Business trips need to be reduced

Published Feb 07, 2017

What sort of environmental footprints do KTH’s travellers leave? Commuting to and from work has limited impact, but business travel leads to high emissions of greenhouse gases. If we are to achieve sustainability goals there needs to be a shift in the perception of how and why we travel.

Travel habits at KTH provide a mixed picture from an environmental perspective, according to Markus Robért, a researcher in sustainable development who has carried out a survey to identify and analyse the nature of staff travel. On the plus side, relatively few are taking the car to work for their commute, with many taking public transport, cycling or walking instead.

It is a pleasing result which shows that KTH is a model for other organisations on how to travel in a climate-friendly manner in a big city. KTH staff don’t really belong to the group of people who cause traffic jams on city streets, Robért says.

There are several explanations for this high incidence of environmentally-friendly commuting – there is a high availability of public transport at KTH, while the number of parking spaces on campus is limited. In addition, a survey of KTH staff showed a high level of environmental awareness.

At the same time the beneficial environmental impact of the staff commute is offset by extensive business travel, especially air travel. More than half of staff business trips involve air travel – which makes up 90 percent of the overall KTH greenhouse gas emissions produced by travelling.

“It is a natural part of the academic culture to travel to meet with colleagues. Research discussions are global and that will of course continue, but we need to put measures in place to reduce air travel, both by using other modes of transport and by finding alternative ways to meet,” says Markus Robért. The purpose of the study is to create a basis for finding ways to reduce the environmental impact that can also contribute to lowering costs.

According to KTH's sustainability goals, the aim is for emissions from travelling to be decreased by 20 percent by 2020 - a goal that can be reached if roughly every tenth flight was discontinued, according to Markus Robért. The calculation is that there will be a rationalisation of the airline industry to reduce emissions per flight during this time period.

An overwhelming majority of respondents are in favour of the Royal Institute of Technology working to reduce emissions from travelling. But only a small percentage – six per cent – state that they were able to replace its recent business trip with a telephone or video conference. Many of those surveyed do feel that there are satisfactory technical capabilities for remote meetings.

This is an area for improvement that really needs to be worked on. It will be difficult to gain acceptance for a strong sustainability policy unless the technology for alternative meeting formats is in place, says Markus Robért.

The survey was carried out on behalf of the KTH Sustainability Office, which in the spring will invite representatives from the administration and faculty to workshops that will discuss how KTH’s emissions from travel can be reduced. A model that describes how a possible shift to alternative modes and changing forms of meetings may look is to be developed, as well as an action plan.

Text: Christer Gummeson

KTH’s travelers:

Commuting:

  • 66 percent of KTH staff use public transport to commute to and from work, 23 percent of staff use bicyles, 10 percent travel by car and 10 percent walk to work. (The figures exceed 100 percent because they relate to a work week when several modes of transport can be used).
  • Compared with 70 other companies and organisations surveyed, KTH has the highest proportion of staff who take public transport to work. KTH's staff also includes the three workplaces in the survey which have the smallest proportion of people who commute by car.
  • The figures come from a survey sent out to KTH employees. 28 percent responded, which according to Markus Robért is a fair representation of those who are more interested in environmental issues.

Business trips:

  • In recent business trips 55 percent of KTH staff travelled by plane, 23 percent by long-distance train and 13 percent by public transport. 
  • The figures on business trips come from KTH’s travel database with information provided by the travel agency that the institute uses.

Total travel:

  • KTH's total emissions from travel is 3.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases emissions per employee per year. This figure takes into account the fact that emissions at high altitudes have a greater impact than emissions at ground level. Previous estimates of KTH emissions from travel did not factor this in, which resulted in lower figures for emissions per employee.
  • Flights, mainly ones to foreign countries, account for 90 percent of KTH employees’ greenhouse gas emissions from travel.
Top page top