THE EXPLANE TOOLKIT
Air travel is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions of universities. Do you want to reduce your university’s emissions by addressing air travel? This campaign toolkit can help you raise awareness on the climate impact of flying and to change your university’s travel policy.
I. Assemble information
The first step of building a campaign is assembling information in order to make a convincing case. You should be on top of the impacts of academic flying in general, as well as find out as much as possible about the specific situation at your institution.
The climate impact and injustice of flying
Academic air travel accounts for the majority of universities’ carbon emissions. While most people know that flying isn’t exactly sustainable, few are aware of just how polluting it is – and how unevenly the privilege of flying is distributed.
These infographics by the Stay Grounded network show why it is high time to fly less.
If you want to find out how much emissions can be saved by choosing trains and buses over planes for a specific route, use a carbon calculator.
Flying behaviour at your university
The more specific, the more convincing! Try to find our as much as possible about who travels how much, how, why and at what cost at your institution.
– How many kilometres do staff and students travel each year?
– Which means of transport do they use (plane, train, bus, car)?
– What is the purpose of travelling (research, conferences, networking, funding, field trips, etc.)?
– Who travels (level of seniority, department, gender, etc.)?
– How much money and CO2 is spend on travelling?
Be prepared that the university probably won’t be able to supply you with all the information, but be persistent and gather as much as you can.
Decision-making and power at your university
As a next step, you should find out what your institution’s current travel policy looks like. Once again, getting this information might require some time and effort, especially because it may depend on the department or research project. But the better informed you are about how travel decisions are being made at the moment, the more able are you to demand changes!
Speaking of changes, is is crucial to understand who has what power. This is probably not only one person or group. In order to grasp this complex structure and consider all actors, make a power map to begin with! Key players to include are the board of directors, students and student grounds, teachers, the sustainability department, the corporate responsibility department, financial management, and so on.
Once you know who has which power, you know with whom you will want to get in contact. Some actors or groups might be easier to get in touch with than others. There is no recipe for this, but what counts is passion, persistence and diplomacy.
These newspaper and magazine articles are a good introduction to the need of reducing academic air travel and the challenges encountered on the way:
– “What hypocrisy, I think guiltily, as I jet off to academic conferences far and wide,” Jonathan Wolff, 2019, The Guardian.
– “Researchers, set an example: fly less,” Xavier Anglaret et al., 2019, The Conversation.
– “As an academic, should I worry about my conference carbon footprint?,” Sophia Kier-Byfield, 2019, The Guardian.
– “University sector must tackle air travel emissions,” Milena Buchs, 2019, The Conversation.
– “Climate scientists have a moral responsibility to lead by example,” Nives Dolsak et al., 2019, The Hill.
– “The Climate Change Hypocrisy Of Jet-Setting Academics,” Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash, 2019, Huffington Post.
If you want to go a bit deeper, have a look at these five academic peer-reviewed articles:
– Portia Roelofs (2020) “Flying in the univer-topia: white people on planes, #RhodesMustFall and climate emergency,” Journal of African Cultural Studies.
– Seth Wynes et al. (2019) “Academic air travel has a limited influence on professional success,” Journal of Cleaner Production.
– Attari et al. (2019) “Climate change communicators’ carbon footprints affect their audience’s policy support,” Climatic Change.
– Wynes and Nicholas (2019) “Flying Less is Critical to a Safe Climate Future,” Public Administration Review.
– Cohen and Kantenbacher (2019) “Flying less: personal health and environmental co-benefits,” Journal of Sustainable Tourism.
If you still don’t have enough, check out the Flying Less Resource Guide by Ryan-Katz Rosene – which contains about everything you ever wanted to know.
Interesting and relevant thesis topic
Are you still looking for a bachelor’s or master’s thesis topic? You might be able to connect your research to an ExPlane campaign! Contact us if you want help turning your ideas into a specific research topic.
II. Start a group
Whatever you want to achieve, assembling a group of like-minded and motivated people is a fundamental step on the way. Maybe this happens almost by itself, or maybe it requires you to step out of your comfort zone and approach and convince new people to join.
1. Find out what is already there
To begin with, get an overview of groups or organisations already working on similar topics at your university and get in touch with them. This will save you from doing the same work twice and may offer possibilities for collaboration. It’s better to work together and join forces than to start from zero! Your university may have a Green Office, which probably has some valuable insights for you.
You might also find it helpful to connect to initiatives formed at other universities (see our Good Practices page). You could also reach out to the local chapter of, for example, Fridays for Future, or other climate justice groups to find support.
2. Reach out to your network
In order to find people who also want to change your university’s travel policy, start spreading the word. Besides talking about it, you could also put up posters, hand out flyers, spread the message on social media or through a mailing list or organise an information evening to reach people outside of your direct network.
