European universities plan long-term travel cuts post-Covid

Most institutions plan to swap short trips with virtual meetings

九月 17, 2021
A computer running Zoom
Source: iStock

More than half of European universities say Covid-19 has prompted them to replace short-term trips with virtual meetings as part of their sustainability strategies.

A survey of “greening initiatives” in place in 305 European universities looked at the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on their work towards making their university more environmentally friendly and resource-efficient.

The survey, carried out by the European University Association, found that 55 per cent had long-term plans to replace shorter staff trips with virtual meetings. A similar proportion – 56 per cent – said that there were plans to bring in more remote working and 51 per cent said that there were plans to increase virtual mobility among staff and students. This would reduce the need for staff to commute to the office and the need to use less sustainable modes of transport, such as aeroplanes.

Cutting down on flights for meetings and conferences has been a top target for reducing university emissions in the drive towards sustainability.

It also found that 37 per cent said the pandemic had increased the awareness of environmental issues in their institution. However, one in five said that the pandemic-related reduction in funds had limited their institution’s ability to set up or implement “greening measures”.

Only 9 per cent said that the pandemic meant environmental issues were no longer a priority for the institution.

Overall, the survey found that 64 per cent of institutions have greening activities in place across the whole institution, and a further 18 per cent have measures that are driven by individual departments or faculties.

More than 80 per cent of institutional strategies include concrete goals, targets and indicators to monitor progress on greening. Most institutions – 88 per cent – engage with partner institutions and student groups and organisations, 86 per cent are engaged with their local communities and 80 per cent partner with non-governmental organisations on greening and sustainability initiatives.

The survey highlighted a number of challenges that European universities are facing when trying to be greener. The most frequently referenced – by 53 per cent of respondents – was a general lack of adequate funding and for 46 per cent, it was a lack of specific funding. The results showed that 37 per cent cited a lack of staff engagement, while 34 per cent said activities were “not sufficiently strategised”. Just under a third identified lack of coordination across the institution as a barrier.

Equally, enhanced funding and national support were identified as the main “enablers” to overcome the challenges, by almost two-thirds of respondents.

Just over half cited peer learning and more engagement with other institutions and a third stated that a European initiative on greening in higher education would be helpful to support such activities.

Michael Gaebel, the EUA’s director of higher education policy, said the “findings prove that many higher education institutions are working to green their own footprint and to contribute to society by working with a wide range of partners, from local communities to global university networks and industry”.

“In fact, the vast majority of institutions address environmental sustainability and greening as a matter of their own institutional values,” he said.



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