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Glasgow Green: University of Glasgow unveils plan to cut business travel carbon emissions

Glasgow Green: University of Glasgow unveils plan to cut business travel carbon emissions
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Written by Harry Johnson

University staff will be encouraged to avoid travel wherever possible, to choose public ground transport over flying, to consider their transport options during funding applications, and to maximize the outcomes of unavoidable trips

  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, business travel accounted for 22% of the University’s annual carbon footprint – around 13,194 ton carbon dioxide equivalents, or tCO2e
  • The plan calls for the University’s four Colleges to make efforts to implement sustainable travel plans, to help staff make their own decisions about reducing their personal carbon footprints, and to make bi-annual reports on their progress to ensure targets are met
  • The University has set out four actions to guide staff when making decisions about future business travel

The University of Glasgow is setting out an ambitious new plan to cut carbon emissions from business travel by 7.5% each year. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, business travel accounted for 22% of the University’s annual carbon footprint – around 13,194 ton carbon dioxide equivalents, or tCO2e. Most of the travel-related emissions were created by international and domestic flights. 

Now, the University is aiming to shrink that total footprint to 5,597 tCO2e by 2030 by helping staff and postgraduate researchers make more sustainable travel choices over the next decade. 

University staff will be encouraged to avoid travel wherever possible, to choose public ground transport over flying, to consider their transport options during funding applications, and to maximize the outcomes of unavoidable trips. 

The move is one of the first high-profile implementations of recommendations made in the Glasgow Green: The University of Glasgow’s Response to the Climate Emergency strategy document, launched in November last year. 

The strategy set a target for the University to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, five years earlier than the goal set by previous institutional plans plans. 

The increased pace of change came in response to a series of consultations with staff and students, who pushed for the University to go farther and faster in its efforts to tackle the climate emergency.

The plan calls for the University’s four Colleges to make efforts to implement sustainable travel plans, to help staff make their own decisions about reducing their personal carbon footprints, and to make bi-annual reports on their progress to ensure targets are met. Progress will be overseen by the University’s Sustainable Working Group, with their reports made available to the public.

Professor Sally Wyke, Deputy Director of the University’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, chaired the group which drew up the guidance. Professor Wyke said: 

“As a research-intensive University involved in a wide variety of projects around the world, we’re conscious that travel is, and will remain, an important part of the University’s everyday business. 

“We’re also conscious that, in a post-pandemic world, our options to use technology like videoconferencing to streamline travel to only the most necessary trips are more extensive than they have ever been. 

“Our priorities are changing, and we’re committed to helping staff change along with us by building awareness into every aspect of how the University works. Part of that change will involve helping the minority of staff who make up a majority of our travel emissions reduce their own footprints to ensure that others, like early-career researchers, will have the opportunity to make vital trips. We will also take steps to make sure that no staff members are disadvantaged by their efforts to reduce their travel.”

Dr David Duncan, the University of Glasgow’s Chief Operating Officer, added: “The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the University, like many organizations around the world, to rethink many of our usual ways of working. Our continued success in teaching, research and administration is the result of a huge effort on the part of all staff to adapt to new methods like videoconferencing, which has proven to be an invaluable tool. 

“As the pandemic eases, and as we prepare as a city to host the COP26 meeting in November, we’re aware that opportunities to travel will start opening up once more. However, we’re committed to using the lessons learned we’ve learned over the last year to help us reduce our carbon footprint and reach our ambitious goal of achieving net-zero by 2030.”

The University has set out four actions to guide staff when making decisions about future business travel:

  1. Avoid travelling wherever possible: Staff are advised to use virtual conferencing as much as they can instead.
  2. Build technological solutions for virtual working into grant proposals: Researchers applying for funding will be expected to outline how they will reduce face-to-face working with partner organisations in other locations, with grant money set aside to source high-quality virtual working hardware for partners who require it. 
  3. Choose public transport when travelling: Train and bus travel will now be the default for trips within the UK wherever possible, even if it costs more than travelling by air.
  4. Maximise the value of travel: Staff should aim to make the most of trips by building in additional in-person meetings, such as opportunities for building research links with new partners.

The development of the Glasgow Green strategy was the latest major development in the University of Glasgow’s ongoing commitment to addressing the climate emergency.

In October 2014, the University the first UK higher education institute to commit to fully disinvesting from fossil fuel industry companies within a decade. In 2017, the University signed the Sustainable Development Goals Accord. In 2019, it became the first University in Scotland to declare a climate emergency. In April 2020, the University opened the Centre for Sustainable Solutions to support interdisciplinary, cross-campus and cross-sectoral solutions to climate change.