The best way to inspire others to take action is to share what propelled you to take action in the first place. Getting your student media to cover your campaign (idea) is a good opportunity to let the wider student body know what you’re planning on doing and why. You could also write an article or essay for a campus or local newspaper.
Check out the ExPlane one pager, it might help you in your outreach:
3. Don’t forget university staff
Teachers and other university staff will be a valuable addition to your campaign group. They can help you interact with your university’s administration, recruit new members among the staff and offer valuable insights. Sustainability-related departments are a good place to start. Maybe there are even already some faculty members pushing for change!
4. Get to know each other
Pick a date, reserve a room, and get together! This first meeting is an opportunity to tell as many people as possible why you care about sustainable travel and how the ExPlane campaign contributes to achieving a more just and sustainable world. Make room for people to ask questions and express their own ideas and take some time to get to know each other. Bring snacks, that always makes meetings more fun!
5. Create a group structure and find a schedule that works
Once you have formed a group, make sure to have a clear picture of who is responsible for what, so members know whom to reach out to for questions, ideas and concerns. Decide together which platform you will use for organisation and storage, for example Slack, Discord or Google Drive. Even if you are with only 2 or 3 people you are ready to start. Come up with a (bi-)weekly meeting time, but keep in mind that you are a group of volunteers and not everyone has the same amount of time to spend on the campaign. Be honest, understanding and realistic about this.
Try to create a horizontal group structure where tasks and responsibilities are spread evenly. Create a space in which people can develop confidence and leadership qualities. This is important to have a lasting impact on the university, even as some group members graduate.
6. Plan your year
As a group, develop a common understanding of your vision for sustainable academic travel practices and formulate a clear goal. Then you can move on to making concrete plans. Map out your year and set specific aims and deadlines to turn your vision into a reality. You probably won’t stick to the plan, but it helps to have one.
7. Official recognition and collaboration
If the ExPlane group gets recognised by your university as an official association, you might be able to organise events, receive some funding and grow your network more easily. It can also help you to set up collaboration with other study associations and sustainability platforms at your university.
III. Formulate concrete demands
The university can pledge to adopt travel policies that are really climate-friendly and become part of the growing community of organisations that reduce business travel by plane and foster climate-friendly travel alternatives.
Specify the measures and set deadlines
Every university is different and will have to find its own way to reduce air travel. There are different options available, and not all are applicable in every context. Some of the demands could be:
– Alternatives to flying are always considered first. Short-haul flights of staff are only reimbursed in exceptional circumstances when there is no point-to-point travel alternative that reaches the final destination within 8 hours.
– Everyone should always be able to choose sustainable travel options or opt-out of air travel when they view it as unnecessary.
– A fund is opened to enable students and staff to choose sustainable options over flying.
– Staff travel is avoided where it can be replaced by technology.
– Permission needs to be granted for long-haul travel, weighing off purpose, strategic value for the university, ethics, financial and environmental costs.
– Travel behaviour is registered and monitored.
– The university only reimburses long-haul flights with stop-over(s) when there is no direct alternative available.
– Travel is not only reduced, but the value of trips is also amplified.
– The university’s travel agency uses responsible booking websites, such as https://www.bookdifferent.com/en/.
– The university can fill in this Stay Grounded network survey. This survey provides a list of concrete measures a university or school could and requires to set deadlines.
The university could use its communication channels to explain why it is changing its travel policy. This can inspire individuals to consider their own travel behaviour and other universities to change their policy too.
– This map provides an overview of the variety of measures taken by universities, created as part of a PhD project by Agnes Kreil at ETH Zurich.
– The organisation Stay Grounded created a page dedicated to how to change your organisation’s travel policy. Take a look at their guide with best travel policy measures if you want to come up with a concrete proposal or watch this webinar grounding travel policies.
– The Travel Better Package contains a Questions & Answers document which addresses concerns one may face when attempting to reduce your air travel while working in higher education. They also drafted a pledge that you can use to make one for your university to sign.
– Flying Less: Reducing Academia’s Carbon Footprint
– Towards a culture of low-carbon research for the 21st Century (2015)
IV. Organise a dialogue night
A dialogue night is a perfect occasion to inform people about the climate impact of flying and to discuss whether and when travelling is necessary. The night can also be used to draft a proposal with a larger group to send to your administration. Don’t forget to invite the staff!
Here are some ideas of topics and activities for your dialogue night:
Get the facts straight
Why do we have to change our travel behaviour? Why should universities be part of this change? You can add specific travel information of your university if that is available: how much CO2 does your university emit and how much does air travel contribute to this?
Allow people to position themselves
How much have they travelled by plane? Are they willing to change this if this can reduce their carbon footprint?
Stimulate a debate
You can for example discussion some controversial statements:
– “In times of climate crisis, a university should be taking measures to limit the number of flights.”
– “The CO2 emissions do not weigh up to the benefits of air travel for education.”
– “It’s not worth taking a flight to present your research.”
– “Flying is not a right.”
– “Videoconferences can replace all flights.”
