By UW Sustainability | Oct 31, 2016

As a major research institution, the UW has a global impact, and many faculty and staff members regularly travel by air. Just how far, and the carbon impact of all that travel, was until recently something the UW could only estimate. Over the past year, the Sustainability Office has been working with student teams to gather the UW’s travel data, quantify our air travel carbon footprint, and make recommendations. The student teams also interviewed faculty and staff to learn about campus attitudes towards travel.

A Keystone team of graduate students worked with UW Sustainability to determine the full extent of UW’s professional travel as part of a Certificate in Environmental Management keystone project. Gretchen Thuesen, Brian Mickelson and Nick Waldo gathered travel reimbursement data and interviewed faculty and staff to learn more about attitudes toward travel. The team calculated that in fiscal year 2014, UW travelers logged 136 million miles, with a carbon footprint of 23,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This is the about the same as driving 4,800 passenger cars for a year. According to the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalency calculator, UW would need to plant over 21,000 acres of additional forestland to sequester the carbon for one year of air travel.

Using the Keystone team’s report and data, Environmental Studies Capstone students Tessa Yip and Andrew Tran worked with UW Sustainability and the UW Travel Office to determine steps for the UW to consider and implement:

  • Use a central booking platform for air travel - UW Travel is recommending the Christopherson Air Portal (see website for details)
  • Consider alternatives, such as ground transportation, for regional travel, or videoconferencing to replace a long distance meet-and-greet
  • Establish a university-wide carbon offsets purchasing program

UW Sustainability and the Travel Office will continue to partner in working towards these goals, through regular communication with UW travelers, and the guidance of the Environmental Stewardship Committee. Updates on the project can be found on our Professional Travel page.