University wants to curb air travel by academic staff

16 Jan 2019

Academic staff at Radboud University fly regularly to Paris or London. This has to change: the university is making plans to reduce the amount of air travel by staff.

The Radboud Green Office is currently taking stock of air travel by university staff. While precise figures on the number of flights are not yet available, it is already clear that academic staff fly frequently to Berlin, Hamburg, Paris, London and Munich, cities that can be reached by train in eight hours or less. ‘We want to start a dialogue about whether we really need to fly to these cities,’ says Green Office coordinator Thijmen Sietsma.

‘This item is on the agenda at many universities,’ says Sietsma. ‘Leiden and Utrecht, for example, are currently making an inventory of their air travel.’

South America

At a conference in Ghent, Sietsma was impressed by the air travel policy of Ghent University in Belgium. Ghent University decided six months ago to stop reimbursing the cost of airfares to destinations that could be reached by bus or train in six hours or less. Staff wanting to fly to destinations taking eight hours by bus or train now require the permission of the head of department. Ghent University also funds environmental projects to offset the CO2 emissions of other flights.

Sietsma: ‘We are using the Ghent model as the springboard in our discussions, but we’re not yet sure whether we want to adopt it in its entirety at Radboud University.’

‘I hope that people will think twice before boarding a plane’

Sietsma is quick to point out that the idea is not to ban all air travel from now on. ‘International contacts are very important for academics but this is at odds with the university’s wish to reduce its environmental footprint. We want to tackle the issue in the right way.’

Sietsma’s first concern therefore is to raise awareness about air travel. ‘Flying has a massive impact on the environment,’ he explains. ‘It’s something that you as an individual can fairly easily influence. I hope that people will think twice before boarding a plane. They should ask: Do I really have to attend that conference in South America or could I go to a conference closer to home instead?’

Study associations

Not just staff but students too should be part of the new policy. Sietsma: ‘I think it would be great if we as a university have a single air travel policy that applies to both staff and study associations.’

The Green Office is organising dialogue sessions in spring. It is not yet clear what the precise content of those sessions will be, nor who the speakers will be. ‘The aim of the sessions is to enter into discussion with the people concerned on how we as a university want to handle work-related air travel,’ says Sietsma.

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