In 2020, professional air travel at the UW decreased more than 60% as a result of the mandatory stay at home orders and public health crisis. While some work of the university was negatively impacted, we quickly developed new skills for working and gathering virtually and experienced benefi ts such as increased participation, and reduced costs.

Our goals for the next fiscal year are to build on what we learned to minimize unnecessary travel and to continue to pursue strategies for offsetting emissions from travel that is core to our mission.

Target actions for 2022

View actions for past fiscal years

Sustainability plan guiding principles

  •  Ensure students achieve sustainability literacy
  •  Choose our research conscientiously
  •  Keep equity and inclusion at the center
  •  Use resources responsibly
  •  Decarbonize

We will encourage individual units and departments to adopt air travel reduction strategies that are tailored to their own activities and needs. The goal will be to help each department address the cost/benefit of travel to the individual, the unit and the work of the University, and thoughtfully discern when traveling is the best option.

Steps we will take in FY 2022

  1. Streamline the process of giving units on campus access to their travel data and related analytics.
    • We will provide online access to travel data, updated monthly, to enable units to track their own behavior and emissions.
  2. Develop templates for travel policies that will include a definition of professional travel to be adopted by individual departments and units.
    • We will create travel policy templates inspired by the videoconferencing statement created by the Department of Philosophy and the travel strategy of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research.
  3. Develop department-level air travel data reporting and make it accessible and inclusive. To support information about air travel related activity, we will conduct an analysis of financial impact savings from reduced air travel and associated costs. Additional qualitative assessments will be conducted for promoting health and well-being by not engaging in air travel.
  4. UW Sustainability will update the current reduction target that aligns with the emissions reduction goal set by the State of Washington.
  5. The working group (including members from the UW Travel office and UW Sustainability) will develop communications about the negative impacts of travel, the benefits of travel alternatives, and technologies to support these alternatives.
  6. 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.
  7. For future activity, 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.

Responsible party

UW Sustainability

Statuses and linkages

Beginning with UW’s 2017 greenhouse gas inventory (and accompanying baseline adjustment process), the University has established a methodology for computing a significant percentage of total professional air travel miles each year from existing data sources.

Academic departments are actively seeking opportunities to promote hyper-local conferencing.

Financing

  • The recognition program can be funded with a surcharge applied to internal purchases of greenhouse gas offsets (see Action below).

Metrics

  • The primary metrics for Action success will be the travel footprint dashboard described in Step 1, the model guidelines for air travel reduction, the communication strategy, and the rewards program.

UW is working toward being a regional leader in ethical and appropriate greenhouse gas (GHG) offsets purchasing. During 2019 UW issued a request for procurement (RFP) and has since established a contractual relationship with GHG offsets broker ACT/ Evergreen. UW’s RFP was designed to select an offsets broker (rather than a single offset generation project) giving UW the broadest possible access to the voluntary GHG offsets market, with credible assurance and verification embedded in the offsets projects. Through the Washington Institutions of Public Higher Education clearinghouse, all public colleges and universities in Washington State will be able to take advantage of the winning broker’s services to make the best possible choices for offset purchases.

Wisely purchased GHG offsets have three important co-benefits, beyond simply reducing UW’s carbon footprint:

  • GHG offsets can provide financial support to developing nations, or economically disadvantaged communities in Washington.
  • GHG offsets support low-carbon innovation.
  • The selection of GHG offset type and assessment of GHG offset quality are an educational opportunity and provide an immediate impact to air quality and overall health.
  • Carbon offsets raises and increases awareness of the amount of air travel and could serve as an incentive to change behavior for decreasing air travel.

In addition to an offset program, we will work to create and implement a program to mitigate air travel emissions through carbon-reducing projects on campus. This should work closely with Targets VIII and X of the plan to engage ideas for the types of projects that could be identified for an internal offsets program.

Steps we will take in FY 2022

  1. Create a policy for a voluntary 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 evaluate the cost of carbon.
  2. Establish a task force to develop an internal carbon offsets program that engages departments and faculty research.
  3. Outline steps to take to eliminate all air travel emissions by 2050.

Responsible party

UW Sustainability

Statuses and linkages

This effort will be led by UW Sustainability and UW Facilities, but include broad outreach to the students, staff and faculty and engagement for educational opportunities. An internal carbon offsets program is linked to Targets VIII and X for identifying the types of projects that could be funded and measuring the amount of GHG emissions reductions from the UW inventory.

Financing

  • No additional financing required for FY 2022. This will be coordinated through current staffing from UW Sustainability, UW Facilities and Procurement Services.

Metrics

  • The primary metric will be the ratio of air travel offsets purchased, divided by total quantity of air travel reported in UW’s annual GHG inventory.
  • A secondary metric will be the ratio of air travel offsets purchased divided by the year-on-year difference in air travel emissions.
  • An additional metric will be a clear understanding of the feasibility of an internal offset program, as well as offsetting all travel related GHG emissions. If deemed feasible, then a preliminary action plan for moving the efforts forward.