Less emissions from business trips: An open letter to the Univeristy of Freiburg

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Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
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  1. Launched 2019
  2. Collection finished
  3. Submitted
  4. Dialogue
  5. Failed

Dear Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Schiewer,

Dear members of the Senate,

Dear members of other executive committees of the University of Freiburg,

with this letter, we, as members of the University of Freiburg, request, that the university advances its activities concerning the sustainable use of resources and climate change action, particularly regarding business trips and takes a leading role among universities in this matter.

Substantial reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in all of society is required to fulfill the resolutions of the Paris Agreement and keep our responsibility towards future generations. More and more corporations and major players in society recognize their duty in this regard. Scientists have a special responsibility as being familiar with scientific work and as trusted advisors in society. Unfortunately, we as scientists emit very high levels of greenhouse gases per person through travelling to conferences, workshops, project meetings, and field research. A conference round-trip from Freiburg to Atlanta via a direct flight from Frankfurt, causes around 3 tons of CO2 -equivalent (CO2e) (Emissionsfaktoren nach Umweltbundesamt 2018).

To reach the reduction target of the Paris Agreement, Germany must reduce its annual CO2e emissions per capita from currently 11.6 tons to less than 1 ton CO2e per person and year until 2050. The described trip to Atlanta would by far exceed the calculated annual budget of one person. Our current carbon footprint contrasts sharply with the necessary reductions of greenhouse gas emissions which has been emphasized prominently and publicly by 26 800 German-speaking scientists in a letter of endorsement to the Fridays For Future movement (Scientists for Future 2019). Business trips play an imperative role for the overall emissions of universities. The ETH Zürich, for example, states, that more than half of the university CO2e emissions are caused by business trips – 93 % of those through flights (ETH Zürich 2019). Business trips therefore must be in focus when managing reduction efforts.

Right now, the University of Freiburg – in contrast to many other colleges and universities in Germany and abroad – is lagging behind in its efforts to mitigate climate change, which is incompatible with its public responsibility and dedication to younger generations.

The signatories of this letter therefore request the executive committees of the University of Freiburg to:

  • present clear guidelines and regulations in order to reduce the emissions caused by business trips. The necessary dialogue and participative development of clear, verifiable and binding (reduction-)rules should be accomplished within a year. All employees must be integrated in the process.

  • publish the result of this process in a transparent way, also to the public and civil society.

  • take action in the regional-, national- and European decision-making fora and advocate for regulations favoring climate mitigation and adaptation, for example the state law regulating travel costs at the university.

This open letter and all signatures collected (until that point) will be handed over to the members of the senate on the 17th of December 2019.

I, as a member of the University of Freiburg, hereby support the above stated demands.


With our demands, we aspire a stronger reflection of the topic of climate-conscious business trips (see the example of Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Freiburg 2019). This could possibly include giving up flight trips over certain distances or traveling durations. Whether the compensation of CO2e-emissions is a reasonable and doable cause o action, has to be discussed, taking into account the local, social aspects of such measures.


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  • Liebe Unterstützende,
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Here are some examples of other Universities that are more advanced in the debate about academics flying less 1) German Universities: https://climatewednesday.org/selbstverpflichtung/ 2) University of Lund, Sweden: https://www.staff.lu.se/article/heads-should-help-reduce-flying http://www.kimnicholas.com/academics-flying-less.html 3) University support for Web-Conferences and online meetings: e.g. University of Heidelberg (and many others) https://www.uni-heidelberg.de/studium/imstudium/elearning/adobeconnect.html

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