Blog Post

Why travel is the next step on our decarbonisation journey

Since 2008/09, the University has reduced its electrical consumption by 41% and its gas and oil consumption by 32%.  It has also benefited from a 58% reduction in the carbon intensity of grid electricity, due to a combination of the phase out of coal fired power stations, and the massive expansion of renewable energy.

Heat decarbonisation has become the key focus for reducing energy emissions, but as energy consumption reduces and decarbonises, emissions from the University’s business travel have gone in the opposite direction.  By July 2019, they accounted for 33% of emissions within our Net Zero Carbon target, compared with 17% in 2009.

We all know what happened next; business travel all but ceased in 2020, accounting for just 1% of our emissions in the year to July 2021.  Whilst no one would wish for another pandemic, it did help us understand what can, and what can’t, be delivered effectively remotely.  It also led us to consider how local, national and international teaching, research and relationships can be approached differently in the future, whilst retaining a strong international presence.

In early 2022, the University set up a working group to consider its future approaches to travel, both from a business travel and commuter perspective.  A cross-representation of stakeholders across the University, leading to a set of sustainable travel principles being proposed and agreed, which have informed the basis of a new Travel Policy, launched in August 2023.





This Travel Policy is ambitious in its drive to cut carbon emissions, recognising also that large financial savings can be made by travelling less.  Unlike previous travel policies, carbon savings are prioritised over cost savings, recognising that sometimes, to travel more sustainably comes at a cost premium (which is largely a consequence of a lack of taxation of aviation fuel).  It is worth noting that international train travel is 97% less polluting per mile than air travel.  The Policy commits University staff to:

  • Not flying within UK mainland and western European destinations, which are accessible by train within 8 hours from London
  • Always travelling by economy class
  • Cutting the total carbon emissions from business travel by 30% compared to 2019 levels by 2026, and by 50% by 2030
  • Introducing carbon budgets for each School and Directorate, aligned with the above targets

These budgets have now been set, and this year will be one of learning, to better understand and iron out any issues in reporting, in decision making, and in budget allocation.  The Policy also recognises consideration of specific needs that may require deviations from policy, which will be signed of by Heads of School/Directorate.

For commuter travel, a new 5-year Travel Plan is due to be developed in the coming months, seeking to make improvements to all forms of travel, with a specific aim to reduce overall single occupancy car travel to our campuses.


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