Photo : NAC CC3.0
Developing international networks and interacting with peers is part of the DNA of the research profession. The current challenge is to diversify means of travel by stimulating virtual mobility, the use of low-carbon transport, and prioritising less frequent but longer stays while maintaining the necessary richness of exchanges.
A 2018 assessment showed that 80% of the University’s ecological footprint from business trips was linked to air travel, resulting in 2,700 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e). As an example, a round-trip flight from Brussels to New York emits around 1.5 tonnes of CO2e and an individual’s annual carbon footprint represents, on average, nine tonnes of CO2.
In response to this, a common Charter for Responsible International Mobility and a decision tree were created, based on a pilot experiment carried out by a University research institute (ELI). Since 2021, the charter has been offered to institutes, faculties, and services. Each entity is free to subscribe to it on a voluntary basis. If it does subscribe, all staff members undertake to follow a three-step process for participation in an event organised abroad:
« Is there a virtual method that allows me to meet my objectives for this event? » is the first question to ask yourself. In certain cases, the use of videoconferencing (potentially deferred) is possible via either a personal computer or high-performance equipment made available in one of the dedicated rooms at UCLouvain.
Emissions savings : substantial.
Example: A virtual day emits less than one kg of CO2; a return flight from Brussels to Rome consumes three hundred times more..
« How long, door to door, is my trip? ». « What colour is my destination city? ».
If this is:
- green, the door-to-door time of a train journey is less than six hours and does not exceed that of the plane journey by more than two hours (which corresponds to boarding times); I therefore choose the train, the bus, or a carpool.
Examples: Cambridge, Frankfurt, Groningen, Hannover, Leeds, Lyon, Sheffield, Southampton, etc.
- orange, the door-to-door train-travel time does not exceed eight hours; I therefore travel by train.
Examples: Aix-en-Provence, Berlin, Cardiff, Genève, Hamburg, New Castle, Zürich, etc.
Emissions savings: carbon emissions are drastically reduced while not necessarily increasing the price of the ticket.
Example: Round-trip from Brussels to Marseille produces four kg of CO2 by train, but 220 kg of CO2 by plane. If the cost of luggage and transport between Nîmes and Marseille are included, the price of the plane trip is equivalent to that of the train.
Tool: The institutional travel agency (Carlson Wagon Lits) offers alternatives. It is also possible to search for them by completing a profile on the dedicated platform. Other sites also make it easy to compare the duration and price of a trip by mode of transport: Rome2rio and Omio.
When travelling (preferably non-stop) by plane, a “green contribution” of €50 per tonne of CO2 – intended for a fund held at the level of the signatory entity – is paid. This “tax” corresponds to the carbon footprint associated with the flight. As soon as such an initiative is instituted in law, the contribution will no longer be necessary at the level of the institution.
Tool: The calculator, included in the electronic expense report makes it easy to assess the amount of CO2e associated with air travel.
Carbon contribution: This aims to establish a fairer price for air travel by including, at least partially, the damage caused to the environment. Economists suggest a proposed contribution of €50 per tonne of CO2, with a growth rate of 4% per year.
A central contribution is made in the specific case of a trip linked to cooperation with country in the South. This is a symbolic recognition of the West’s “ecological debt” vis-à-vis the Global South.
Travel encoding: Nothing changes when using the institutional travel agency; if the purchase is made directly, there is a small additional box to be completed in the electronic expense report. Everything is then centralised and the accounting unit of the signatory entity will receive an annual contribution statement for each member. Several payment solutions are possible, whether from the operating budget or other resources. For some funding sources, reimbursement is possible.
The fund: Located within the signatory entity, the fund supports its own soft mobility policy. The institute, faculty, or service then chooses. What initiative will the collected investments support? These might include a Cambio subscription, a contribution to the potential additional cost of train travel, the purchase of electric bicycles, etc.