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Department of Geography


Department of Geography Travel Policy

  1. The Department of Geography’s Travel Policy is part of a wider set of actions around reducing its environmental impact. Apart from specific actions to address the direct impact of the Department’s core activities, colleagues are committed to using scholarship, research and collective voice to draw attention to the wider changes in policies, institutions and structures of power that are needed to place the protection of nature and a liveable climate at the centre of the world’s economics and politics.
  2. Within this wider context, the Department is committed to reducing carbon emissions associated with both domestic and international travel, which currently make up the largest component in its overall carbon footprint.
  3. This travel policy aims to encourage members of the Department to reflect on the carbon impact of their travel decisions, and to consider the environmental and social costs of travel in relation to the expected benefits of proposed journeys. While certain forms of travel are essential for staff and students in order to pursue learning, teaching and research, this policy is designed to empower and encourage all members of the Department community to reduce their travel-related carbon emissions as far as possible.
  4. The Department recommends reflecting on the necessity of a trip and the mode of travel used prior to committing to travel.

Questions to consider

  1. Could you attend the event without being physically present?

    Why are you attending the event? Are there other methods of exchanging information which don’t necessitate travelling? Could you stream the event, follow live tweets and have a virtual presence instead? Have you considered using Researchgate or Mendeley to work online? Do you need support from your institution to participate in a different format?

  2. Is your destination within 1,000 miles?

    You may be surprised how little time and money is saved by flying when considering getting to the airport and waiting for your flight. For many destinations (within Europe, Eastern US and China for example) the train is a feasible alternative to flying, and travel time can be more comfortably used for work. There are online resources that will help you to calculate the length of your journey by plane and train.

  3. Is your destination outside 1,000 miles?

    With longer distances flying quickly becomes the only practical option. However could you combine this trip with other work-related activities – could you spend time working art another institution to maximise the benefit of this trip> Consider whether the trip is worth the impact on the climate and time out of the office.

    The distance of 1,000 miles is illustrative and exact thresholds will depend on individuals and locations. 1,000 miles corresponds approximately to travelling between London and Rome, which takes between 14 and 21 hours by train.

Reference: Towards a culture of low-carbon research for the 21st Century, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, March 2015.

  1. The Department is investing in high quality virtual meeting rooms, collaboration tools and associated equipment to provide alternatives to travel. The Department actively encourages the use of hybrid meeting options if they provide opportunities to avoid travel, including local travel, for all categories of staff.
  2. Where it is essential to travel, it is important to prioritise modes of travel that have the lowest carbon impact. The travel hierarchy below shows the carbon efficiency of different forms of travel (source: University of Cambridge draft sustainable business travel policy).

    Carbon footprint table
    Source: University of Cambridge Guidelines for Sustainable Business Travel

  3. Air travel within Great Britain should be avoided, unless there are legitimate reasons. Where possible, alternatives to short-haul flights to Europe should be actively explored.
  4. As a field-based discipline, international travel may be essential to allow staff and students access to their research locations. Where possible, staff and students should consider reducing (long haul) travel commitments in research projects and grant applications, and try to ensure that any planned trips include longer stays in order to reduce the overall impact of travel. Some funders have explicit policies on research-related travel (including low carbon travel and offsetting) and new grant applications should pay attention to funder guidelines in relation to travel.
  5. Exceptions to these principles include disability or health-related matters, and where childcare and other caring responsibilities mean that flights are the only viable option to ensure the wellbeing of travellers and those that they care for. The Department also recognises that the value of travel and networking may be more important at earlier academic career stages.
  6. The Department is committed to providing low-carbon (i.e. coach- or rail-based) field trips for undergraduates and has endorsed the RGS-IBG principles for undergraduate field courses.
  7. All trips outside the Department, whether for fieldwork, conferences, laboratory, library or archive visits require a risk assessment to be completed. The risk assessment form has been modified to include some simple questions about mode of transport, and destinations. The Department will use these risk assessments to estimate its aggregate travel footprint, which will be shared publicly. Individual travel-related carbon estimates will be available for staff, but will not be shared more widely.
  8. Carbon offsetting is not by itself a valid justification for adopting a higher-carbon mode of travel. However, where such modes of travel are unavoidable for other reasons, carbon offsets should follow the guidance.
  9. At present, perverse subsidies mean that low carbon modes of transport are not always the cheapest option. Where possible, the Department will provide additional financial support for staff and students who are choosing lower carbon travel modes, if they are associated with higher costs (especially if these are not already included in grants, or student funding).
  10. The University has released Guidelines for Sustainable Business Travel, which includes a mechanism to compensate staff/students for additional travel time associated with low carbon modes of transport.
  11. This policy will be reviewed and updated annually.