Business travel by plane

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

EPFL board management therefore commissioned three studies to help it 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 travel CO2 emissions

3. Business mobility survey

Analysis of existing travel data

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

The main analytical 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;

– The 10% of the most frequent travellers produce 60% of the 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 promoting economy class instead of business class.

Overview of results (.pdf)

Correlation study between academic performance and CO2 emissions

The EPFL Share Think-tank association has been 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 in the fall of 2018.

This 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 to better understand the reasons for travel, the needs and expectations of researchers will be organized next autumn in collaboration with the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences (FORS).

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