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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Modest Proposal #3 - Count miles
April 9, 2008 - 6:17pm

Tis Spring, and an old(er) man’s fancy turns to thoughts of ... possible policy changes for the coming academic year.

Unlike paper, air travel paid for by the University is one of the things Greenback is supposed to include in its GHG inventory under the Presidents Climate Commitment. And we're trying. The difficulty is (as with many engineering problems) that the data simply doesn't exist. At least, not in any directly useful or reliable form.

As with paper (see proposal #2), procurement of travel has gotten highly decentralized over the years. First, there was a central travel department, which most campus travelers used. Then, there was a recommended off-campus travel agency. Then, pick your own agency. Then, pick your own website. There's no way to even extract all transportation (as opposed to lodging or meals, for example) expenditures from the financial system. We can identify specific travel that occurred, but we know we can't identify ALL travel, at any level.

Travel is a good thing, within higher education. Travel to conferences means your work is getting notice and respected. Travel for study abroad means, well, that your students are ... studying abroad. But travel comes with big costs in terms of emissions. A single round trip to a study abroad program in western Europe puts about 7 metric tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. A round trip drive of, for example, 500 miles emits about 400 pounds of greenhouse gas. Train and bus travel emit less, but how much of that is University-paid? (Truth be told, we don't know that, either!)

So, one proposal for a new administrative policy is that we need to track mileage paid for by (or through) the University. (Paid through the U would include, for instance, travel for grant-funded research.) We need to reduce travel emissions, we probably will need to offset some irreducible portion of travel emissions, but first we need to get a count on travel and, by extension, travel emissions. We can't manage it, because we're not measuring it.

Has your school already done this?


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