“Travel Less Without Loss”, an initiative to raise awareness
The initiative of the School of Life Sciences aims to determine the requirements and potential impact of remote conferencing facilities to connect scientists locally and globally.
On June 4th the SV Travel Guidelines & Best Practices were put on display in the SV Hall. Philippe Vollichard, Dean Gisou van der Goot, Kelly McClary and Luca Fontana were on hand to answer questions, address concerns and collect ideas.
© Alain Herzog
Quite astonishingly, approximately 33% of the overall CO2 emission of EPFL is related to professional travel, well above the contribution of running the entire School (20%). In 2016, travel on behalf of the School of Life Sciences (SV) alone contributed 532.5 tons of CO2 to the environment, which compares to 1.9 million bathtubs full of CO2. Action was deemed necessary. SV in collaboration with EPFL Sustainability developed a plan to reduce the amount of science related travel with negligible disruption to the advancement of science and to the careers of scientists. The “Travel Less Without Loss” initiative was born to raise awareness in the academic world, to set a trend, to change people’s mindset and habits to travel less while maintaining excellent scientific communication and exchange of ideas.
“When Martin Vetterli presented the CO2 cost and breakdown in January 2018, I was totally astonished that business travel was costlier in terms of CO2 than running the entire school, where we have huge experimental set ups, etc. We had to do something about this. If scientists don’t show that they change their personal behaviour, it is hard for the public to truly believe there is a climate crisis. In Switzerland, the public trusts scientists, we have to honour that trust. It is part of our social contract with society,” says Gisou van der Goot, Dean of the School of Life Sciences.
Guidelines to decide individually
“Travel Less Without Loss” aims to determine the requirements and potential impact of remote conferencing facilities designed by and implemented at EPFL to connect scientists locally and globally. The primary goals of the project are to:
- Identify ways in which scientists around the world can reduce travel without compromising significantly on scientific communication
- Improve remote access to scientific conferences, seminars, discussions
- Identify ways to address importance of social contact in such events in the remote conferencing environment.
“Like the Guardian's editorial staff, I have changed my terminology and no longer talk about climate change, but about the climate crisis, because this matter is so serious. The impact of aviation is currently at the heart of my concern,” says Philippe Vollichard, head of Campus durable.
A set of guidelines and best practices was developed through open discussions and a collaborative approach together with the Faculty and Staff of SV and EPFL Sustainability. Communication is absolutely essential for science; therefore, the aim of the guidelines is not to prevent travelling, but to help scientists adapt to novel communication methods and travel less.
Each individual needs to decide when travel is essential. It will only be through thoughtful travel planning that the amount of CO2 emissions related to scientific travel can be significantly reduced on a permanent basis. Strictly enforced policies on issues that require subjective decision making have the potential to impede motivation and creativity, something that should be avoided at all costs in an academic environment.
Kelly McClary, manager of Travel Less Without Loss team