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Status updates

FY 2023 progress

The Professional Travel Working Group created a joint ad-hoc committee with the Faculty Council on Campus Planning and Stewardship to explore possible strategies to reduce air travel across the UW. This group presented a package of recommendations to the Sustainability Action Plan Executive Committee and Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC), and continued discussions with UW stakeholders. The ad-hoc committee’s work has gained endorsement from the ESC and Faculty Senate, showing broad consensus to continue toward a draft policy.

UW Sustainability also worked with the consultants for the Greenhouse Gas inventory report to look at ways to automate data processing and create a database for UW’s professional travel.

FY 2022 progress

Target actions for 2022

  • Facilitate department/unit specific travel reduction
  • Implement programs for offsetting air travel emissions

In Fall of 2021, a survey was conducted targeting faculty and staff across the UW on attitudes and opinions around professional travel. The 26-question survey garnered 501 responses and gathered both quantitative and qualitative information.

The full results and analysis of the survey are online. A few high-level takeaways include:

  • 68% of respondents favored replacing some air travel with remote options
  • 54% supported a UW air travel fee which would contribute to projects reducing carbon emissions, with another 30% replying “maybe/other” and only 15% opposed.
  • 49% of people support UW purchasing carbon offsets for travel, with another 20% supporting if the offsets are well-proven and vetted

Common reasons given on why people like traveling professionally included connecting with colleagues and meeting new people, with the most common reason given for disliking travel was the time commitment. The survey also showed there are people who feel reluctant or unable to travel less for a variety of reasons, including career opportunities and requirements.

The Professional Travel Emission Reduction working group used the information gathered from the survey, along with looking at peer institutions and the data on the UW’s professional travel and created a document “Roadmap to (Near) Carbon Zero for UW Professional Travel” with recommendations around policies, incentives and steps needed to reduce travel emissions within the University.

The group also looked into the efficacy of carbon offsets and created a policy analysis, which can be found along with the Roadmap document in the documents section at the top of this page.

Previous status reports

Past research and data gathering

The UW began measuring travel emissions in 2005 with its first carbon inventory. 

In Fall Quarter 2015 and Winter Quarter 2016, a Keystone team of three graduate students researched the UW’s professional air travel. The project had three goals:

  • Provide better accounting of UW air travel through reimbursement data
  • Research faculty and staff attitudes toward travel
  • Recommend steps to achieve future emissions reductions set out by the Climate Action Plan

The team calculated that in 2014, UW travelers logged 84,075 flights, which consisted of 136 million miles and emissions of 23,811 MTCDE (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent). The team recommended:

  • Book flights through an universal booking system to make tracking UW’s air travel and emissions more efficient and accurate
  • Consider using ground transportation for regional travel (<300 miles)
  • Consider alternatives such as videoconferencing
  • Develop a UW-wide policy regarding the purchase of carbon offsets

In 2018, the data processing strategies developed by the Keystone students were revised to be more accessible (using Excel rather than Matlab). A consultant, Roel Hammerschlag did this work and produced calculation tools and documentation. In 2020, a student from the Program On the Environment continued this work. He refined the data collection process and expanded it to include more information about the department and campus travelers are affiliated with.

During Summer Quarter 2016, two Capstone students followed up on the work completed by the 2015-16 Keystone student group. The Capstone students focused on developing and communicating the Keystone Team's recommendations (below).

In 2020, a Professional Travel Working group composed of faculty, staff and students was formed to implement the Sustainability Action Plan actions. This group is compiling information to follow up on the recommendations of the Keystone/Capstone teams. In 2021, a graduate student from the Evans School, funded by the Campus Sustainability Fund conducted a survey of attitudes toward air travel and analyzed travel-related policy ideas.


The case for reducing academic travel

Western Political Science Association statement, "The Climate Crisis, Academic Conferences, and the Western Political Science Association," November 20, 2019

Flying Less in Academia: A Resource Guide.  This guide, co-edited by Ryan Katz-Rosene and Parke Wilde among others, is indispensable.

Flying Less FAQ

Research on professional academic travel & sustainability

Biennials, regional hubs and virtual attendance can slash emissions, new calculations show.

Online Meetings in Times of Global Crisis: Toward Sustainable Conferencing

All in all, online conferences are not likely to entirely replace in-person meetings. However, a global crisis has created another stage for emerging online tools that have the potential to dramatically reduce the scientific “travel circus” and provide a more accessible, inclusive, and diverse platform for scientific exchange. This progress could be further enhanced by the development of digital technologies (e.g., virtual reality) and introducing “hybrid conference” events including both in-person and online sessions. We hope that the community uses this momentum to transform the conference experience in the future.

MedChemTrain e‐School 2020: Event Highlights and Insights into Virtual Symposium Organization

Virtual events are flourishing with the world lockdown due to the COVID‐19 pandemic. As a result of the cancelation or postponement of scheduled physical meetings, a revolution in medicinal chemistry scientific meetings occurred, leading to an increase in new strategies to share science. One example are online events, namely e‐schools or webinars. Taking this into consideration, we decided to promote the MedChemTrain e‐School 2020, a virtual event aiming to bring together the scientific community and share some updates in the medicinal chemistry field. After organizing this free event, with more than 1.4 thousand participants worldwide, we decided to share some insights about the logistics behind organizing a virtual symposium to help scientists with this new challenge in science communication.

The Online Alternative: Sustainability, Justice, and Conferencing in Philosophy

The recent global pandemic has led to a shift to online conferences in philosophy. In this paper we argue that online conferences, more than a temporary replacement, should be considered a sustainable alternative to in-person conferences well into the future. We present three arguments for more online conferences, including their reduced impact on the environment, their enhanced accessibility for groups that are minorities in philosophy, and their lower financial burdens, especially important given likely future reductions in university budgets. We also present results from two surveys of participants who attended one large and three small online philosophy conferences this year. We show that participants were in general very satisfied with presentations and discussions at the conferences, and that they reported greater accessibility. This indicates that online conferences can serve as a good alternative to in-person conferences. We also find that networking was less satisfactory in online conferences, indicating a point for improvement and further research. In general, we conclude that philosophers should continue to organize online conferences after the pandemic. We also provide some advice for those wishing to organize online conferences.

Travel data