As UW and the rest of the world struggle with the social distancing measures deployed to fight COVID-19, we are learning tremendous amounts about our ability to work effectively despite significantly reduced air travel and in-person meetings. We have made important institutional investments that allow for more widespread utilization of these tools, which was spurred out of necessity but has proven a significant environmental benefit for reduced air pollution.
Now and in the years following resolution of the COVID-19 crisis, we are going to build on these new skills and technologies to significantly increase the proportion of meetings, presentations, research and gatherings that are conducted online rather than in person. UW staff and faculty who initiate or lead conferences will include online attendance options, add online side-events to major conferences, and in some cases organize entirely online events.
New construction and major renovations are encouraged to consider design elements for meeting rooms that provide online presence for a group of researchers within a single field of view, or that offer more immersive telepresence.
Steps we will take in FY 2021
Develop an enterprise-wide system for measuring online attendance (avoided air travel) in addition to actual air travel. Compare 2005 baseline with reductions achieved during the period of intensive COVID-related travel restrictions, and reassess the numerical Target as of July 1, 2021. Review the financial impact savings from reduced air travel and associated costs.
UW Sustainability advocate across campus for intensified use of existing teleconferencing facilities. Begin identifying incentive programs that encourage use of teleconferencing facilities. This could be used in support of a UW-wide policy level change with increasing centralized tracking and reporting of air travel.
Create a recognition program rewarding on-campus innovators. The structure is yet to be determined, but it is likely to (1) provide separate awards for the three campuses; (2) include one class of award(s) based on a quantitative GHG reduction metric, and (3) include one class of award(s) based on an individual’s innovation, leadership or advocacy.
Lobby the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for inclusion of professional air travel as a mandatory credit in version 3.0 of the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS). Concurrently, reach out to other national and regional sustainability related conference organizers to encourage use of telepresence.
UW Sustainability, Faculty
Statuses and linkages
Beginning with UW’s 2017 greenhouse gas inventory (and accompanying baseline adjustment process), the University has established a methodology for computing a significant percentage of total professional air travel miles each year from existing data sources.
Academic departments are actively seeking opportunities to promote hyper-local conferencing.
The recognition program can be funded with a surcharge applied to internal purchases of greenhouse gas offsets (see other action).
- The primary metric for Action success will be the travel footprint described in Step 1.
STARS does not include a credit representing this change directly.