Air travel at GIUZ: Preaching water – drinking wine?

In the middle of a pandemic we can easily forget that humanity faces another crisis with equally grim consequences to life as we know it:

Climate change.

Not us! Scientists will be quick to point out. After all, we explore the mechanisms of climate change, inform the public about the current state of the polar ice caps, and design reduction goals to help save the planet. Remember, we are the good guys. Right?

Well, not quite. Science has come to admit its own contribution to climate change. And it is not looking good. Compared to other professional groups, science has a particularly large CO2 footprint, mostly due to air travel.

This is also true for GIUZ. In the period from 2017 to 2019 the department accumulated an astonishing 2 million kilometers of annual air travel, meaning that every single year, every single employee – from administration to research – travelled on average roughly the distance from Zurich to New York. And back.

GIUZ Air Miles Monitoring & Reduction Report 2017-2019

While we can argue that travelling is an integral part of our profession, we are quick to lose both our moral high ground and our credibility as scientists. In a world of climate change deniers this might have devastating consequences.

Report and reduce

The GIUZ Air Miles Monitoring (AMM) group has set out to monitor and reduce air travel at our deppartment. The AMM is part of a larger movement across Swiss Universities to reduce air travel related greenhouse gas emission in academia. In collaboration with the secretariats, we have established a monitoring system for air travel, the first of its kind at University of Zurich. We collect all business air travels at GIUZ, compute air travel statistics and report them back to the department. Together with the department, we define air mile reduction goals and help develop strategies to reach them.

Our current reduction goal is to reduce air travel by 25% until the year 2025.

Although air travel is at a record low in 2020 because-of-you-know-what, there is no reason to lean back. We believe that we cannot go back to flying as usual if we are to remain credible as (climate) scientists.

Air travel at GIUZ between 2017 and 2025. During the reference period (2017 – 2019) air travel at GIUZ increased (blue line), both in terms of total flight distance (top) and flight distance per capita (bottom). The goal is to reduce air travel by 25 % by 2025 on a linear reduction path (green line), compared to the average during the reference period (grey line).

Join us!

Have a look at our report for 2017 – 2019 and learn more about air miles monitoring at GIUZ, the contribution of your unit, the reduction goals and our incentives to reach them.

Or even better, contact us, become an active member of our Air Miles Monitoring Group and help change travel behavior in your group!

Peter Ranacher, on behalf of the GIUZ Air Miles Monitoring Group