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Key Objective: 3.5 Offset Air Travel Emissions

The iCAP 2020, objective 3.5 is: “Reduce net air travel emissions from FY14 baseline by: 50% by FY24 and 100% by FY30.” The responsible campus unit for championing this objective is iSEE. Progress is tracked in the iCAP Portal project page for Offset Emissions from Plane Trips.

Associated Metric

4.1 Percent reduction from air travel baseline FY14 (Tracked by Fiscal Year)

Explanation

 

Air travel is the university’s largest source of transportation-based emissions. As of FY19, we decreased our air travel emissions by approximately 25% from the updated FY14 baseline. As we continue to augment existing efforts with innovative solutions, we can confidently push to double our existing reduction by FY24. Added mitigation through future carbon offsetting programs makes the target of net-zero air travel emissions by FY30 feasible as well.

Business travel survey

The most direct step toward reducing air travel emissions is reducing the frequency of air travel itself. To confidently move forward, we must begin with a thorough knowledge of where we currently stand: from FY22 to FY24, we will conduct an annual business travel survey to obtain this foundational information. By surveying campus personnel regarding the reason, regularity, and urgency with which they travel by plane on university business, we can identify opportunities for alternative methods of transportation such as the UI Ride program and teleconferencing.

A preliminary step for implementing this strategy is to conduct a UI Ride passenger survey. Riders will report where they are coming from, where they are going, whether their travel is related to research, teaching, or administration, and how else (or if) they would have made that particular trip if not with UI Ride. A random sample of riders will receive a card with a QR code for the survey, and responses will be recorded electronically. 

We currently report business travel data to Second Nature as part of the annual GHG emissions report; this business travel survey will help streamline this process and ensure that the data is accurate.

Campus teleconferencing audit

While we are committed to curbing university-related air travel, the need for partnerships with other institutions around the world remains urgent. Advancements in teleconferencing technology present a user-friendly compromise that balances the need for collaboration with our responsibility to carbon neutrality. 

Remote communication became particularly needed in spring 2020 as COVID-19 health concerns prioritized the virtual workspace. Adapting to these changing circumstances within a compressed time frame brought our need for robust telecommunication infrastructure into sharp relief. It also proved our capability for adopting these technologies and integrating them into our daily lives. With a comprehensive strategy, our approach to telecommunication can, and will, become seamless and sophisticated. 

The first step of this comprehensive strategy involves an inventory of campus teleconferencing facilities and their accessibility by the end of FY21. SWATeam members will help iSEE develop a standardized form for distribution to campus units and departments. The form will record availability of teleconferencing facilities within campus buildings; specifically, rooms with high-quality teleconferencing capabilities and/or the ability to host group meetings remotely. 

In addition to campus facilities, we will continue enabling students, staff, and faculty members to conduct teleconferences and remote work from their individual homes. Telework from personal devices was crucial to maintaining campus operations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and we commit to supporting these opportunities in the future. Ultimately, our goal is to take stock of current teleconferencing capabilities and assess the need to invest in a higher quality and/or quantity of digital infrastructure as we move toward air travel alternatives.

In keeping with the university’s history of innovation and technological progress, we will adopt up-and-coming technologies with a view to implementing them to our, and the environment’s, advantage.

Carbon offsets program

When air travel is unavoidable, purchasing carbon offsets can counteract emissions generated in flight. The iSEE website offers publicly accessible information about purchasing carbon offsets for air travel, as well as a four-step process for how to do so. Currently, these resources are intended for individuals; travelers can calculate the monetary equivalent of their carbon emissions and donate that amount to fund a verified sustainability project.[1]

In addition to informing the community about opportunities to offset carbon emissions, we hope to expand this individual offering into a concrete program with at least five participating university units by FY24. This option would provide travelers with tangible means of offsetting emissions and encourage local action to increase awareness of global issues.

We would especially like to incorporate creative local offset projects into this program: for example, an initiative to plant trees on designated campus land proportional to the amount of air travel undertaken by staff and faculty members. Those who fly regularly would be encouraged to volunteer their time to help plant trees, with student involvement welcomed as well. Participants would receive information regarding both the negative effects of carbon emissions and the sequestering abilities of trees and native plants.

[1] https://go.illinois.edu/offsetcarbon