Low carbon travel: how are other Universities doing?

Low carbon travel: how are other Universities doing?

Dutch universities

In the summer of 2020, we published a blog wondering if the TU/e was missing out by not having a clear sustainable travel policy. Now, almost two years later, more universities and academics are aiming at facilitating low carbon travel. We picked a few developments which stood out.


De Jonge Akademie

De Jonge Akademie (or Young Academy), a platform of top young scientists and scholars in the Netherlands, has published a report on flying in academia. This report is part of a broader project on this issue. According to the report, on average 18.7 percent of the total CO2 emissions from universities comes from flying academics. This is, however, a rough estimation: half of the universities did not report on the CO2 emissions from flying specifically. Additionally, the universities which did report it, used different measuring tools. More important is the conclusion that all universities have expressed the aim to become more sustainable and emit less CO2. The policies to reach this aim are scattered and abstract, making it difficult to compare policies or measure results of policies.


Tilburg University and Erasmus University Rotterdam

Both Tilburg University and Erasmus University Rotterdam have committed to lowering CO2 emissions from travel. For this, most published low carbon travel policies focus on the daily commute. When it comes to business travel, public transport or attending virtually is encouraged. Tilburg promotes sustainable travel, including ride sharing and going virtual instead of physically attending, instead of flying for all travel under 500 km. Erasmus University takes a broader travel circle, strongly recommending non-flying for all business travel under 850 km. Additionally, Erasmus University compensates all CO2 for taken flights.


Radboud University

Radboud University has stated to implement some low carbon travel measures in 2021, such as no more flying to cities within a seven-hour distance by train or other sustainable modes of travel. Still, academics at the university have started a petition, urging the university for more ambitious goals and research funders to include sustainable travels in their grants.


Low carbon travel = no more flying?

Does this mean that flying is slowly getting banned from all Dutch universities? Of course not. None of the measures are about completely abandoning airplanes. If so, we would be cutting our physical ties with lots of universities and research institutes in different continents. Additionally, case study and on-the-ground research in many different countries would then also be impossible.

What these measures are promoting, however, is to consider sustainability and low carbon travel when doing and promoting research. For example, is it necessary to fly to cities within the EU, or could a train ride suffice? Additionally, is it necessary to physically attend a conference where you were invited to talk for 30 minutes, or could you attend online? And last but not least, how can universities take away barriers for sustainable travel (e.g. compensate for longer travel time or higher travel expenses when choosing the train instead of airplane)? To lower the CO2 emissions of universities, it is important to work together in promoting and supporting sustainable travel.