– “One can limit the number of flights without harming research and ambitions of our university.”
In addition, a film screening is a good ways to increase awareness and stimulate engagement. We recommend the following documentaries, which are all available on YouTube:
– Can flying go green? (BBC 2019)
– The true cost of flying (VPRO 2018)
– Is it wrong to fly? (Vox 2020)
– How the travel industry affects our lives (VPRO 2019)
Share good practices
You can check out our page with some examples!
Write a proposal
Moving on, you can use the last part of the night to come up with a specific proposal you can send to your university administration. This proposal for Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona could be a useful source of inspiration to start making your own.
Feel free to use this PowerPoint as the basis of your presentation.
VI. Get active
You got the facts, a motivated team, concrete demands – now it is time to take action. While the possibilities are endless, below are some ideas on where to focus your energy.
Set up (regular) meetings with your administration
If you manage to set up a meeting with the administration, this means they take your concerns seriously. Your demands will not only stir a discussion within the administration, but it also allows you to find allies within the university administration who can give you advice and point out potential difficulties or obstacles. You can also use the meeting to warn them that they can expect action if they do not act fast enough.
The more people who endorse your campaign, the more effective it will be. Is there a Green Office or a student committee on sustainability? Are there teachers who are passionate about the topic? Students with cool local/sustainable travel stories? Try to connect with them and get them on board or to endorse your project.
Get creative and gather attention
Here are some ideas to gain attention for your campaign. Never forget to take pictures of your actions! This will help you to spread your message further on social media. You can always let us know when you are planning an action or when the university board is taking an important decision. We can help you support the campaign.
With a small group of people (one pilot, two stewards and one tourist taking pictures) and 3-4 hours of preparation, you can already have a big impact! At a tax conference in the Netherlands, activists dressed up as pilots and stewardesses and asked the participants to ‘check-in for sustainable travel’. The goal of their action was to support the Dutch state-secretary in his push for a tax on kerosene. People responded very positively to the action, the state-secretary himself came out to support it and the action appeared in the national news.
– A pilot & steward outfit: use any type of a formal suit, preferably in blue or black. Create your own steward hat and add an airplane on it. If you want to target a specific airline you can copy their logo.
– Signs: use old cardboard to create your own signs.
– Find a conference or event at your university for your action: an action like this works best if you do it as a response to a bigger event.
Spread your message on posters
Find places to spread your message. Spreading posters are a very good first start, but the larger the message, the more people you will reach! It often helps to address your dean directly in your message.
– Large white papers
– Black markers
– A good message
– Enough windows in a prominent building
A banner drop is also a good option. You can make a banner with some paint and/or markers and an old sheet. Drop it from a visible place on campus. You can also use helium balloons to float it to the ceiling indoors to attract extra attention!
Start a petition
After you have attracted attention with your actions, launching a petition gives more people the opportunity to support you. This also helps you as you can show the university that the campaign is supported by a large crowd. Once people start sharing the petition, it will also raise more awareness on the topic. A good website to work with is actionnetwork.org.
Occupy a central place
Another useful way to get attention for your campaign is to organize a sit-in: occupy or block a central place in the university or school. Make sure to inform people why you are organising this sit-in. For this action to succeed, it is important that they sympathise with you: you want to enlarge your support base.
You can combine the action with a teach-in: hold a lecture to inform people about the impact of aviation in academia and why you started the campaign.
Get in touch with the media
The media has the power to change norms and allows universities to stand in the spotlight if they are committed to progressive changes that take the climate crisis seriously. The media can also be useful in case the university does not want to collaborate: if the media covers your action/petition/plea, you pressure your institution to take more actions, as the administration will try to prevent to receive further negative media attention. No need to immediately reach national newspapers, starting with your university press can already stir a debate.
VIII. Celebrate small victories
Don’t worry and don’t give up. If your demands are not met, you should keep up the pressure. By continuing to push, it becomes more likely your university or school will listen to you and take your demands seriously.
Come together with the campaign group and set new goals. With the campaign you probably reached a lot of new people. Try to make the group bigger and think of new creative actions that can attract even more attention. Don’t forget to hold meetings throughout the preparation of the action in order to increase your support base.
Changing behaviour is hard
This might be hard to measure, but your actions, dialogue nights and posters will not only be useful in engendering policy changes, but it will also increase awareness on the climate impact of flying. They will lead to discussions, talks and reflections among students and staff. Your campaign will surely encourage individuals to consider sustainable travel options and inspire others to do the same.
Don’t forget to celebrate!
Organise something fun to acknowledge all the steps you have taken and the change you have made together with the team: Even small victories deserve a celebration! This will make it a lot more fun to work on the campaign and to keep on pushing.
If you have any questions, if you need advice or financial support for your ExPlane campaign, if you have other ideas that you think should be in this toolkit, or would just like to have a chat – don’t hesitate and get in touch with us!