Air Travel

In 2009, air travel was responsible for approximately 4,647 MTeCO2 emissions, nearly 27% of Colgate’s total emissions. 

Air travel plays a vital role in many university functions, a role that is arguably exacerbated by Colgate’s rural location and our commitment to certain institutional priorities.  Faculty travel by air to support research and conference participation, for example, and professional staff throughout the University require air travel to pursue their work.  Colgate's commitment to robust off-campus study opportunities, as well as to Division I athletics, also underscores the centrality of air travel to the university's mission.

Unlike certain other areas covered in the climate action planning process, air travel is not susceptible to significantly increasing efficiencies with current technologies; it is an inherently carbon intensive form of transportation.   Therefore, any reduction of the carbon emissions associated with Colgate's business-related air travel will need to stem from a reduction in air miles traveled.  The vast majority of Colgate's air travel emissions will eventually have to be offset in order to achieve the overall goal of climate neutrality under ACUPCC.

Current practices and recent accomplishments:
As of June 1, 2010 (e.g. the start of fiscal year 2011), all air travel paid by the University on the behalf of faculty, staff, students, and invited guests is being tracked through the new account code 386.   By compiling 386 expenditures across the institution – including budget charges, direct reimbursements, and JPMorgan charges – and adding to this other air travel expenditures such as tickets purchased on behalf of athletic teams, we are now able to efficiently capture the vast majority of Colgate’s required Scope III air travel emissions.  For FY 2010, as for FY 2009 (our baseline carbon inventory), our accounting office was able to determine air travel expenditures across the institution through a more labor-intensive process that involved "manually" compiling these expenditures on air travel.

The Air Travel Subcommittee distinguished the amount of air travel by various institutional categories (see pie chart below).  They did this both to capture the current institutional profile of air travel at Colgate and to allow for tracking trends across the institution over time. 

Air travel emissions by various institutional categories.

4.7.1 Increased use of video and teleconferencing options

One potential mitigation strategy to reduce the need for air travel involves the increased use of newer video and teleconferencing technologies such as Skype and Tandberg's Movi software system. High-end units and even room-sized installations provide a possible avenue to more robust use of teleconferencing, while “grass-roots” uses of PC-based solutions like Skype have already made substantial inroads at Colgate in ways that provide cost-effective and flexible solutions.  Individual faculty are currently using Skype to collaborate with researchers at other institutions, as well in job searches to narrow down their list of semifinalists to the finalists whom they wish to invite to campus. 

By 2014, Colgate staff, faculty, and students significantly increase the use of video conferencing technologies to connect with colleagues and peers at other institutions.

Metrics and Timeline:
By 2014, Colgate reduces air travel emissions by 2% from 2010 emissions due in part to increased use of new video and teleconferencing technologies.

Recommended Action:
Upgrade current Cisco VOiP system and further research and identify the best video and teleconferencing options for Colgate.

Videoconferencing technology with estimated cost savings and greenhouse gas reductions.

4.7.2 Purchase individual carbon offsets for air travel
As an institution, Colgate is still considering its options for purchasing offsets on the voluntary market.  Individuals traveling on Colgate business, however, can already avail themselves on an individual and voluntary basis of a range of options for offsetting their travel.  Terrapass, for example, provides this possibility both in partnership with Expedia and through direct purchase of offsets for air travel.  In the former case, a passenger is able to add a Terrapass carbon offset in the process of purchasing a ticket online via Expedia.   In the latter case, a passenger can purchase the offset directly from Terrapass ( either by estimation or through directly entering flight information at Terrapass’ air travel carbon footprint calculator.   Terrapass’ current cost structure involves paying $5.95 per 1,000 pounds of eCO2.  Using the website’s calculator, the offset cost for a flight from Syracuse to Denver via Washington DC, for example, is calculated as involving travel of 3,488 miles, equaling emissions of 1,586 lbs CO2.  Terrapass rounds this out to the nearest 1000 pounds of eC02, resulting in an offset price of $11.90.  It’s also worth mentioning that the calculator provides comparative information on the emissions that would be associated with an individual’s driving or carpooling for that same distance, so it is presented in an educative way.  Given the relative affordability of such offsets, as well as the informative interface provided in this example by Terrapass, it may be appropriate to publicize the possibility of such voluntary purchases of carbon offsets to the Colgate community.

By 2012, encourage Colgate staff, faculty, and students to explore the option of offsetting their travel by providing reputable options and user-friendly information for offsetting.