and promote the idea of thinking of them collectively. To Erasmus by Train, it seems contradictory that the EU, which sees itself as a sustainable player, indirectly supports air travel; central organisations close to Erasmus, such as ESN, cooperate closely with airlines like Ryanair.
Participants therefore often prefer to travel by air because of low prices and discounts. As a result, the Erasmus programme continuously contributes to the EU’s high CO2 emissions, which runs counter to its obligations under the Paris Convention and its own sustainability efforts.
Erasmus by Train calls on the relevant EU institutions to cover the travel costs of all Erasmus participants who renounce climate-damaging air travel and switch to environmentally friendly means of transport such as rail. Specifically, they are campaigning for free Interrail passes for travel to and from the exchange location!
Find out more by visiting erasmusbytrain.eu
Daantje from Utrecht University
Utrecht University aims to be CO₂-neutral by 2030 and wishes to reduce air travel by 50 percent in 2030 (compared to 2019). A large part of the UU’s carbon footprint is caused by study-related trips. The UU, therefore, encourages students to travel to their European exchange destination by bus or train. To better facilitate students who want to travel overland, the university came up with a project to reimburse travel costs: the Travel Green Grant. We spoke to Daantje Berghuis of Green Office Utrecht, who is one of the initiators of the project.
I hope that the UU will keep on supporting students in the future, and of course it would be amazing if other universities will copy the project.
Since the academic year of 2019-2020, Utrecht University offers Travel Green Grants of up to €185,- for students who choose to take the train or bus to their European study destination. Is €185,- sufficient to cover all of the travel costs if you go on exchange to a destination on the other side of Europe? Berghuis: “We chose €185,- as an upper limit because this equals the price of an Interrail Pass. With this pass, you can travel all across Europe. So even if your exchange university is far out, you should be able to (almost) get there ‘for free’.”
Jelle from Maastricht Univeristy
As part of the Green Impact challenge Jelle Kouwenhoven took on the challenge to address the flying behaviour of Maastricht University: in a team he worked on a proposal to change the travel culture and policy of the university. Their hard work was successful: they won the challenge! The project has now been handed over to the UM sustainability team for implementation.We spoke to Jelle Kouwenhoven, who was part of the team.
It contributes to a new academic culture, in which long distance business travel is not viewed as imperative for a successful international network and academic career.
Kouwenhoven: “This proposal outlines an institutional policy framework to springboard Maastricht University’s air business travel culture into a holistic carbon-conscious air travel cycle. The aim is to encourage and support the UM community in making low-emission travel choices as well as to spread awareness about travelling necessity. It contributes to a new academic culture, in which long-distance business travel is not viewed as imperative for a successful international network and academic career.”
In 2019, the Centre for Sustainable Studies at Lund University (LUCSUS) started a 1-year commitment period in which they pledge to make serious and significant efforts to reduce work-related emissions.
LUCSUS will, for example, track and collect its carbon emissions via the university’s travel agency and through an individual carbon tracker. These will be made available (in anonymous format). The centre will also create a personal report directly to each individual at the end of each year. This data will be used as an awareness-raising tool, to evaluate progress, and to gradually increase the ambitions.
Among other measures, the centre will also actively give voice to the academic flying issue in fora within and outside the university help to address institutional barriers to change, and to advocate for, and develop structural solutions.
After the first commitment period, LUCSUS will re-evaluate the travel policy with the goal to increase the ambition and set more concrete reduction targets in the future. Find more information on their commitments on the website of Stay Grounded.
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
The Tyndall Travel Strategy includes a voluntary code of conduct and a system to monitor and justify travel emissions. It also supports individual commitments to reducing emissions. To justify travels made, staff can use a decision tree: check it out.
This is the code of conduct to support a low-carbon research culture that is being used:
- Monitor and reduce: I will keep track of the carbon emissions of my professional activities, and set personal objectives to reduce them in line with or larger than my country’s carbon emissions commitments (see ’Set your targets below).
- Account and justify: I will justify my travel considering the location and purpose of the event, my level of seniority, and the alternative options available.
- Prioritise, prepare and replace: For activities that I organise, I will chose the location giving high priority to a low carbon footprint of travel of the participants, and I will encourage, incorporate and technically support online speakers and webcasts to reduce unnecessary travel.
- Encourage and stimulate: I will resist my own FoMo (Fear of Missing Out) from not attending everything and work towards sensitizing others to the need of the research community to walk the talk on climate change.
- Reward: I will work with my peers, Institute and Funders to value alternative metrics of success and encourage the promotion of low-carbon research as a realisable alternative to a high-carbon research career.
An overview of all measures can be found here.
ETH Zürich has announced to take steps to reduce their emissions by addressing their travel policy as well as travel culture. The Swiss university has committed to a reduction of 11% of their flight emissions from 2019 to 2025.
This cut in emissions is based on the effective reduction of flight emissions by ETH members. This means it does not include compensation or the efficiency gains of the airlines due to technological progress.
Concrete measures to reduce air travel range from awareness raising, expansion of videoconferencing through trainings and infrastructure improvements, sustainable travel planning (e.g. bundling travels and preference of train rides over flights for journeys less than 8 hours) and new monitoring and evaluation system of flight emissions.
Find more information on the website of Stay Grounded.
The Travel Better Package
Are you looking for more resources? The Travel Better Package might be something to check out. The package was created by the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education (EAUC) and aims to support the reduction of air travel in the further and higher education (FHE) sector, specifically amongst academics and staff.
It not only aims to support reflection on and reconfiguration of the sector’s relationship to air travel on an institutional and individual basis, it also hopes to encourage individuals to travel better. Moreover, the package is concerned with improving equity and diversity while reducing air travel in the sector and offers support in doing this.
The Travel Better Package includes:
- A Questions & Answer tool addressing concerns individuals may have about reducing air travel
- The Travel Better Pledge Template used to inform individual behaviour change, as well as departmental and/or institutional policies, pledges and statements
- The Air Travel Justification Tool, which is an extension of a decision tree – the tool supports individuals in justifying/reflecting on attending a conference, meeting and/or event that is only accessible through flying