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Image © Train Photos 'Photoshopped 466013' CC BY-SA 2.0

National and international business travel can play a key part in achieving academic, research and education objectives at the University of Cambridge. However, in 2018/19, carbon emissions from business travel were estimated to be at least 16,000 tonnes CO2e, which is roughly equivalent to emissions from gas used for space and water heating across the University estate. Around 95% of this comes from air travel (2018/19 data).

To reduce emissions related to business travel we need to consider when travel is essential, and when we can choose virtual alternatives or low-carbon transport modes over carbon-intensive, and difficult-to-decarbonise transport modes such as flying. For example, zero-carbon alternatives to short-haul flights are not expected to be widely available before at least 2050.

The University’s Carbon Reduction Strategy has a target to reduce per-capita (i.e. per person) emissions from flights by 25% against 2014/15 levels by 2024/25. Between 2014/15 and 2018/19, per-capita emissions from flights increased by around 30% (Environmental Sustainability Report 2019). Emissions from flights were 27% lower in 2019/20 than in 2014/15 due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University also plans to offset remaining unavoidable business travel emissions to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. The University has set up a Carbon Offsetting Working Group to identify the most effective carbon offsets to use.

Guidelines on Sustainable Business Travel 

The University has adopted Guidelines for staff and students on minimising the environmental impact of their business travel. The Guidelines were developed under the oversight of the Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee and informed by a consultation with staff and students between August and October 2021. Read the full Guidelines here

In brief, the Guidelines include (but are not limited to) the following expectations: 

  • Consider using virtual communication methods instead of travelling, particularly when a trip is not essential to your objectives  

  • Consider reducing the number of people travelling  

  • Consider picking a closer destination to reduce travel distance 

  • Prioritise modes of travel that have the lowest carbon impact 

  • For example, staff and students are encouraged to use train travel over air travel to all European destinations that can be reached within 6 hours from London terminals 

  • The Guidelines provide a helpful hierarchy of travel modes based on carbon impact 

  • Where air travel is necessary, make Economy Class bookings 

  • Where air travel is necessary, offsetting of carbon emissions is strongly encouraged in accordance with the University’s offsetting policy 

  • Staff and students are particularly expected to offset carbon emissions where the offsetting cost can be claimed from external funders 

  • Some additional expenses may be claimed if they were the result of using a less carbon-intensive mode of travel, such as: 

  • Subsistence expenses incurred when travelling by a less carbon-intensive mode necessitates a longer travel time 

  • Expenses incurred to allow staff and students to work whilst travelling by a less carbon-intensive mode (e.g. internet connection charges to work on the train) 

  • Book all travel through Key Travel (the University's preferred travel provider) to maximise the collection of travel emissions data. 

Please note that the Guidelines do not intend to limit all business travel. Furthermore, they recognise that some considerations may require deviation from the recommendations, such as individual safety, disability, health conditions, or inappropriately long journeys.  

Carbon Offsetting Policy Guidance 

The Carbon Offsetting Working Group (COWG) have published guidance on the University’s offsetting policy. The guidance covers the internal carbon offsetting scheme currently being developed by the COWG, advice on applying to external funders for offsetting costs, and tools for calculating carbon emissions. 

Please contact us at if you have further questions. Contact if your questions are related to the booking process with our preferred travel provider. 

Image © Train Photos 'Photoshopped 466013' CC BY-SA 2.0