EPFL travel policy

Our new business and student travel policy came into effect in January 2023. It aims to reduce our travel-related emissions while also continuing to provide our community with high-quality services.

In 2019, our community took more than 20,000 flights, which corresponds to approximately 1,400 trips around the Earth. The environmental impact of a plane journey is 73 times greater than a journey taken by train.

Travel, along with energy use, is a major source of carbon emissions at EPFL. Business and student trips generate 16,238 tons CO2-eq and 1,906 tons CO2-eq, respectively, per year.

The Swiss federal government set a target of cutting travel-related greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 (from 2019 levels). To help reach this target, we at EPFL are implementing a series of reduction measures.

The following documents describe the EPFL travel guidelines that went into effect in January 2023:

Main objectives

  • Promote educational exchange programs, professional development and personal well-being, all while reducing the environmental impact of travel
  • Provide our community with information on international travel, supporting them while abroad and intervening where necessary
  • Use resources in a responsible manner by integrating environmental and financial criteria into trip planning
  • Set an example and be transparent in our use of public funds

Key policy measures

  • All bookings for trips that are planned and/or paid for by EPFL must be made through our central travel agency (CWT). This is to ensure that all trips comply with our guidelines, to assess the environmental and financial impact of EPFL trips, and to fulfill our duty of care to the EPFL community.
  • Our travel assistance service has been extended to the entire EPFL community, including students.
  • Trains must be used for destinations in Europe that are less than six hours away. A list of destinations is provided in Appendix I of our new travel policy.
  • Only economy or economy+ class can be used for plane journeys that take less than six hours. For longer trips, we also highly recommended flying in economy class. Traveling in first class is still prohibited.
  • Direct flights should be used whenever possible. Trains should be taken to reach airports in Switzerland.
  • Carbon-efficient airlines should be used whenever possible.
  • EPFL employees can receive a 25% subsidy on a second-class Swiss-wide (GA) travelcard (including the junior travelcard for students aged 25 and under), or a 15% subsidy for first-class.
  • The use of a personal vehicle for EPFL-related travel must be kept to a strict minimum.
  • For EPFL-funded trips that involve air travel, the School will make a donation to compensate for the carbon emissions generated by the flights. This donation will funding a climate or sustainability initiative at EPFL. A working group will be set up in 2023 to lead this program. As a result of this measure, our School’s travel-related emissions will be compensated with local (rather than foreign) initiatives

The pandemic disrupted our travel habits and the way we work. It showed us that we can conduct research while taking fewer trips, which has the additional benefits of reducing stress and improving quality of life. We are therefore upgrading our videoconferencing systems in order to promote these new ways of working.

The cumulative effects of our new travel policy and our voluntary reductions in travel, coupled with advancements in aviation technology, should enable us to meet the Swiss government’s target by 2030.

Our new travel policy is part of a broader strategy to reduce our overall carbon footprint. Our main areas of focus are energy, construction, food services, commuting, procurement and IT systems.

We’re also rolling out initiatives to make our campuses more resilient to climate change and enhance biodiversity. One example is the Campus Piéton project, which will also increase our community’s well-being and make it easier to socialize.

Dimensions Magazine, December 2022 © Emphase for EPFL

Dimensions Magazine, December 2022 © Emphase for EPFL

Data References:
Our World in Data, Swiss Academy of Sciences, Atmosfair, Stay Grounded Network, CWT, CFF, EPFL.

EPFL has set up a Travel Commission to:

  • Outline an action plan and the associated measures to implement our new travel policy
  • Monitor implementation
  • Approve the specifications given in requests for proposals
  • Review the central travel agency’s finances and procedures