Imagine we are in the year 2030 …
… and we have reached our goals and reduced our flight emissions to less than 53% compared to 2018. What concrete steps did we undertake? What support did we receive? Did it influence our research? Nearly 50 students, early career and senior scientists participated in this thought experiment as part of the first GIUZ airmiles workshop.
Envisioning that we had already made the changes and succeeded in reaching our reduction target unleashed a lot of energy and enthusiasm among the participants of the GIUZ airmiles workshop in December 2022. And it allowed creative ideas and visions to emerge of how low-flying academia can practically look like. Read here our report from the future!
What concrete steps did we undertake to fly less?
Big efforts were put towards reducing flying to conferences. We limited or even cancelled transcontinental conferences, we focused on European conferences, increased virtual technology and created local hubs for conferences. When we did travel overseas for a conference, we presented work from our colleagues as well.
In terms of fieldwork, we favoured longer field campaigns and put more focus on local and regional fieldwork. We increased collaboration with local scientists and practitioners in other continents, fostering sustainable long-term relationships and localized fieldwork.
We allocated an airmiles budget to every research unit at our department. We held yearly CO2 emission talks with group leaders to reflect on reduction achievements, and developed a GIUZ database of flying per group/person. We continuously monitored success rates.
We optimised our online meeting infrastructure, and we gave financial support to take the train, including first class tickets. We invited our external examiners or guest lecturers to join online. We fostered a paradigm shift towards questioning the need of flying and how we do research.
What support did we receive?
Beside all our bottom-up activities, UZH defined concrete, top-down reduction measures. UZH built a board to support and guide decision making. This board also allocated airmiles to research units in a similar way as research funds. UZH facilitated, together with other universities, regional hubs to attend transcontinental conferences and included virtual conference tools such as VR-simulation for online networking. Universities also established incentives such as getting a bonus, more loans or an extra day of holiday for not flying.
We were allowed to teach in block courses so that lecturers could go on fewer but longer field campaigns. We received legal and advocacy support to allow us to stay longer. Working from abroad was simplified and regulations on specific time spent in Switzerland lifted.
We experienced more pressure and support from funding agencies when developing new projects to take airmiles into consideration. The Swiss National Science Foundation begun to require a mandatory sustainability part in every project they fund.
We continued monitoring airmiles (including career stage, groups and reasons for flying) and the success rate of measures. We ensured transparency through a platform which shared data openly. We received a yearly mail with a scoreboard to see where you currently stand in comparison to others.
We used a tool to easily calculate CO2 emissions and compare between different modes of travel, and bullet trains in Europe have sped up our train travel considerably.
We supported each other as peers, in order to maintain group responsibility. We increased collaboration and communication across different groups within the department who share similar research interests and targets to allow for fewer field campaigns.
Did flying less influence our research? Which changes were easy, which were difficult?
We incorporated slower science. We reflected more on the quality of the execution of the research. Our research was more Europe based and local, in terms of network as well as fieldwork. We did less fieldwork abroad. Certain research ideas could not be executed.
With better technology and understanding we could quite easily switch to remote and local alternatives for conferences and meetings.
We struggled to ensure fairness in the distribution of airmiles. We also had difficulties in creating a system that works beyond 2030 and helps reduce emissions until zero. Deciding which fieldwork was deserving of airmiles and who needs to fly was difficult.
We struggled to hold “superflyers” (=people that fly a lot) accountable, without naming and blaming. We were also not clear on how to ensure people were not paying for flights privately to escape rules and tracking.
Demanding applications to justify flights increased our workload. Staying longer in the field affected our family relations. With more online presence, interpersonal connections become tougher. We were unsure how to interact with groups beyond academia, e.g., organizations expecting academics to participate in person.
We discussed a lot our focus on local research and the risk of increasing the bias towards research in richer countries.
Back to the presence …
We were really thrilled to see so many people taking time out of their busy end-of-the-term mid-December evening to stay at the university two hours longer and participate in our workshop. We finished it with a vegan apéro (the food disappeared surprisingly fast…) and we were happy to see how people continued discussing and sharing ideas with each other.
A huge thank you to all the participants for bringing so much energy, enthusiasm and ideas into this workshop!
Our next step with the GIUZ Airmiles Group is to concretize a reduction strategy to reach our emission target. The many ideas from this workshop laid the ground for this. If you want to get engaged with the Airmiles Group or have any questions or comments, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
GIUZ Airmiles Workshop on December 14, 2022
|The workshop started off with a presentation of the current GIUZ Airmiles Report, what the UZH goal for 2030 is (spoiler: 53% reduction of flight emissions compared to 2018/2019), and what that goal means for our department.
|Then we listened the fantastic presentation by Susann Görlinger, project leader of the initiative FlyingLess. She took us on a journey, navigating why we need to reduce emissions, the reasons universities should focus on reducing flights (hint: it’s related to fairness, leading by example, and credibility), who has what responsibility, and the emotions related to (not) flying. Many thanks for sharing your expertise and sharp conclusions with us, Susann.
Isabel Hagen, Ana Nap, Magdalena Seebauer