Many researchers and academic staff in particular do a lot of travelling between different universities.

Mobility as the biggest culprit

According to the online CO2Footprint, in 2019 and 2020 mobility, including student and staff commuting, freight transport and business trips were responsible for around 70 percent of the university’s total CO2 emissions, making it the biggest culprit.

In 2019 (the last year before lockdown and travel bans), 26 percent of the total emissions were generated by business flights and only 0.09 percent by business trips by train. This considerable difference is because employees tend to travel less by train, while a train journey produces fewer emissions than a flight.

Van der Glas: “Replacing most of our flights by train journeys will make a huge difference. Most of these business trips are in the Netherlands and Europe, distances that are easy to do by train.”

Limit what we can influence

Van der Glas continues: “We want to start by limiting emissions generated by things that the university can influence, such as business trips. We also want to partner with a regular travel agency which will arrange the bookings. This will make it easier to book train journeys faster and this will quickly become normal. Currently, each faculty provides different travel allowances, so we want to introduce some uniformity.”

Due to the pandemic, emissions caused by business trips were very low in 2020, Van der Glas emphasises. “In 2019, that was still 26 percent, but it fell to 16 percent in 2020. We were therefore able to achieve a considerable reduction from the 2019 level.”

The rules for business trips are easier to tighten than other forms of mobility, like commuting. Allowances for these are related to fringe benefits and the terms of the Collective Labour Agreement.

The fact that the university wants employees to take the train more also means that costs will rise. How much is still uncertain. However, previous research by the Guardian showed that train journeys are twice as expensive on average and that trains save around 80 percent in emissions.