As part of the UBC Climate Action Plan 2030 (CAP 2030) goals to reduce our extended emissions, the Sustainable Travel Program is looking to find and promote effective and equitable ways to better track, understand, and reduce the emissions from UBC business air travel.
In 2019, UBC business air travel accounted for at least 17,600 tons of CO2 emissions. For comparison, it would take 8,800 gasoline-powered cars to produce this same amount over the course of a year.
Before Taking a Trip
Prior to taking a trip, consider whether it is absolutely necessary for in-person attendance, as virtual options are becoming more accessible and common. Many of the following activities can make use of virtual alternatives to in-person attendance, which can result in significant savings in time and money:
- Same-day return flights
- Short duration long-haul trips
When Travel is Unavoidable
Consider the Following Options:
- Use the services provided through the UBC Travel Program. By using these services, UBC can more accurately track and quantify the greenhouse gas emissions from your trip. In addition, travelers can secure preferred pricing, vendor discounts, and access 24/7 emergency support.
- Bundle essential trips together to reduce the total number of trips required, and consider how many people need to attend. It may be possible in some situations to send a smaller number of travelers to attend an event and then share the relevant information afterwards.
- Where possible, replace short flights with buses and/or train travel. Some regions where such options are especially effective are within continental Europe, between most major cities in Eastern Canada, between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and between Vancouver and the Okanagan.
- Choose Economy class, as the emissions associated with a Business or First-class seat are both significantly higher due to the increased space usage.
- Where viable, purchase a carbon offset.
Note: The Sustainable Travel Program first and foremost recommends that carbon offsets be used only in circumstances after all other viable efforts to reduce travel have been made. Please refer to the section “Carbon Offsets” below for more information.
UBC Employees can help to accelerate beneficial cultural changes around business air travel by advocating for some of the following actions within their departments:
- The adoption and use of virtual and remote participation options for activities such as conference attendance and hosting as well as teaching and learning.
- Rethinking activities such as fieldwork; a shift from dependence on intensive travel may take the form of increasing the locality of certain research projects where possible
- Using teleconferencing capacities to communicate vital knowledge with distant collaborators.
- Choosing low-impact options when travel is unavoidable.
It should be noted that not all of these approaches are likely to be perfectly suited for every situation, which is why the Sustainable Travel Program advocates for a participatory, adaptive, and inclusive approach.
As with all of the CAP 2030 Initiatives, the Sustainable Travel Program seeks to apply climate justice within its projects. Engaging with the UBC community to identify and remove barriers to choosing low-impact travel alternatives will be integral to shifting cultural norms, while ensuring an equitable approach.
A carbon offset is the purchase of a service from a third party which funds initiatives that seek to either directly or indirectly reduce an equivalent quantity of greenhouse gas emissions from another sector. An example of this would be paying an organization to plant and grow trees, with the idea that the emissions sequestered by the trees in question will offset the emissions from the activity undertaken by the purchaser.
Carbon offsets are a contentious subject for several reasons including their inconsistent viability, a lack of scalability, and the delay between their initiation and actual effect. Offsets also pose problems for climate justice in that they can serve effectively as a “license to pollute” rather than resulting in actual emissions reductions, which leads to a further lock-in of global heating and which has disproportionate impact on historically vulnerable groups. It is for these reasons that the Sustainable Travel Program encourages the UBC community to always prioritize reductions in travel and travel impacts over offsets.
A Global Shift Done Locally
UBC is far from the only institution committed to addressing the issue of air travel; institutions both within Canada and across the world are committing to reduce their own emissions from business air travel. The Sustainable Travel Program is currently collaborating with several such institutions to share ideas and resources (all virtually!)
Planning tool for determining the need for in-person attendance at events.
Handbook on Climate Change and Air Travel
UBC Department of Geography
A useful reference for understanding the environmental impacts of air travel and for choosing alternatives.
A series of tips for reducing one’s emissions from travel and from commuting to and from campus.
The Sustainable Travel Program is jointly run by the UBC Travel Program and Campus + Community Planning. Any questions or comments can be sent to the Sustainable Travel Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org