To travel or not to travel? UBC Library asks the question

People and Places | Strategy 3: Thriving Communities
Theme: Innovation
As part of the UBC Climate Action Plan 2030, UBC has committed to reducing business air travel emissions to 50% of 2019 levels by 2030.

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we are nearing a critical threshold. Despite current efforts, we are more likely than not to surpass a global temperature increase of 1.5°C in the near-term, that “we are already seeing the repercussions,” and that greater climate action is needed urgently. As part of the UBC Climate Action Plan 2030, UBC has committed to reducing business air travel emissions to 50% of 2019 levels by 2030.

Dr. Christina Laffin, Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Studies, is a member of the Department of Asian Studies’ Sustainability Initiative Committee and also meets regularly with an interdepartmental group to discuss climate action at UBC. It was through this group, that Laffin learned about UBC Library’s Air Travel Decision Tree, a two-page framework document that guides individuals through the decision-making process for work-related air travel. “There are broader issues that need to be addressed in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, but clearly faculty are some of the worst active emitters,” says Laffin, who has started using the tree as part of her own business travel planning.

In October 2019, a group of UBC Library faculty and staff began meeting monthly to address the existential threat posed by climate change and to discuss action in this regard. The Library #ClimateAction Team (L#CAT) has since burgeoned to include members from both Vancouver and Okanagan campuses, as well as representation from a majority of the library’s branches and units. While the team has spearheaded several events and activities, the Air Travel Decision Tree has been the tool with the most engagement.

The library also provides two key ingredients that make the framework particularly useful: first, a scholarly understanding of air travel’s impact on climate emissions, and second, an uncomplicated process that individuals can follow to determine whether air travel is necessary, along with the implications of that decision. There are many professional activities besides conferences which also require travel, notes Mathew Vis-Dunbar, Data and Digital Scholarship Librarian at UBC Okanagan Library, who co-authored the decision tree with Elizabeth Stevenson, Circulation Supervisor at Woodward Library, and current L#CAT co-chair.

How can faculty members shift to remote participation in these activities, without sacrificing career progression, academic influence, or networking opportunities? The task then becomes a matter of shifting mindsets, to make non-travel academic activities as equally meritorious as activities that require an in-flight menu.

“Trying to rethink how we carry out scholarship and networking right now is such a great opportunity,” says Dr. Laffin.

For now, faculty and staff who choose to forgo the next conference trip can lean on the Air Travel Decision Tree to do the heavy lifting from an ethical and sustainability viewpoint.

Visit the Library website to learn more.

Through Strategy 3: Thriving Communities, UBC is advancing sustainability and wellbeing through renewal and innovation in its learning environments, operations and infrastructure.