The plane truth about air travel

In four years, Umeå University employees have reduced their air travel by on average 650 km per person, which equals one single flight to Stockholm. Through work alone, each of us still has a carbon dioxide footprint of nearly a tonne per year.

THE MOST IMPORTANT environmental footprint and impact on history that a university has is no doubt the knowledge and values imprinted in tens of thousands of students that they later act upon in their professions. Unfortunately, this impact is rather hard to estimate. What is easier — and not to disdain — are the emissions we are the source of in the line of our work. The University Management has set as our target that the climate and environmental impact from the University should be reduced in comparison to 2012.
THE UNIVERSITY’S HEAVIEST climate footprint by far comes from business trips — out of which air traffic is worst stands for the highest climate impact. On average, every employee generated emissions of nearly a tonne — 996 kilos to be precise — of carbon dioxide in 2016. The major share comes from air travel — as much as 972 kilos per person. Train journeys represent a microscopic one gram of carbon dioxide per person and year. Car journeys generate seven kilos. Not to forget, though, these numbers only include what we travel through work. Employees’ commute to and from work is not included and would otherwise increase the proportion of car journeys by far. A tonne sounds a lot, but in comparison, one single trip to Thailand results in an emission of 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. Hence, we can go on business trips for nearly two and a half years to reach the same environmental impact as a single holiday.
THE CLIMATE IMPACT from our business trips has reduced somewhat, partly by replacing some physical meetings with digital communication. A great reduction has also taken place in the energy consumption when it comes to heating, lighting, machinery and cooling. The objective to reduce energy use in comparison to 2012 has been achieved by far as the total energy consumption has dropped by 18.4 per cent. This equals the energy consumption of 343 regular sized family houses. This has been made possible thanks to us changing to more efficient office appliances, presence sensing or timed lighting and ventilation, and energy recovery of cool air. All electricity that the University buys is carbon dioxide free green electricity, which hence has no climate impact to speak of. Our heating comes from the Umeå district heating system and is generated by burning of combustible renewables. 75 per cent of it is estimated as climate neutral.


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