Business travel by plane

Scientists have always traveled around the world, whether to explore or share ideas. These international collaborations have intensified further in recent years with participation in European projects, for example. However, these frequent trips account for more than a third of EPFL’s CO2 emissions (7,208 tons of CO2-eq), leading to the University’s clear responsibility to control these environmental impacts.

EPFL management therefore commissioned three studies to help define a new travel policy that would mitigate the impact of business trips by plane without affecting academic performance:

1. Analysis of existing travel data

2. Correlation study between academic performance and CO2 travel emissions

3. Business mobility survey

Tonnes de CO2-eq

Analysis of existing travel data

In November 2017, the EPFL Share Think-tank association of doctoral students carried out a preliminary study to analyze air travel data in order to understand the scientific community’s practices, better quantify its ecological footprint and estimate the potential for reducing CO2 emissions.

The main analysis results showed that:

– CO2 emissions are positively correlated with the seniority of research staff: a professor emits ten times more CO2 than a doctoral student;

– 10% of the most frequent travelers produce 60% of emissions;

– It is possible to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 to 30% by replacing air travel by train, indirect flights by direct flights and by using economy class instead of business class.

Correlation study between academic performance and CO2 emissions

The EPFL Share Think-tank association was mandated to carry out a second data analysis to study whether there is a correlation between researchers’ academic performance and business trips by plane.

This exploratory study is the result of a collaboration between the Research, Finance and Human Resources and Operations Vice-Presidencies. The results will be published soon.

The analysis is conducted in compliance with the Data Protection Act (GDPR); an impact study is underway to ensure the anonymous processing of personal data.

Business mobility survey

A business mobility survey aiming to better understand the reasons for travel, as well as the needs and expectations of researchers will be organized next autumn in collaboration with the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Social Sciences (FORS).

At the end of these studies, EPFL management hopes to implement an exemplary travel policy in 2019, with the active participation of the entire scientific community and in compliance with personal data protection.