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Sustainability

Train 2

The University is committed to making a positive impact through outstanding environmental sustainability performance. A key theme running throughout this commitment is carbon reduction. Managed by the sustainability team, the University is taking forward a wide programme of work to reduce its carbon emissions, from all sources (scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions). 

The latest development in strengthening the University’s approach to carbon reduction is the adoption of new guidelines on sustainable business travel. The purpose of the guidelines, which were developed in consultation with stakeholders across the University and approved by University Council in March, is to encourage and support a reduction in non-essential University business travel and its associated carbon impacts. In particular, it seeks to achieve a reduction in the total number of flights and the total distance travelled by air (as opposed to other transport modes) by University staff and students.

It is not the purpose of the guidelines to limit essential business travel. Rather, the aim is to strongly encourage staff and students to adopt climate-conscious travel behaviours and choices. It aims to encourage choices and behaviours that are informed by the environmental impact of travel, and different modes of travel. With climate-conscious travel in effect, the environmental cost of travel is prioritised over financial cost and individual convenience, but not over safety and equality and diversity considerations.

To achieve this, the guidelines:

  • Encourage and support staff and students to attend meetings, conferences, etc, virtually, rather than feeling pressure to attend in-person.
  • Ask staff and students to consider whether their travel is essential, and provide some guidance for defining essential and non-essential travel.
  • Ask staff and students to prioritise modes of travel that have the lowest carbon impact, and provide a hierarchy of preferred travel modes.

Specific flights are strongly discouraged, namely to UK destinations and to European destinations that can be reached by train within six hours from London terminals.

In instances where it is necessary to travel by plane, staff and students are strongly encouraged to offset the carbon emissions associated with their business travel in accordance with the University’s offsetting policy.

The guidelines apply to all University staff, and all students who choose to/are required to undertake travel as part of their learning or research.

Adoption of these new guidelines is very timely. In 2018/19 (pre-Covid), carbon emissions from the University’s business travel were around 16,000 tCO2e per year – roughly equivalent to emissions arising from the use of gas to heat the entire University estate. 

Prior to the pandemic, total annual emissions from the University’s business travel detailed in our annual report, and per capita emissions from flights, had been steadily increasing year on year. 

As we build back from the effects of the Covid pandemic, it is vital that we take steps to prevent business travel emissions from increasing to the same levels, or even higher. This can be achieved by moving towards a more sustainable set of attitudes and behaviours towards business travel, including questioning the need to travel in the first place. 

Over the coming months, the sustainability team will be providing schools, departments and faculties with further information on what the new guidelines mean for them in practice, and what they can do to embed a culture of climate conscious travel. 

The team is also developing processes to support reporting on business travel emissions at the school or departmental level. These reports will help to monitor the effectiveness of the new guidelines over time, and identify where staff and students may need further help in adopting sustainable business travel behaviours.

Please contact sustainability@admin.cam.ac.uk if you have any further questions about the new guidelines.

Written by: Sally Pidgeon, Deputy Head of Sustainability