light rail train at uw station


Status updates

Action: Enhance Data Processing

The UW began measuring travel emissions in 2005 with its first carbon inventory. 

In Fall Quarter 2015 and Winter Quarter 2016, a Keystone team of three graduate students researched the UW’s professional air travel. The project had three goals:

  • Provide better accounting of UW air travel through reimbursement data
  • Research faculty and staff attitudes toward travel
  • Recommend steps to achieve future emissions reductions set out by the Climate Action Plan

The team calculated that in 2014, UW travelers logged 84,075 flights, which consisted of 136 million miles and emissions of 23,811 MTCDE (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent). The team recommended:

  • Book flights through an universal booking system to make tracking UW’s air travel and emissions more efficient and accurate
  • Consider using ground transportation for regional travel (<300 miles)
  • Consider alternatives such as videoconferencing
  • Develop a UW-wide policy regarding the purchase of carbon offsets

In 2018, the data processing strategies developed by the Keystone students were revised to be more accessible (using Excel rather than Matlab). A consultant, Roel Hammerschlag did this work and produced calculation tools and documentation:

In 2020, a student from the Program On the Environment continued this work. He refined the data collection process and expanded it to include more information about the department and campus travelers are affiliated with. 

The Sustainability Office used the information compiled by this student and further documentation (in a more visual form):

Action: Engage Academic Departments

During Summer Quarter 2016, two Capstone students followed up on the work completed by the 2015-16 Keystone student group. The Capstone students focused on developing and communicating the Keystone Team's recommendations (below).

In 2020, a Professional Travel Working group composed of faculty, staff and students was formed to implement the Sustainability Action Plan actions. As of early 2021, this group is compiling information to follow up on the recommendations of the Keystone/Capstone teams.

Action: Expand Online Conferencing

The actions listed in the Sustainability Action Plan for FY 20-21 are:

  1. Develop an enterprise-wide system for measuring online attendance (avoided air travel) in addition to actual air travel. Compare 2005 baseline with reductions achieved during the period of intensive COVID-related travel restrictions, and reassess the numerical Target as of July 1, 2021. Review the financial impact savings from reduced air travel and associated costs.
  2. UW Sustainability advocate across campus for intensified use of existing teleconferencing facilities. Begin identifying incentive programs that encourage use of teleconferencing facilities. This could be used in support of a UW-wide policy level change with increasing centralized tracking and reporting of air travel.
  3. Create a recognition program rewarding on-campus innovators. The structure is yet to be determined, but it is likely to (1) provide separate awards for the three campuses; (2) include one class of award(s) based on a quantitative GHG reduction metric, and (3) include one class of award(s) based on an individual’s innovation, leadership or advocacy.
  4. Lobby the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for inclusion of professional air travel as a mandatory credit in version 3.0 of the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS). Concurrently, reach out to other national and regional sustainability related conference organizers to encourage use of telepresence.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have made these actions less relevant than they were when first written so the team has chosen to focus its efforts on the data processing and academic engagement activities listed above.

Action: Establish a Bank of High-Quality GHG Offsets

  1. Make UW’s first bulk purchase of offsets through our contracted broker.
  2. Work with the broker to set up a GHG offsets bank for use by faculty & staff travelers.
  3. Increase visibility of the travel offsets program across campuses, focusing on faculty and staff and engage students for project identification for carbon offsets, while inviting student research projects that evaluates the cost of carbon.


UW Sustainability has compiled a list of resources for travelers interested in alternatives to air travel, especially for shorter range trips. We have also created a list of spaces across the University of Washington with videoconferencing technology.

The case for reducing academic travel

Western Political Science Association statement, "The Climate Crisis, Academic Conferences, and the Western Political Science Association," November 20, 2019

Flying Less in Academia: A Resource Guide.  This guide, co-edited by Ryan Katz-Rosene and Parke Wilde among others, is indispensable.

Flying Less FAQ

Research on professional academic travel & sustainability

Biennials, regional hubs and virtual attendance can slash emissions, new calculations show.

Online Meetings in Times of Global Crisis: Toward Sustainable Conferencing

All in all, online conferences are not likely to entirely replace in-person meetings. However, a global crisis has created another stage for emerging online tools that have the potential to dramatically reduce the scientific “travel circus” and provide a more accessible, inclusive, and diverse platform for scientific exchange. This progress could be further enhanced by the development of digital technologies (e.g., virtual reality) and introducing “hybrid conference” events including both in-person and online sessions. We hope that the community uses this momentum to transform the conference experience in the future.

MedChemTrain e‐School 2020: Event Highlights and Insights into Virtual Symposium Organization

Virtual events are flourishing with the world lockdown due to the COVID‐19 pandemic. As a result of the cancelation or postponement of scheduled physical meetings, a revolution in medicinal chemistry scientific meetings occurred, leading to an increase in new strategies to share science. One example are online events, namely e‐schools or webinars. Taking this into consideration, we decided to promote the MedChemTrain e‐School 2020, a virtual event aiming to bring together the scientific community and share some updates in the medicinal chemistry field. After organizing this free event, with more than 1.4 thousand participants worldwide, we decided to share some insights about the logistics behind organizing a virtual symposium to help scientists with this new challenge in science communication.

The Online Alternative: Sustainability, Justice, and Conferencing in Philosophy

The recent global pandemic has led to a shift to online conferences in philosophy. In this paper we argue that online conferences, more than a temporary replacement, should be considered a sustainable alternative to in-person conferences well into the future. We present three arguments for more online conferences, including their reduced impact on the environment, their enhanced accessibility for groups that are minorities in philosophy, and their lower financial burdens, especially important given likely future reductions in university budgets. We also present results from two surveys of participants who attended one large and three small online philosophy conferences this year. We show that participants were in general very satisfied with presentations and discussions at the conferences, and that they reported greater accessibility. This indicates that online conferences can serve as a good alternative to in-person conferences. We also find that networking was less satisfactory in online conferences, indicating a point for improvement and further research. In general, we conclude that philosophers should continue to organize online conferences after the pandemic. We also provide some advice for those wishing to organize online conferences.


Stories about ways the UW has accommodated COVID-19 inspired restrictions:

Enabling work & study from home:

Travel data