It feels a bit strange to draw up new rules for business-related flights in the midst of a global pandemic, agrees Nieuwland. Around 18 months ago, she came up with the idea of drafting a new policy for business trips within the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC). “I saw that other universities were debating the desirability of air travel and had heard similar discussions at various conferences. It was also a topic of discussion at EUR, both within the central administration and at the RSM and ISS faculties. Still, none of this had led to a concrete decision.” Nieuwland felt it was all taking too long and proposed looking into the matter herself as a member of the ESHCC Faculty Council. A travel policy can have a serious impact on carbon emissions, and according to Nieuwland it’s up to the ESHCC to take its responsibility in this area.
A more sustainable future
Over the past three years, 27.9% of EUR’s carbon footprint could actually be attributed to business travel. According to Nieuwland’s calculations, this is equivalent to, on average, 3.991 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Of this total, an annual average of 195 tonnes could be traced back to the ESHCC. “By reducing our faculty’s carbon footprint, we can present ourselves as a frontrunner in building a more sustainable future that aligns with EUR’s strategy for 2020-2024,” states the faculty’s new policy paper.
Nieuwland set to work, assisted by two students who are also on the Faculty Council. They made an inventory of the travel expenses claimed by ESHCC staff, as well as mapping out travel expenses from third parties that had been reimbursed by the faculty – people who had attended a conference at the ESHCC’s invitation, for example. “We looked into questions like, ‘Which emissions were generated by this specific trip, and what would they have been if the individual had opted for a different mode of transport?’,” explains Nieuwland.
High train fare versus cheap flights
Travelling by train doesn’t have to be more expensive than flying, says Nieuwland. “The prices posted on Dutch Railways’ international website can come as a shock though. And it isn’t always clear when you need to switch trains.” Nieuwland prefers to travel by train wherever possible. One time she took the train to Valencia, for example. A single trip cost about 30 euros more than flying to the same destination, and the journey took 16 hours in all. She also writes about this on her personal blog. “Sometimes you need to know where to look to keep things affordable.” She recommends doing a search on the websites of Interrail or RailEurope.
The ESHCC’s three departmental heads will be weighing up the costs and returns of the new policy. They’re also responsible for deciding whether the faculty accepts the potentially higher outlay for rail travel. Using the trip details recorded for 2017, 2018 and 2019, Nieuwland has also calculated how much higher this expenditure may be. She compared air fares in
December 2020 with train tickets in the same period. On average, swapping planes for trains would cost the faculty close to 1.000 euros extra per year. The faculty will also be compensating for flights longer than 700 km. According to the site carbonkiller.org, the average environmental damage per tonne of carbon dioxide can be priced at 20 euros. Under the new policy, the extra price tag for long-distance flights would be around 3.370 euros per year.