Travel emissions show promising drop

Carbon emissions from University business travel have decreased by a third compared with pre-pandemic data from 2018/19. 

Plane landing in sunset

Findings by the department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS) suggest that total CO2 emissions from business travel have fallen from 18,600 to 12,159 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) in 2018/19 compared with 2022/23.  

‘Top performer’ 

It comes as the University is recognised as a ‘top performer’ in an independent review of climate conscious business travel across 50 public sector organisations in Scotland. 

The recognition – based on a report by Transform Scotland, the alliance for sustainable travel – acknowledges efforts to reduce flying, and of the strength of climate friendly policies aimed at reducing emissions.  

Business trips – any journey carried out on behalf of the University, excluding commutes – are historically a big contributor to carbon footprint, with flights typically accounting for most emissions.  

Journey drop 

The SRS findings show that total number of journeys also fell from 117,223 in 2018/19 to 63,999 in 2022/23. 

The drop follows implementation of the University’s Sustainable Travel Policy, launched in 2021 to encourage climate conscious travel, although its contribution to the emissions decrease is unclear.

Sustainable travel

The policy encourages staff to avoid short-haul flights, carbon-heavy business and first-class flying, and promotes walking, cycling and public transport where possible.

The decrease in journeys and emissions is likely to also have been affected by changing work habits post-pandemic and a more climate conscious approach to travel across society. 

Net zero target 

The University is ranked third in the UK for sustainability and is committed to reaching net zero carbon by 2040. 

As well as championing eco-friendly approaches to travel, the University is working to minimise its carbon emissions through pioneering initiatives such as using waste heat from data centres to heat campus buildings.  

In addition, an ambitious carbon sequestration scheme will see the planting of two million trees and restoration of peatland the size of 1,200 football pitches in Scotland, to remove 1 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. 

It is encouraging to see the fall in carbon emissions across all of our forms of travel since 2018. We are grateful to all colleagues who have already embedded the climate conscious travel approach into their planning.     We still have plenty of work to do to reach our targets, and we look forward to analysing the data again next year to gauge the longer-term impacts of the policy and our approach.

Dave GormanDirector of Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Related links 


Sustainable Travel Policy

[Image credit:  Daniel Garrido via Getty Images]