Limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires societies to simultaneously work on land-based mitigation options and reduce emissions in other sectors. This means approximately 45% reduction in CO2 emissions from 2010 levels by 2030. As an environmental management trainee at EFI, my task is to look at the environmental impacts of our own work and our daily operations.
In terms of climate change mitigation, the most important categories for EFI are most likely procurement of goods and services, energy consumption and employee work travel.
Dealing with procurement and energy-related emissions can already be a tough task for an organization. However, we can go a long way about these issues with good procurement policies, culture of resource efficiency and circularity, energy saving initiatives and by communicating about these issues to the staff.
I want to focus on the aspect that I think is one of the trickiest: employee work travel.
Do you really need to attend this conference?
With international work and mobility come partnerships, valuable knowledge from international conferences and meetings, interactions with stakeholders, professional encounters and much more that is difficult to comprehend and measure. However, all this comes at a price of high emissions, especially in the form of air travel, expected to grow by 42% from 2017 to 2040!
At the moment, flights offer the most cost-effective (although cost-effectiveness should always consider the impact on environment) and fastest way of transportation, especially in long distances, which makes it hard to choose alternative means of transportation. However, this brings us to an interesting notion: flying is a norm of today. Fast, cheap and convenient international transportation has become such an inherent part of our culture, especially in the field of international research, that we rarely question it. Questioning this very nature of international mobility sometimes means questioning the nature of the work many of us do.
Technological advances and improvements in efficiency have not been able to reduce the emissions of aviation and will not likely do so in the near future. At the moment, choosing direct flights and modern aircrafts can be a good way to reduce our impact of flying.
Beyond carbon offsetting?
Carbon offsetting makes it possible for us to compensate some of the emissions by supporting afforestation or renewable energy projects through certified offsetting providers. For example, atmosfair, Climate Neutral Group and CO2Esto provide emissions calculators and offsets. However, from a scientific point of view, carbon offsets do not neutralize the emissions that have already been created. Also, the potential of offsets to reduce carbon emissions in the long run can be questioned. While carbon offsetting is a necessary tool to mitigate some of the impact we have, it can drive us away from the importance of absolute emissions reductions, hinder innovation and lead us to justifying current patterns of unsustainable consumption.
A sustainable travel policy should (1) reduce the need to travel, (2) allow alternative modes of transportation, and as a last resort, (3) offset travel emissions.
Early innovator in environmental management
So far, my work as an environmental management trainee has convinced me of the potential for EFI to be an early innovator in terms of organizational travel culture and resource efficiency, in order to increase our resilience as the climate crisis proceeds. Adaptive organizations cannot afford to wait for others to change around them. We need to connect knowledge to action.