Collaboration is a central activity of academic research, and UW faculty travel for networking, researching, learning and reporting. Until sustainable aviation fuels are widely deployed there are no meaningful low-emissions alternatives to jet travel.

However, the COVID-19 crisis has kick- started rapid and successful deployment of videoconferencing technologies that UW staff and faculty can leverage by being aggressive adopters and by taking initiative to organize events online. Simultaneously, we will establish a bank of high-quality greenhouse gas (GHG) offsets that travelers may use when there is no viable alternative to air travel.

Target actions for 2021

Sustainability plan guiding principles

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

As UW and the rest of the world struggle with the social distancing measures deployed to fight COVID-19, we are learning tremendous amounts about our ability to work effectively despite significantly reduced air travel and in-person meetings. We have made important institutional investments that allow for more widespread utilization of these tools, which was spurred out of necessity but has proven a significant environmental benefit for reduced air pollution.

Now and in the years following resolution of the COVID-19 crisis, we are going to build on these new skills and technologies to significantly increase the proportion of meetings, presentations, research and gatherings that are conducted online rather than in person. UW staff and faculty who initiate or lead conferences will include online attendance options, add online side-events to major conferences, and in some cases organize entirely online events.

New construction and major renovations are encouraged to consider design elements for meeting rooms that provide online presence for a group of researchers within a single field of view, or that offer more immersive telepresence.

Steps we will take in FY 2021

  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.

Responsible party

UW Sustainability, Faculty

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.


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


  • The primary metric for Action success will be the travel footprint described in Step 1.

STARS does not include a credit representing this change directly.

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 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, and the best customer service toward stewarding an offsets purchasing program. 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.

UW will hold bulk-purchased GHG offsets in a GHG offsets bank, in part for offsetting a portion of UW’s Scope 1 and
Scope 2 GHG inventory if needed, and in part to provide a convenient, trusted, and cost-efficient source of GHG offsets for professional travel. UW will take advantage of the wholesale discount available with a bulk purchase, to create a small, internal surcharge on offsets distributed from the bank. This surcharge will be used to fund the professional travel reduction award program.

Steps we will take in FY 2021

  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.

Responsible party

UW Sustainability, UW Facilities

Statuses and linkages

This is linked to offsetting emissions through air travel in the instance when air travel is the only option. The contract with the offsets broker has been secured. However, UW still needs to make decisions regarding quality and source of offsets to purchase. 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.


No additional financing required for FY 2021. This will be coordinated through current staffing from UW Facilities and Procurement Services.


  • The primary metric for Action success will be the ratio of air travel offsets purchased, divided by total quantity of air travel reported in UW’s annual GHG inventory.

AASHE STARS does not address professional travel emissions.